1998 Molson Dry Thunderfest
PICO American Dream Wins at Kelowna
By Fred Farley - APBA Unlimited Historian
After a half-season of frustration, driver Mark Evans and owner Fred Leland returned to the winner's circle on August 2 at Kelowna, B.C. Evans, Leland, and PICO American Dream scored a clear-cut victory on Okanogan Lake and in so doing snapped the four-race win streak of Dave Villwock and Miss Budweiser, which finished third at Kelowna.
Evans and Villwock faced each other twice during the day in preliminary Heat 2-A and in the Final Heat. Mark emerged the winner both times, while Dave checked in fourth and third respectively.
The other big news of the day was the gutsy performance by Steve David and Miss Molson of the Jim Harvey Motorsports team, which took second overall. In a very heated battle of the beer boats, Molson finished ahead of Budweiser in two heat confrontations out of three.
Ten Unlimiteds and seven Unlimited Lights made the trek "North of the Border" for the third annual Molson Thunderfest in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies. Miss Budweiser (Turbine-5) set a new Kelowna qualification record for the 2-mile course with a clocking of 152.934. The old record was 148.402, set by Mark Tate in 1997 with Close Call. Miss Budweiser (Turbine-3) also eclipsed the former mark with a speed of 148.417 in qualification and an unofficial 154.129 in testing.
The Miss Budweiser team elected to go with Turbine-5--the boat that won at Norfolk--on race day, while PICO American Dream opted for their 1998 hull rather than the 1996 version. The PICO team's selection was greeted with dismay by some fans, because the '98 hull had never won a race.
Victory in the Unlimited Lights competition at Kelowna went to Dave Bender in Pete's Wicked Ale (UL-38). Two boats were penalized for jumping the gun in the Final Heat and another for hitting a buoy. Bender averaged 97.074 in the finale, followed by Bo Schide in The Alamo (UL-16) at 94.444 and rookie Mike Mclellan in Miss Vnode.com (UL-3) at 75.786.
Unlimited Heat 1-A saw Miss Molson lead out of the first turn, closely pursued by PICO American Dream and Mike Weber in Carpenter Communications/Kelowna Volvo. PICO took over the lead on the second backstretch. Molson crossed over PICO's roostertail in the second turn of lap-two and nearly capsized. Mark Evans pulled to a commanding lead on lap-three and took the checkered flag. Carpenter Communications passed Miss Molson at the end of lap-two and took second-place, while Steve David checked in third. Mark Weber stopped on course during the warm-up period with Master Tire and did not start. The winning average for PICO American Dream was 136.926.
Ken Muscatel made a picture-perfect start on the outside with Team Yamaha Kelowna in Heat 1-B. Villwock and Miss Budweiser led out of the first turn and were never headed. Nate Brown and Miss KUHA started to move up on Budweiser during lap-two before Miss Bud pulled away on lap-three. Villwock did 131.605 to Brown's 126.213 for the 6-mile distance. Muscatel kept the pressure on Brown and finished one roostertail astern of Miss KUHA. Mitch Evans stopped in the first turn with Appian Jeronimo but restarted to take a distant fourth.
Heat 2-A generated a lot of controversy. The boats did a lot of dicing before the start. Miss Molson ducked inside of Miss Budweiser and forced the Budweiser to a lane-four starting position. The Evans brothers--Mitch and Mark--ran head-to-head for three exciting laps. They see-sawed back and forth the entire distance. PICO American Dream beat Appian Jeronimo over the finish line by half a roostertail, 136.415 to 135.062. Meanwhile, Miss Molson and Miss Budweiser dueled up a storm for third. Steve David kept forcing Dave Villwock wide (a la Tom D'Eath). After one and three-quarter laps, Budweiser encountered Molson's roostertail and sputtered to a halt. Villwock restarted to take a distant fourth.
Back in the pits, Villwock angrily protested David's driving tactics in Heat 2-A. But Chief Referee Mike Noonan saw no foul and the official results were allowed to stand.
Three boats answered the starting gun for Heat 2-B with Master Tire again failing to start. Team Yamaha Kelowna led out of the first turn, but Miss KUHA took over on the first backstretch. Drivers Muscatel and Brown see-sawed for the lead. Team Yamaha Kelowna was in front on the third backstretch but fell off the pace when some rough water was encountered. Miss KUHA then took over the lead and stayed there to the finish. Brown did 132.665 to Muscatel's 131.814. Carpenter Communications/Kelowna Volvo ran with the leaders for three-quarters of the first lap before conking out.
Master Tire, for the third time that day, failed to start in Heat 3-A. The three starters were early in their approach to the starting line. Appian Jeronimo led out of the first turn and had a clear lead at the end of lap-one. PICO American Dream and Miss KUHA ran head-to-head for two laps until Miss KUHA appeared to lose power. Appian Jeronimo took the checkered flag at 134.368, seven seconds ahead of PICO and 22 seconds ahead of KUHA.
The Carpenter Communications/Kelowna Volvo entry withdrew from Heat 3-B and Team Yamaha Kelowna barely started in time. Miss Molson crossed the line first in lane-two, leading Miss Budweiser in lane-one. Budweiser exited the first turn first. Miss Budweiser led Miss Molson by a full roostertail at the end of lap-one. Miss Bud averaged 134.721 to Miss Molson's 128.740 for the three laps, while Team Yamaha Kelowna ran a distant third.
No Provisional Heat was run. After three sets of preliminaries, PICO American Dream--the defending champion--led with 1100 points, followed by Miss Budweiser with 969, Miss KUHA with 925, Appian Jeronimo with 869, Miss Molson with 750, and Team Yamaha Kelowna with 750. Master Tire, which had not completed a heat, was designated as the trailer boat for the Final Heat.
Mark Evans nailed the start almost perfectly on the outside. PICO American Dream swept around the other finalists in the first turn and pulled to a decisive lead on the first backstretch. PICO did 137.284 for lap-one and then reeled off laps of 126, 129, 126, and 126 for an average of 129.183 to claim the top prize. Miss Molson did 125.144 to Miss Budweiser's 120.895. Appian Jeronimo, which was fourth over the finish line, was disqualified for cutting off the Miss Budweiser and the Miss KUHA in turn-one. Miss Bud managed to get back up to speed but, a lap later, encountered Appian's roostertail again and also side-swiped Miss KUHA, which was sitting dead in the water near the first turn.
Nate Brown eventually coaxed the KUHA back to life. He completed four laps before being flagged off the course and awarded fourth-place points. Ken Muscatel and Team Yamaha Kelowna didn't start. Mark Weber stopped after a single lap with major hull damage to the underside of Master Tire. The damage was extensive enough to cause the Ed Cooper team to cancel plans for participation in the Texaco Cup the following weekend in Seattle.
In accepting the first-place trophy for the second year in a row at Kelowna, Mark Evans expressed satisfaction with the return of the clock start in Unlimited racing. "It makes it more of a driver's race and a better show for the spectators," he said.
For owner Leland, this was the third consecutive victory on Okanogan Lake. The PICO American Dream team won in 1996 as well with Dave Villwock as driver.