2004 Belterra Indiana Governor's Cup

Bud, Villwock, Claim World Championship

by Craig Fjarlie

Dave Villwock drove Miss Budweiser (T6) to a world championship title at the 2004 Madison Regatta. The "Red Rocket" was unbeatable, showing itself to be significantly superior to its six rivals.

The Union of International Motorboating (UIM) recognized the regatta as a world championship, the first unlimited race to carry that designation since the 1984 Houston regatta.

Testing and Time Trials

Only seven unlimited teams were on hand, the smallest turnout in Madison since 1976. One qualifying session was held on Friday, and Miss Budweiser topped the field at 151.527. Next was Terry Troxell aboard Ellstrom, with a speed of 146.129. Greg Hopp turned 143.403 in Mariann Travel Inn. Steve David was an eye-blink slower in Oh Boy! Oberto at 143.104.

Saturday morning Ellstrom narrowly avoided disaster. Troxell was testing when the strut broke and pulled loose from the boat's bottom. The strut stayed on the shaft, while Troxell shut off the engine. There was only incidental damage to the bottom, but the team's best strut was junk. The crew spent the rest of the day cleaning up the bottom and installing a new strut. It wasn't a duplicate of the damaged strut, however. The replacement was a different style that caused the propeller to be moved 7 inches closer to the transom. Troxell would have to wait until Sunday morning to find out what effect the change would have on handling.

At the end of qualifying on Saturday, Miss Budweiser was still fastest at 151.527, followed by Oberto, Ellstrom, Mariann Travel, LLumar, driven by J.W. Myers, and EMCOR, driven by Mike Weber. An hour after the drivers' meeting, in a last test session, Ken Muscatel coaxed 130.170 from Mister Home Loan.

The UIM required a minimum of one hour between heats. A provisional heat, originally scheduled for 3:30, would have pushed the final to 4:40. Owners and drivers agreed to cancel the provisional, thus leaving the final at its original start time of 4:10. Officials also announced they would impound the first- and second-place boats immediately following the final.

Sunday morning Troxell took Ellstrom for a test ran, On reasonably smooth water, while alone on the course, the boat appeared exceptionally light in the nose.

Heat 1

Throughout Sunday morning, the wind blew from the west, upriver. There were forecasts of possible thunderstorms in the Ohio Valley area. The center of the river was choppy, with occasional whitecaps. There also was a fair amount of debris in the water. Heat 1 would be four laps.

Lanes were assigned: 1A had Ellstrom in lane 2, Oberto in 3, and Bud in 4. (Lane 1 is left open in Madison.) Bud and Ellstrom crossed the line together, with Oberto about two lengths back. The two leaders stayed close through the first turn and up the backstretch. Bud powered through the second turn, putting a few lengths on Ellstrom. Down the front straightaway, Bud lengthened its lead. By the end of lap 2, Vill wock was a quarter of a lap ahead. Positions held to the checkered flag.

Heat 1B would have Home Loan in lane 2, EMCOR in 3, LLumar in 4, and Mariann in 5. EMCOR hooked in the shape-up turn and trailed the fleet to the starting line. Myers made a perfect start and led the entire heat. Mariann was a steady second. The battle was in the back of the pack. Home Loan and EMCOR dueled all the way. In turn 1 of lap 4, EMCOR bounced badly allowing Home Loan to pull even. They were side by side up the backstretch. Muscatel used the inside to his advantage and came off the last turn with a slight lead. He took third by a length. Following the heat, EMCOR made a skid-finchange.

Heat 2

Because of water conditions, the second and third heats were reduced to three laps each.

Heat 2A had Bud, LLumar, and Ellstrom. Drivers would fight for lanes. LLumar was on the inside, Bud in the middle, and Ellstrom outside. Bud and Ellstrom crossed the line together and reached the first turn side by side, with LLumar about two lengths back. Ellstrom went wide, allowing Bud to get away cleanly. LLumar moved up on the inside and surged into second. Villwock lengthened his lead in the second turn and was never challenged.

Ellstrom tried to run close to LLumar but lacked handling in the rough water and was unable to challenge.

Hopp went for the inside in 2B. Home Loan was next, then Oberto and EMCOR. Oberto and EMCOR hit the start perfectly. Mariann trailed the fleet. Oberto went through turn 1 in good shape and sprinted away to victory. Mariann got into Home Loan's skid-fin spray in the first turn and got wet, but there were no calls. Mariann passed Home Loan at the end of lap 1, and positions held, to the finish.

Heat 3

The A section had four boats this time. Again, drivers would fight for lanes. Heat 3 A had Budweiser, Oberto, LLumar, and EMCOR. Troxell wanted the inside. LLumar was next to him, then Oberto and Bud. Villwock led into the first turn and stayed out of the way on the outside. Bud charged up the backstretch and left the field in its wake. Meanwhile, Oberto and Ellstrom squeezed LLumar going into the first turn. There was a near collision. Oberto settled into second, while Myers and Weber had a duel for third. Coming down the front straightaway at the start of lap 2, LLumar caught air and danced precariously for an instant, forcing Myers to back off. LLumar chased Ellstrom up the backstretch, then went dead in the water in turn 2. LLumar re-started and finished fourth.

A few minutes after the heat came the stunning announcement that Miss Budweiser was disqualified for an N2 violation, Villwock later explained that he [had driven hard to stay on top of the rough water, inadvertently over-revving the engine all the way up the first backstretch in the process.

The shape-up for 3B was messy. Home Loan and EMCOR approached the score-up buoy early and had to cut the course. EMCOR was late for the start as a result. Mariann was first at the starting line and was never challenged. EMC OR passed Home Loan in turn 1, lap 2. Positions held to the finish.

Final

Lanes were assigned for the five-lap final.

Oberto would be in lane 2, then Mariann, LLumar, and Bud. EMCOR was on the inside of the second row, with Ellstrom to its right. EMCOR was slow starting. The boat headed onto the race course with less than a minute to spare before the one-minute gun.

Throughout the weekend, David had predicted great things for the hometown Oberto. The boat was much improved over last season, both in overall speed and handling. The hoped-for miracle win ended in the first turn when David hit a buoy, incurring a one-lap penalty. Meanwhile, EMCOR lay dead in the water just past the start-finish line. Miss Budweiser powered through the first turn, and Villwock was on his way to a world championship. LLumar gave chase up the backstretch, but there was no catching the beer wagon. The penalty on Oberto put Mariann in third and Ellstrom in fourth. On the backstretch of lap 2, Myers turned toward the infield, and LLumar coasted to a stop. That change moved Mariann into second and Ellstrom into third. Oberto physically ran second but was a lap down because of the penalty.

Following the heat, it was learned that both LLumar and EMCOR had been victims of cockpit escape-hatch failures. Myers was unhurt, but Weber was taken to King's Daughters ' Hospital for observation.

Dave Villwock was low key in victory. He patiently answered questions and signed autographs long after the race was over. "I knew the final was going to be every bit of strength I could gather," he said. Villwock acknowledged water conditions were as treacherous as he had ever seen on the Madison course. The Ohio River was tough, but in the end, the World Champion was tougher.

(Unlimited NewsJournal, July 2004)