2005 Budweiser Madison Regatta

The Big Red Boat Is Now Orange

By Craig Fjarlie

J. W. Myers drove a perfect race. That's the bottom line from the 2005 Madison Regatta. He had the fastest boat, was top qualifier, and won every heat. On Saturday morning, as Myers flew down the front straightaway on a test run, someone remarked, "The big red boat is now orange."

Testing and Qualifying

For the most part, Madison had surprisingly good water. Often, the Ohio River is bumpy, especially on the Kentucky side. This year, with the exception of Friday afternoon, conditions were ideal. Ellstrom was feather light, barely ticking sponsons on the straightaways. Master Tire, with Jimmy King at the wheel, looked solid, but not as quick as Ellstrom. A crewmember confided the boat was down 10 mph over last year, and Ed Cooper was searching for the cause. Unlimited rookie Jean Theoret, a personable fellow with a French-Canadian accent, pushed LLumar to the limit. Although slightly off the pace of Ellstrom, Theoret would be a tough rival for Master Tire.

J. Michael Kelly, 2004 Rookie of the Year, had some newfound speed aboard Graham Trucking. The boat still shows a propensity to act up with little provocation. Oh Boy! Oberto, with Steve David driving, was off the pace of the leaders. The team's victory at Evansville notwithstanding, David was a long shot to make it two-in-a-row.

Rounding out the field were Greg Hopp in Demaree Automotive Group, Dick Lynch at the wheel of Formula Powerboats [Formulaboats], and Ken Muscatel with the freshly-repaired Superior Racing. Muscatel's boat, which had been on the beach at Evansville a week earlier, arrived around sunset Friday. The left sponson was without paint, but repairs were complete. The name was added on the right sponson Sunday morning.

An old-fashioned pie face clock was on the official tower, but the clock didn't work. A digital clock was in the corral, connected to the official clock. Crew members radioed the countdown to drivers in the cockpits. During the course of the race, three of the eight drivers jumped the gun.

The new Hughes Plan called for boats to be seeded into elimination heats based on qualifying speed. Line-ups for all three elimination heats were announced before the first heat on Saturday. Heat 1A would have Ellstrom, Master Tire, Graham Trucking, and Demaree. Heat 1B had LLumar, Oberto, Formula, and Superior Racing. The Hughes Plan created some mixing of boats throughout the event. Heat 2A would feature Master Tire, Oberto, Demaree, and Superior Racing. Heat 2B would match Ellstrom, against LLumar, Graham Trucking, and Formula Powerboats. Heat 3A would have Master Tire, LLumar, Graham Trucking, and Demaree. Heat 3B promised Ellstrom, Oberto, Formula Powerboats, and Superior Racing.

Heat 1

Master Tire, on the inside and Ellstrom, hit the line together. Ellstrom led up the backstretch by two lengths. In turn two, King used the inside to his advantage and pulled even. Myers accelerated away and led as they crossed the start-finish line. Lap two was a repeat until the second turn. As Ellstrom squared away to go down the front chute. Master Tire couldn't hold its lane and got wet. With that, Ellstrom pulled away for the win. There was another two-boat duel for third. Graham Trucking, on the inside, maintained a three-length lead on Demaree for the entire heat.

Just before heat 1B, the announcement was made that Mike Weber would drive Formula Powerboats. The plan was cancelled, however, when the crew discovered a crack in the strut as the boat was being lifted off the trailer. Formula scratched the heat. LLumar, on the inside, and Oberto, went to the starting line together and early. Both jumped and picked up a one-lap penalty. In the first turn, LLumar went through Oberto's roostertai 1. Superior Racing trailed physically, but won on the basis of the penalty to the other two boats. Oberto finished second, with LLumar third.

Following the heats,there was some testing time.

The Formula crew finished changing struts and Weber took the boat out for a few test laps. He averaged some five mph faster than Dick Lynch's best speed.

Heat 2

Sunday morning dawned clear and warm, with only a light breeze. Master Tire took lane one during the warm-up for 2A. Oberto settled into lane two as the fleet moved into the shape-up turn. Demaree and Superior Racing both trailed the leaders. Oberto led into the first turn with Master Tire a length back. As they raced up the backstretch, Master Tire pulled even. They were side-by-side in turn 2. Oberto accelerated faster and led by a length at the end of lap 1. In the first turn of lap 2, Oberto's skid fin came unhooked and Master Tire surged into the lead. Up the backstretch, Master Tire had a two-length advantage. David wasn't ready to give up, however. He pushed King all the way, slowly closing during lap 3. In the final turn, momentum caused both boats to swing wide at the exit. There was no infraction. Master Tire won the drag race to the finish by a length. Demaree was third, and Superior was far off the pace in fourth.

There was confusion at the start of 2B. Ellstrom was in lane one, but Myers appeared to hang back. Both LLumar and Graham jumped. Ellstrom and Graham ran a close race for two laps before Ellstrom pulled away. LLumar was about six lengths behind. In turn 1 of lap 2, LLumar came unhooked at the exit buoy and made a beeline for the beach. The boat had passed the outside course marker before Theoret regained control. Formula, with Lynch driving, was well off the pace but earned second on the basis of the gun jump penalties against Graham and LLumar.

Heat 3

LLumar took lane one with Graham alongside. Master Tire was in lane three, a couple lengths back.

Demaree trailed. Graham led through the first turn and accelerated quickly up the backstretch. In the second turn, LLumar led through the advantage of the inside lane and closed the gap. They were side-by-side down the front straightaway. Kelly was called for a lane encroachment (monetary only) in turn 1 of lap 2. LLumar pulled ahead slightly as they went up the backstretch. Theoret maintained his lead to the finish. Master Tire was third with Demaree far behind in fourth. Following the heat, Demaree was called for a flagrant N2 violation.

Before the start of 3B, Superior Racing withdrew because of faulty shaft log bearings. Oberto took lane one with Ellstrom in lane two. Lynch was instructed by officials to start outside. Ellstrom took the lead at the start and powered away. Oberto gave chase for a lap but there was no catching Ellstrom. Formula trailed the leaders by a half lap.

Final

The final field would feature Ellstrom, with 1,200 points, Master Tire with 925, Oberto with 900, and LLumar, with 794, on the front line. Graham Trucking, with 750, would be on the inside of the second row. Formula would be along side Graham. Master Tire left the pits and King planted himself in lane one, daring anyone to take it. No one tried. The fleet approached the shape-up turn with LLumar in lane 2, then Ellstrom and Oberto. They were all early; a ploy King hoped would work in his favor. Master Tire was almost off plane as it headed for the start. Myers again held back, but still had to slow to avoid jumping. The boats on the front row were going so slowly as they reached the line that Graham Trucking nearly ran up a roostertail. The leaders all accelerated and dove into turn one. Master Tire led through turn 1 and up the backstretch, but Ellstrom was closing fast. In turn 2, Master Tire used the advantage of the inside, and led at the apex, but Ellstrom had better acceleration and surged ahead as they charged down the straightaway. Ellstrom led by a length at the end of lap 1. In the next turn, the gap grew. Ellstrom had a full roostertail lead as they started up the backstretch. From this point on, the only thing Myers had to do was hang on for the win. The race for second was more interesting. LLumar pressed Master Tire hard, slowly gaining ground every lap. Then, as they approached turn 1 of lap 5, LLumar turned to the infield and coasted to a stop. Master Tire took second, with Oberto third. Graham Trucking was fourth and Formula a distant fifth.

"I was concerned, the two guys I did not want below me were in (lanes) 1 and 2," Myers said later. "I had to get off that first turn in a good spot and I was able to do it. The boat was great; it did everything it was supposed to do."

As LLumar was picked up by the crane, the crew found a large hole in the bottom, even with the engine. The running gear was intact; the assumption is that Theoret hit debris in the river. The Master Tire crew changed engines before the final. The boat ran with an untested gear box-propeller combination. The result was a boat that was down on performance slightly.

J.W. Myers scored his first unlimited victory in convincing style. Ellstrom looked as though it could dominate the season. The news that would break a week following the Gold Cup added a twist to the observation that the big red boat is now orange. It was strangely prophetic in more ways than one.

(Unlimited NewsJournal, August 2005)