2004 Washington Mutual Thunderboat Regatta

A Perfect Ending to the Farewell Tour

A Perfect Day for Bud in San Diego

by Mac Clouse with Bill Moore and Niles Mayfield

The 2004 season was billed as the farewell tour. After 42 years of Anheuser Busch sponsorship, San Diego would be the last race for the Miss Budweiser. As if in recognition of everything that Budweiser has done for hydroplane racing, the tour ended perfectly. Dave Villwock and Miss Budweiser dominated, easily winning all their heats and the final. It was the 141st win for Miss Budweiser and the 46th win for Villwock.

Testing and Qualifying

Eight boats were there to compete. Since this was a non-Hydro-Prop race, all the turbines would run 4.3 gpm.

Friday's temperature was in the high 70's. In the morning qualifying, there was not much wind; the water was flat. During the afternoon session, the water was a little rough as a moderate breeze blew across the course.

When asked what Bud could do with 4.3 gpm, Villwock replied "Probably in the mid 160's." When this reporter suggested the high 160's, Villwock only smiled. Villwock qualified T6 Budweiser at 169.268 in the afternoon session. He did 166.543 with T5 '97.

Villwock's San Diego course qualifying record is 173.384. "If the water had been better, I think we could have done 170-something, maybe 171 to 175," he said. "But at that speed, I have to worry about an N-2 violation."

Mitch Evans in Vacationville was the second fastest at 159.348. "We're stuck on 159. We used the same set up as last year, but tomorrow we'll try a different engine and gearbox."

The other qualifying speeds were LLumar Window Film (J.W. Myers) 156.413, Charles Stanley's Handyman (Greg Hopp) 152.413,

Oh Boy! Oberto (Steve David) 150.628, Mister Home Loan (Ken Muscatel) 148.411, Graham Trucking (J. Michael Kelly) 146.343, and the rebuilt EMCOR (Nate Brown) 144.764.

Kelly was impressed with his first visit to Mission Bay. "The course is nice and fast. I'm trying to use the wing more to get more air under the boat. Today, we blew an engine and cracked a prop. I'm nervous about the saltwater spray."

Hopp also lost an engine. "It just shutoff. Usually there are lots of parts around when you lose the engine, but I didn't see any. But the prop wasn't turning as they towed me in, and that's not a good sign." Greg hoped for better results than his Seattle experience. "We were only putting 3.8 gpm through the engine in Seattle. We'll kick it up to 4.3 gpm here, and we should be faster."

Nate was proud of the EMCOR crew. "They worked real hard to put the boat back together. This is the boat's home race, so we need to be here. The plan always was forme to drive here. Mike Weber is getting better; he's racing his 5-liter back east this weekend. But his back isn't ready for an unlimited."

Saturday was warmer, about 80°, but a steady wind blew across the course. Late in the morning, Villwock increased T6's speed to 169.940. The wind and rougher water prevented a speed in the 170's.

Shortly after Villwock's run, Evans set a new piston record of 162.602 mph. "We used a sister motor to last year's yellow Gold Cup motor, with a new, smaller prop. We have a company in Evansville building props for us. They are more efficient, so they can be smaller."

The only other boat to increase its speed was LLumar to 158.898.

At the drivers meeting, drivers were told that participants in the heat sections would be determined by a random draw. In heat 1, lane choice would be by qualifying speed. In heat 2, lowest points would choose first. In heat 3, the most points would choose first. The four highest point boats would be in the final. The other two boats in the final would be the top two finishers from the provisional. Boats would fight for lanes in both the provisional and the final. All six boats in the final would be on the front line; there would be no trailer. Race officials also emphasized the need to put a good show on the water. Don't damage each other, and give the promoters what they expect to receive for their money.

Heat 1

In 1A, Bud had lane 1 with LLumar in 2, and Oberto in 3. Home Loan was supposed to be in lane 4 but did not get off the trailer. In a morning test run, the motor was out of alignment with the propeller shaft. Damage to the coupler and the short shaft was still being repaired.

David and J. W. Myers were first across the line, but Villwock was first to the turn and led Myers by a roostertail down the back-stretch. David was a roostertail behind Myers. In turn 2, Myers caught Villwock and finished the first lap one boat-length behind. Villwock maintained a one-half roostertail lead for the remaining laps. LLumar used good straightaway speed to catch up to Bud, but lane 1 and great cornering regained the lead for Bud. At the end, Myers charged to close to three boat-lengths. David trailed by a straightaway to get third.

In 1B, Vacationville had lane 1 with Charles Stanley's in 2, Graham in 3, and EMCOR in 4. Evans, Hopp, and Kelly crossed the line together; Brown was late.

Evans was first to the turn and took a roostertail lead over Hopp into lap 2. Kelly and Brown trailed with Brown catching up to Kelly as they entered lap 2. Brown passed Kelly in turn 1 of lap 2. Then Graham slowed to a stop at the exit buoy.

In lap 3, Hopp closed in on Evans, but Evans used the inside lane in turn 2 to lead by one and one-half roostertails at the end of the lap. Evans stretched the lead to two roostertails over Hopp at the end. Brown was a straightaway behind for third.

"We blew an engine," said Kelly. "I was losing power when I crossed the start line at the end of lap 1; then it went in the turn. We have one motor left."

At the end of the day on Saturday, there was an on-the-water tribute to the Bud, Oberto, LLumar, Vacationville, and Bud, in lanes 1 through 4, did two exhibition laps staying side-by-side. After the second lap, Villwock slowed while the other three went back to the pits. Villwock then did three more fast laps, as farout side as possible, to provide some great photo opportunities for the fans. Coming out of turn 2 and down the front stretch, Villwock was about 15 feet from the Fiesta Island shore. After his last lap, Villwock did a donut around the flag boat at the start line, giving its occupants an unexpected thrill.

Heat 2

Sunday was in the mid 70's, with only a light breeze across the course. It was a perfect day for racing.

Graham had lane 1 in 2A with Oberto in 2, Charles Stanley's in 3, and LLumar in 4. However, Hopp never left the dock; there was no power getting to the starter. All three boats crossed the start line together. Kelly was first in and out of the turn and took a roostertail lead over Myers. He was never challenged and won by two roostertails over Myers; David was one-half a straightaway behind.

One of Kelly's laps was 149 mph. "That's the fastest we've ever gone in competition. I got pretty light in lap 3, but I used the wing to get it back down. We lost a coolant line and did some damage to the engine, but it should be okay."

In 2B, Home Loan had the inside lane, with Vacationville in 2, Bud in 3 and EMCOR in 4. Brown had the second choice for lanes and chose lane 4. "We're not ready to play yet," he said.

Muscatel, Evans, and Villwock crossed the start line together. Brown was again late. Evans and Villwock pulled away from Muscatel down the backstretch, with Villwock leading Evans by one-half a boat length at the end of lap 1. Muscatel was in third, with Brown trailing in fourth. In lap 2, Home Loan died in turn 1. Villwock stretched his lead over Evans to three boat-lengths. Evans caught Villwock in turn 2 of the last lap, but Villwock pulled away for a three boat-length win. Brown was a straightaway behind for third.

Roger Newton, Home Loan's crew chief, explained their DNF. "The device that provides forward propulsion left the boat." The propeller shaft broke where it exits the strut. The end of the shaft and the propeller exited to the bottom of the bay.

Brown's boat was not competitive. "We're out there testing. We're working on lining everything up — the gearbox, the prop, and the shaft. I had my foot to the floor. It's a bad set up right now."

Heat 3

Bud had lane 1 in 3 A, with Vacationville 2, Charles Stanley's 3, and EMCOR 4. Villwock and Evans crossed the start together, with Hopp and Brown behind. Villwock was first out of the turn and had a roostertail lead over Evans by lap's end. Hopp was third with Brown fourth. In lap 2, Charles Stanley's slowed and began compressor stalling, and then Hopp returned to the pits. Evans closed to within two boat-lengths of Villwock on the backstretch, but Villwock would regain his roostertail lead through turn 2. This pattern continued in laps 3 and 4. Brown finished one-half a lap behind for third.

Hopp explained his problems. "In lap 2, I let up on the gas. When I put the pedal down again, there was no response. When it finally responded, I got compressor stalling. I came in because this is our last engine."

In 3B, LLumar was in lane 1 with Oberto in 2 and Graham in 3. Home Loan didn't leave its trailer; the crew was still repairing things from 2B.

David made a perfect start and led Myers and Kelly down the backstretch. Myers caught David entering turn 2 and pulled away to a roostertail lead. David was a roostertail ahead of Kelly. In lap 2, LLumar died in the backstretch, another victim of a blown engine. David and Kelly coasted the rest of the way, with David finishing one-half a straightaway ahead.

Described by the PA announcer as a "wiley veteran who knows all the tricks," David was pleased with his start. "We had to get to the turn before J. Michael, because he's faster than us. We're running a Ronnie Brown prop; it's not as fast but it's good in rough water. We're doing 181-182 at the end of the straightaway. Bud and Vacationville are at 200."

Four boats were now in the final: Bud with a perfect 1,200 points, Vacationville with 1,000, Oberto with 850, and Graham with 700.

Provisional

Fighting for lanes resulted in LLumar in lane 1, Home Loan in 2, EMCOR in 3, and Charles Stanley's in 4. The boats were early to the backstretch and went slowly through the turn to the start. Myers was first across the start, first to the turn, and led Hopp down the backstretch. Hopp passed Myers entering turn 2. Myers regained the lead in the turn, but Hopp re-passed Myers on the front stretch and led by one-half a roostertail at the end of lap 1. Brown and Muscatel trailed in third and fourth. Looking like they had "kicked" up their fuel, Hopp showed great speed and took a big lead in lap 2. Unfortunately, in lap 3, Charles Stanley's lost the team's final engine. Myers inherited the lead and won by two roostertails over Brown. Muscatel was one-half a lap back. LLumar and EMCOR would fill out the field for the final.

Final

The key to the finish of the final was what happened in the milling period. Five boats formed up very early and went slowly down the backstretch. LLumar was in lane 1, Graham in 2, Oberto in 3, Vacationville in 4, and EMCOR in 5. Bud trailed. Villwock looked for an opening, then stuck the nose of Bud between LLumar and Graham, taking lane 2. Graham and the others each moved out one lane.

Myers was first to the turn, but Villwock was the first to exit. By the end of the lap, he led Myers by a roostertail. Evans was one roostertail behind Myers, Kelly, Brown, while David trailed. In the second lap, Evans passed Myers as LLumar died at the exit of turn 2. Graham died at the exit of turn 1. David passed Brown. By lap 3, Villwock's lead was one-half a straightaway over Evans. David was third with Brown fourth. No one could challenge the Bud. The last two laps were a parade with the positions and spacing remaining the same.

Both LLumar and Graham lost a propeller blade. Graham took on some water; LLumar was nearly submerged up to the canopy when it was towed to the dock.

According to LLumar owner Bill Wurster, "We lost a blade that caused a tremendous vibration that literally ripped the strut away from the boat. At that point, the strut whipped around causing extensive damage to the bottom. The strut finally broke apart at the barrel and fell off. The long shaft and the short shaft are still attached, although both are dramatically bent. The broken prop is also still attached. We don' t know yet what sort of damage has been done to the engine and the gearbox."

Graham's strut was partially torn from its bottom. Kelly said, "The boat was running well, but it seemed to be more of a handful in the comers. Then it just stopped. I was penalized for encroaching on Steve in turn 1 of lap 1. I slid out and hooked a bit. The skid fin didn't hold."

When asked about Bud getting lane 2, Kelly said, "Dave forced his way in. My spotters told me to move inside, but l didn't. Oberto was spraying water on me and I couldn't see much. I sped up to get away from him and may have been too early to the score-up buoy."

David also talked about the start. "I slowed down as we were going down the backstretch because I knew we were early. When Dave moved into lane 2, there was lots of spray all over. Then I discovered I was now in lane 4. But I was first across the start line."

Brown was happy with his fourth place finish. "The engine salted up, and I could only go at ¾ throttle. The right sponson also wasn't right. But the crew was great. This weekend was like breaking in a new boat. Their first priority was to be safe.

We' re pleased with fourth, but we saw today what happens without parity. We ' re here to put on a show and this wasn't."

Myers was disappointed and respectful. "I was hoping to beat Dave. When Dave went past me on his final lap, out of respect I waved goodbye to him. We'll miss those Bud guys."

Evans thought he had a chance to win. "We had Dave where we wanted him, but the boys let him in lane 2. I was at the score-up buoy at exactly 1 minute. The other four boats looked early. I kept watching for Dave to come in between Steve and me, but he got lane 2 and no one was going to catch him."

Villwock explained his starting strategy. "I saw that the other five boats were real early. So I used a Bill Muncey strategy. I let them go ahead and waited for a hole to open up. I saw a hole for lane 2 and one for lane 5. Obviously, I decided on lane 2.

J. Michael kind of moved in and made it a little dicey. I was at the score-up buoy at one minute. I think the others may have been early."

Villwock was pleased and thankful to end things with a win. "Thanks especially to the Bud crew; they ' re the best there will ever be. And thanks to all the fans for coming out to watch us." Joe Little was pleased and planning ahead. "It was good to have a great year and go out in style. I just wish we'd have won the Gold Cup. I'd like to have my name on that trophy."

When told that there was still a way he could accomplish that, he just smiled. "I want to sell the team, and I think there are some people who want to buy it. Ijust have to figure out a price. I'd like to sell it all in one package, but I could split things. For next year, I already have a spot reserved in the motor home area here and under a shady tree in Tri-Cities."

At the awards ceremony, all of the other teams praised the Budweiserteam. There were comparisons to the success and dominance of the New York Yankees. They were thanked for all they have done for the other teams and for their contributions to technology, design, and safety. They were congratulated for being the class organization of the sport.

When the Bud team came on the stage to get their trophy, the crowd gave them a long and loud standing ovation. Most of the fans and teams felt that it was appropriate for the Bud team to finish with a perfect day and a win. It was the perfect ending to the "Farewell Tour."

Things will be different next year without a Miss Budweiser competing on the water.

We are left with 42 years of memories; we will miss you. From all of us fans to all who have been part of the Budweiser team, we give you a final toast - This Bud's for You!

(Unlimited NewsJournal, October 2004)