1997 Virginia is For Lovers Cup
A Beautiful Day and 130 mph Laps on Water
By Bob Hutchinson
NORFOLK -- The weather gods that frowned on the Virginia Is For Lovers Cup Unlimited Hydroplane races over the Memorial Day weekend came up all smiles Saturday, the second time around. Almost-perfect racing conditions brought smiles to everyone from Norfolk city manager James Oliver to the racers, owners, drivers, crews and spectators.
But no one was smiling more than Dave Villwock of Auburn, Wash., and Mark Tate of Detroit. They won the day's two heats in the Thunderboat class, as the Unlimiteds, the world's fastest boats, are known.
And they did it at almost identical speeds, setting up what could be one great match in today's finals.
Villwock, piloting Miss Budweiser, made it 13 wins in 14 heats this year by winning the day's first 5-boat session with an average speed of 130.273 mph for three laps around the two-mile oval on Willoughby Bay off the Norfolk Naval Base. Villwock jumped the gun and was disqualified in the 14th race.
Meanwhile, Tate drove the Close Call to a win in his qualifying race Saturday, averaging 130.025 mph. Both came off the race course vowing to do better in the remaining heats leading up to today's finals, when they are expected to duke it out for the Virginia Cup.
``We're running good,'' said Villwock, who signed with Bernie Little, Miss Budweiser team owner, for this year's circuit after piloting PICO American Dream to the 1996 national championship and national high-point title. ``But we can do better. We just need to do a little more fine tuning.''
Tate, a frequent winner on the 11-stop circuit and the first driver to average 170 mph in competition, also said he is looking to improve on Saturday's running.
``We're running stronger all the time,'' he said. ``But we're still not there. We can get there. We know how to do it. We just have to work a little harder.''
Weather forecasters are calling for virtually ideal racing conditions again today on Willoughby Bay.
Saturday's weather was almost a complete reversal from the squally, rainy, 50-mph northeaster that blew the scheduled Memorial Day race off the water.
A light easterly wind provided just enough Willoughby Bay ripples to give the three-ton boats enough lift to practically fly around the course.
Conditions couldn't have been much better, according to Bill Doner of Seattle, commissioner of the sanctioning Unlimited Hydroplane Racing Association.
``After Memorial Day,'' Doner said, ``everyone deserved a weekend like this, especially the race fans and people behind this race in Norfolk. They were cheated out of a great show and we're just glad things worked out so we could get back here.''
So is Oliver, instrumental in bringing the spectacle to Norfolk.
``This gives us a chance to show our stuff,'' said the city manager. ``It'll be even bigger and better next year. We're excited.''
Villwock and Tate were not Saturday's only winners. Calvin Phipps in Miss Leroi and Randy Haas in Miss Leroi II won their heats in the Unlimited Lights competition, with the latter averaging 94.994 mph. And Mark Pakradonni won the heat for Jersey Speed Skiffs at an unknown speed.
The Unlimiteds are powered by helicopter-type turbo-jet engines hopped up to as much as 3,500 horsepower and are capable of straightaway speeds in excess of 200 mph. The conventional-engine Lights top out at about 165 mph and the Speed Skiffs at about 80 mph.
Racing resumes this morning. Gates to the spectator area open at 9 a.m., with a full schedule of competition before the Unlimited finals at 3:40 p.m.
Base access is through Gate 3A off Interstate 564. Admission is $15, with pit passes another $5.
(Reprinted from the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, Sunday, July 13, 1997)