2002 General Motors Cup

Smart Driving Earns Villwock Seattle Victory

by Jon Osterberg

One year ago the NewsJournal recounted Nate Brown's Seafair win aboard the new E-Lam Plus - his first career victory. With success come high expectations. And while Brown faltered in his 2002 attempt to repeat as the Seafair champ, someone else who labors under high expectations - Dave Villwock - drove a smart, savvy race to give Miss Budweiser its third win of the season.

Chip Hanauer knows something about performing underpressure. During the General Motors Cup the 61-race winner shared his candid assessment with KIRO-TV viewers.

"This is a new role for Nate," Hanauer said. "He's expected to win. His job is actually at stake, I believe."

Testing and Time Trials

Brown led all qualifiers with a Saturday lap of 153.344, beating Villwock's 152.632 aboard T5 '97. The next five boats were lumped within 2.8 mph of each other. Perhaps the most excitement came from the Coopers' new Vacationville[.com]. Mitch Evans throttled his Allison-powered mount to a lap of 145.612 - a piston record for a 2-mile course.

"We've got quite a machine," Evans said after a Friday lap of 141. "I think we could run 150 here. It corners well, and I only saw 160 in the chute."

Silver Dollar Casino held the bottom rung of the qualifying ladder. Ken Muscatel could squeeze no more than 135.567 out of his weekend loaner, one of the green "Leland Navy" boats.

The weather deteriorated Sunday. Dark clouds, wind, and cool air swept in as Miss Budweiser ran several times to test its rough-water setup.

On the other side of the pits, workers swarmed over Oh Boy! Oberto, which had fried its electrical system. The "Hurryin' Hoosier" was race-ready by heat 1B, thanks to volunteers from several race teams.

Heat 1

Six boats approached the line to kick off the GM Cup. From the inside out: Brown aboard E-Lam Plus, Mike Hanson driving Skyway Park Bowl & Casino, Greg Hopp and "Auburn Chevrolet American Pride" Evans with Vacationville, Jimmy King aboard LLumar, and Muscatel piloting Silver Dollar Casino. E-Lam and Skyway were first to the corner as Vacationville and Silver Dollar lagged. Hanson drifted out exiting the turn, giving Brown room to roam. The two pounded up the backstretch together with Hopp close behind. E-Lam pulled ahead in the north turn and led Skyway by half a roostertail entering the south turn; Pride ran the same distance behind Skyway. By the end of lap 2, E-Lam had stretched its lead to a full 'tail. Evans -- who planned to run at the back while getting the feel of his new boat -- reeled in King entering the south turn of lap 3. Hanson closed a bit on Brown, who won. Evans beat King by half a 'tail for fourth.

Hanauer offered more candor before 1B: "I don't think Mark Tate wants to be out there. He's not having a good year, and he's not happy. I think he's even second-guessing whether he wanted to come back this year."

Moments later, Tate's Trendwest stalled while milling, but it recovered. Inside out: Villwock and Bud. Tate aboard Trendwest, Terry Troxell in Miss Fairweather Masonry, and Steve David with Oh Boy! Oberto. Mike Weber and Miss Grand Central Casino did not start, victims of a fractured oil-cooler heat exchanger. The four hydros pounded to the line in unison. Tate veered out on Troxell nearing the south turn. Bud led Trendwest by nearly a full roostertail in the north turn and stretched it to more than a 'tail ending the lap. Oberto and Fairweather battled at times side by side, and lap 2 looked much the same. At the finish, Villwock won by a roostertail followed by Tate, David, and Troxell.

The sun broke through after 1B, and at some point a steady wind broke the log boom. It affected paying boaters but not the hydros. Then the sky darkened again, and showers fell on the crowd, which was sparse, undoubtedly because of the threatening forecast.

Heat 2

Inside out: Silver Dollar, LLumar, Vacationville, Skyway, E-Lam. American Pride stalled in the south turn at the one-minute mark. Again, it was another near-blanket star except for Vacationville, which trailed by two lengths. Hanson reached the corner first, but King, on his inside hip, was first off the exit pin. Brown swung 'way wide in fourth place with Evans last. King led Hanson by nearly a full 'tail ending lap 1. E-Lam pulled nearly abreast with Skyway entering the south turn and, ending lap 2, shot decisively ahead. The orange boat charged outside of LLumar's roostertail through the south turn and pulled into the lead entering the backchute. At the finish, it was E-Lam by a 'tail over LLumar. Evans charged past Hanson on the final front stretch for third. However, the new U-3 had taken a pounding that cracked its airtrap and deck, prompting owner Ed Cooper Jr. to withdraw his all-red speedster.

"We learned a lot this weekend," said Evans. "We've been patient this long, so we can wait to fix the boat right. We built it light to go fast. We'll fix it and go fast in San Diego."

Heat 2B, from the inside out: Grand Central, Fairweather Masonry, Oberto, Trendwest, Budweiser. Oberto and Fairweather led across the line. Troxell led David through the first turn as Weber committed an "unforced error" and struck the first buoy past the entrance pin. Villwock, running in about lane 8 or 9, entered the back-stretch in fifth place. Tightly bunched, the boats held those positions through the north turn until Bud passed Trendwest at the exit pin, then caught Oberto at the line. Weber, despite his one-lap penalty, ran hard alongside Troxell and squeezed ahead. Bud passed Fairweather ending lap 2 and charged after Grand Central. Bud surged up the backstretch but Grand Central "won" by four boat lengths. Trendwest, after running the fastest lap of the heat, faded badly.

A frustrated Weber vented some emotion at the dock. "The conditions out there aren't raceable," he said. "I wouldn't put an offshore boat in that crap. Now they're gonna nitpick... I barely tapped that buoy." Regardless, Weber's tap earned him a one-lap penalty.

Heat 3

The sun emerged for good. Inside out: Grand Central, American Pride, Silver Dollar Casino, LLumar, Skyway Park. Everyone arrived late for the start, particularly Muscatel and King. Weber and Hopp led across the line and out of the first turn with Hanson close behind, followed by King (who soon lost his cowling) and Muscatel. Positions held, and ending lap 1 Weber led Hopp by two boat lengths. Hopp powered ahead in the backstretch. Weber faltered exiting the north turn, and Hanson appeared to move into second starting lap 3; however, he'd been penalized for pinching King earlier. It became a parade to the finish with Hopp taking the victory. Once back in the pits, Hanson denied earning his penalty. "I don't think we did anything," he said, "but that basically does us in."

Heat 3B, inside out: Oberto, Trendwest, Budweiser, E-Lam. Fairweather Masonry did not start. Trendwest led at the line as E-Lam lagged, but everyone was late. Oberto and Trendwest exited the south turn together with Bud close behind; E-Lam trailed by several lengths.

Trendwest ground out a lead up the chute, and Bud pulled into second in the north turn, where Oberto lost a prop blade at the exit pin. The blade sliced through Oberto's tail, the strut pulled loose, and just like that Steve David was done racing for the day. Villwock and Tate crossed the line together starting lap 2. Tate carved a slim lead entering the backstretch, but Villwock surged ahead and led by nearly a 'tail ending the lap. E-Lam closed on Trendwest entering the south turn and crept into second place up the backchute, with both boats half a 'tail behind Bud. Villwock swung so wide exiting the final turn that Tate finished second over Brown, who'd unwillingly been given an up-close look at the beach. Said Brown, "I muffed the start. I just wasn't paying attention."

Five vintage piston hydros took the course for the fourth annual PEMCO Classic, which race officials inexplicably cut one lap short. For the record, David Williams won the exhibition race aboard the "Miss Madison," which averaged 81.902 mph on the final lap to edge N. Mark Evans, who posted 81.893 aboard the "quasi-Ka'i." The 1967 Miss Budweiser and 1960 Miss Burien also participated, while Miss Century 21 did not finish.

Provisional

The provisional featured just three boats. Fairweather Masonry, on the inside, led Grand Central Casino and Silver Dollar Casino across the line. Weber forged a slight lead entering the north turn, stretched it to a few lengths a lap later, and eventually won by four boat lengths over Troxell at the finish.

Final

Hydro-Prop™ chairman Gary Garbrecht announced that drivers would dice for lanes in the final heat. Brown stalked Villwock for several minutes and then cut inside approaching the south turn -- only to find Hopp straight ahead parked in lane 1. Brown swung outside Bud to lane 3. Then Hopp stalled on the backchute, giving Villwock the luxury of owning lane 2 with no one inside of him. The fleet sprinted to the start with Trendwest leading followed by Skyway, Bud, E-Lam, and LLumar; Grand Central trailed. Bud muscled into the lead at the south turn exit pin, followed by Trendwest, Skyway, and E-Lam. Officials announced that Hanson was penalized again for pinching Brown. Villwock led by nearly a 'tail ending lap 1. Tate led Brown by a nose ending lap 2, but Brown eased into second in the south turn. Brown drove hard, caught air, and rocked crazily on his sponsons at times. He turned the heat's fastest lap, 140.145 mph. But it wasn't enough, and the final became a parade to the finish. Budweiser beat E-Lam followed by Trendwest, LLumar, Skyway, and Grand Central Casino. American Pride, which had re-started, closed on Trendwest at the finish, but Hopp was later disqualified for having no data in his onboard computer. And Weber incurred another one-lap penalty for dislodging a buoy.

The post-race analysis was pretty simple: Villwock drove a smart race, Brown didn't.

"The crew set up Miss Budweiser for the rough water," said Villwock, who appeared unusually relaxed all day. "Hats off to Nate and the Ellstrom team. He did a great job and gave us all we wanted." He added with a slight smile, "Hopp was in a perfect place."

Heading into San Diego, Bud and Villwock -- who finished the day with a perfect 160 points -- lead E-Lam and Brown by 92 points in the high-points chase. Despite its year-long fuel-flow handicap, Bud seems unstoppable in its quest for yet another national title.

(Unlimited NewsJournal, September 2002)