Sports

Where there’s a Vill

Dave Villwock knows there’s a lot of ways to lose a race and only one way to win one.

And he proved that perfectly Sunday, positioning himself in the only place possible to give his Miss Budweiser a chance to win the Chevrolet Cup at Seafair. And win he did, collecting his sixth Cup title in the last seven years and the 17th overall for the Miss Bud.

“It’s just an honor to drive this boat, let alone win a race in Seattle,” Villwock, a native of Port Orchard said just minutes after the race. “Seattle is the biggest. We talk about the Gold Cup ... but Seattle is the big show. And what a treat to win here.”

And an even bigger treat this year since Anheuser-Busch decided before the season started to pull it’s sponsorship of the Miss Bud, bringing an end to the most dominate team in hydroplane racing history.

“Even with the condition of this being the last year, the team kept their head in the game and kept working on the boat,” Villwock said. “They got it to be a perfect race boat at the end of the day. I’m proud for them and I’m proud for the entire organization.”

Actually, the Miss Bud didn’t cross the finish line first, Gig Harbor’s Terry Troxell in the Miss Elam Plus was way out in front. But Troxell had jumped the start and was assessed a penalty lap, giving the Miss Bud the title.

“I was pretty sure he jumped but I thought he jumped the heat before so you just don’t know,” Villwock said. “You run the best you can and try to keep your nose clean. And this day was ours.”

Villwock said he was told that Troxell jumped about halfway through the race. With that knowledge, Villwock changed his race strategy.

“It changed from offense to defense,” Villwock said. “We knew the Elam would run around us. All I could try and do was to get in a place and maybe they’d make a mistake. And they did. After that, I just had to run as hard as I could.”

It wasn’t easy but Villwock knew that going in. With fuel restrictions placed on the boat, the Miss Bud qualified for the race about 10 miles per hour slower than the Miss Elam Plus. So Villwock relied on his experience and talent as a driver to win the race.

“It’s special,” Villwock said. “To be able to come here, and we knew we were in a pretty big hole — we didn’t have much horsepower. We knew the Elam was way faster than us and they showed that, they just motored on around us. But we managed to get the boat in the right place at the right time and managed to come out a winner.”

Instead of starting the race in assigned lanes as in the past, the Cup was contested with a free start, allowing the boats to jockey for position. Troxell and Villwock did just that, each cutting across the middle of the track twice in order to get the prime inside position.

“I knew it was going to be a boat race that had people leap-frogging each other to go up and that’s what boat racing is about,” Villwock said. “It’s something that we used to do 20 years ago and the cool thing about it is that it makes the races very unpredictable.

“It’s exciting for the fans,” Villwock said. “I think everybody enjoyed a real show that showed a lot of driving in a lot of different places by a lot of guys. Everybody did a great job, it’s just that this day happened to be ours.”

Villwock and his team had to wait for about 45 minutes for the results to be final. First, his boat had to pass inspection for his fuel-flow rate, which is less than all the other boats, and then to see if he had gone off plane, slowing down too much before the race started.

But Villwock and the Miss Bud team also benefitted from rough waters on Lake Washington, something they had hoped for as a way of evening the playing field. And giving credit for the weather to former owner Bernie Little who passed away two years ago.

“I swear to you that Bernie was up there blowing on the lake today,” Villwock said. “He made it rough enough so we had a shot.”

In fact, rough water was what the whole team was hoping for.

“Dave does such a good job in the rough waters,” team owner Joe Little said. “It turned out a little different than I thought, I was nervous all day. But we were wishing that we could win here in Seattle for the last time.”

With the Seafair win, Villwock took the lead in the season-long point standings. If he maintains that lead, Villwock will wrap up his eighth national title and the 24th for the Budweiser team

As the year winds down, the team has just three more races before the year concludes, Villwock is still undecided on his future.

“The fans are upset that we’re not going to be back,” Villwock said. “The crew knows that the year has just a few races left. Like I said before we started this whole weekend, ‘I’m going to enjoy Seafair, win or lose.’ We’ll do the best we can and if we do that, if it’s last place, that’s OK. It doesn’t matter what happened as long as we did the best as a team we could do here.

“Who knows what’s going to happen now,” Villwock said. “If (this was my last race in Seattle) I couldn’t have picked a better way to go out. Not many guys get a chance to do that. For me, this is really special.”

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