2008 Chevrolet Cup at Seafair

Villwock ‘Walks the Talk’ at Seafair

Ref’s Call Leaves Beacon Freakin’

by Dick Sanders; Photos from Karl Pearson

Dave Villwock took out his frustrations from the previous race out on the competition at Seattle, thrashing them when necessary but later teasing his chief competitor into an off-plane rule violation that handed him and the Ellstrom team ultimate victory and the Chevrolet Cup, even as he skirted that same violation by a razor-thin margin. Meanwhile, Jean Theoret and the Beacon Plumbing team earned a double dose of frustration, losing their second consecutive race when a seemingly certain final heat victory was snatched away.

A week before at Tri-Cities, the final heat saw 2007 champion Dave Villwock aced out of the inside lanes by not one but three competitors, then penalized by the officials for not holding his lane before the charge to the start. Nevertheless, a super-confident Villwock told reporters that he could have driven around all three if not for gun-jumper Dave Bryant creating a “fence” next to him. A week later, a determined Villwock methodically set about to walk the talk, starting with qualifying.

Qualifying

The 13 unlimited teams set up shop in the Stan Sayres pits. Friday saw strong breezes and less-than-ideal water conditions in two of three sessions, keeping speeds down among the 12 boats that bested the 130 mph minimum. The U-13 Graham Trucking lost their best prop in the afternoon session. Owner Dave Bartush started making inquiries of people in the pits with diving experience, hoping to later recover his $ 15 K investment from beneath the backstretch waters of Lake Washington, an area which varies between 75 and 200 feet deep. With 10 minutes left in Friday’s last session, Villwock set the top time of the day on a choppy lake at 153.002.

Saturday morning saw better conditions and increased speeds. Villwock raised his average to 155.857, just ahead of Jeff Bryant in Formula at 154.615, with Steve David, David Bryant and Jean Theoret all clocked in at 152+. The U-3 blew a second piston engine during qualifying, leaving the team with just one for the race. Retired champion Chip Hanauer took the Boeing-sponsored U-787 out for a demonstration, the turbine running an experimental 20% mixture of coconut bio-fuel with standard Jet-A. His 147.631 lap average was only a few miles an hour off the qualifying times when the former E-Lam Plus hull (#9516) was new.

Heat 1

In Heat 1A, Jeff Bernard in Formula stayed with Steve David’s Oberto for a lap before David used inside position to gradually extend the lead and win. Thick in the battle for firstplace on lap 1, Jimmy King’s Hoss Mortgage Investors Too! threw a rod through its last engine entering the second turn, ending its weekend. J. Michael Kelly in Graham Trucking and rookie Kip Brown in the U-17 finished 3rd and 4th.

Villwock had a cakewalk in 1B, easily beating Greg Hopp and Brian Perkins. Hopp had to give the aging Leland hull an extra shot of juice to hold off a last-lap charge by Perkins in the U-50 Albert Lee. Ken Muscatel’s U-25 Procraft Windows, riding very light, was well back in fourth.

In 1C, Jean Theoret grabbed lane 1 but was a bit early to the start. David Bryant’s U-10 Hoss Mortgage showed great chute speed in lane 2, keeping up with and briefly passing Beacon on the backstretch of lap 1. Theoret used the inside lane to his advantage in the first turn of lap 2, putting some distance on Bryant. Theoret then opened up and maintained a roostertail lead to the end. Rookie Jimmie

Shane in Formula II passed David Williams’ Lakeridge Paving at the end of the first lap to take third.

The withdrawal by the U-3 team reset the rest of the preliminary heats into two, six-boat sections.

Heat 2

Again under ideal racing conditions, the first running of 2A on Sunday featured some of the best action of the day, even though abbreviated by a crash. Bernard, in lane 1, put Formula out front through the first turn, with David in Oberto on his hip, then a hard-charging Bryant in Hoss Mortgage. After a lap, the three were dead even. Entering the next turn, Hoss reacted off a wave, fluttered for an instant then blew over, rolling upside down on impact. Bryant probably set some sort of record by extricating himself from the boat in less than 20 seconds. Muscatel’s Procraft died before the start with a broken coupling.

The re-run of 2A was less eventful. Jeff Bernard managed to grab lane 1, but was much too early. An off-plane warning from the officials pushed Bernard to accelerate too soon and he jumped the gun by a wide margin, leading to a 4th place finish. In lane 2, David settled back and elected to collect an easy 400 points, followed by Greg Hopp and Brian Perkins.

Kip Brown led the 2B charge to the first turn from lane 5, but the U-17 was passed by almost everyone before the exit pin. Villwock and Theoret battled up the backstretch, with the Ellstrom boat slowly pulling away to a roostertail lead after a lap that they would hold to the end. Kelly moved Graham into third spot in the 2nd lap, passing the U-17 exiting the first turn. David Williams’ Lakeridge suffered a broken fuel control and was a DNF at the end of the first lap.

Heat 3

Theoret had an easy time of it in winning 3A in Beacon. Kelly’s Graham Trucking again found itself without anyone to race against and cruised home in 2nd. With its best prop at the bottom of the lake, the team seemed well-separated from both upper and lower echelons of racers. Back a roostertail, Brian Perkins was pulling alongside Jimmie Shane’s Formula II in the first turn of lap 2 when AIbert Lee’s motor disintegrated with a huge bang that startled the fans on shore.

In a six-boat 3B, Jeff Bernard grabbed lane one in Formula, then it was Amos Moss, Oberto, Mirageboats, U-17 and Lakeridge Paving lining up for a good start.

Bernard led out of the first turn but was passed by Villwock on the backstretch, with David close behind. Villwock opened up a roostertail lead in Amos Moss while Bernard and David battled for second. David pushed Oberto around Bernard’s Formula on the backstretch of lap 2 and gradually opened up a lead.

With the lead positions established, Kip Brown gamely held off a last-lap charge by Greg Hopp’s Mirageboats to finish fourth in the occasionally flighty U-17, with David Williams bringing up the rear in Lakeridge.

Provisional

It was a case of . . . ahem . . . small consolation, as only Kip Brown’s U-17 was able answer the starting gun and was given the checkered flag after completing just one lap. Jimmie Shane’s Formula II was left at the dock with electrical gremlins, while on the other side of the pits, Albert Lee needed to borrow an engine from their teammate Lakeridge Paving hull, while Muscatel’s Procraft Windows needed an engine and gearbox swap. Both teams were ultimately frustrated by lack of a crane. Immediately following 3B, the cranes were lowered for safety reasons for the full duration of the Blue Angels’ flight demonstration. Even after an Unlimited Lights heat was moved up in the schedule following the Blue Angels, there wasn’t enough time for either team to make changes.

Final Heat

Competition for lanes was fierce as the drivers maneuvered for position before the final heat. Two minutes before the start, Villwock attempted to cut from just before the first turn across to the backstretch. Theoret, trolling in lane one up the backstretch, would have none of it, stepping on the gas to cut off Amos Moss in a high-stakes game of “chicken.” Theoret kept his lane, but found himself ahead of the field. (Villwock would later claim this was all by design) Before the one-minute gun, every boat was off-plane, with Beacon even briefly “submarining” its sponsons. At the one-minute gun, officials gave off-plane warnings to the drivers in lanes 1-4: Theoret, Villwock, David and Bernard. All four responded by accelerating into the north turn. Approaching the exit pin before the start, the three inside boats all appeared to slow again, with only Bernard’s Formula in lane 4 clearly staying on top of the waves. Beacon was perhaps lower in the water than the others. On the outside, Kelly and Hopp had hung back and both got a good acceleration run at the start. The four drivers on the inside finally hit the gas and all six boats hit the starting line together and on time. Theoret reached the first turn in front, with Villwock on his right, then David and Bernard side by side acouple of boat-lengths back. Coming out of the first turn, Villwock moved up alongside Theoret in a spirited charge up the backstretch, with Bernard pulling David for third. Theoret opened up a lead exiting the north turn and started to pull away after a lap. Bernard challenged David for another lap, briefly leading several times, before falling back at the end of the lap 2. For the rest of the heat, those four boats would nip at each other’s roostertails, but no serious charges were made. Kelly returned to the pits early when the canopy on Graham Trucking wouldn’t stay shut.

Theoret and Beacon got the checkered flag, took a cool-down lap and were coasting towards the dock when the fans and the media finally found out what only the drivers had been clued into up to that point: Dave Villwock was the winner of the Chevrolet Cup. Theoret had been assessed a one-minute penalty for going off-plane for a second time following the ref’s warning, just past the exit pin before the start. Because it was a time-added penalty, rather than one lap added, the checkered flag had been correctly displayed.

Interviewed at the dock, Villwock said he had been notified of Theoret’s penalty coming out of the first turn of lap 1 and had backed off. Ever confident, Villwock told reporters that, even without the penalty, he “could have driven around him [Theoret]” and “I was pulling him up the backstretch.”

Unlike the sponsor’s slogan, “Stop Freakin’, Call Beacon,” things weren’t so sanguine over at the Beacon camp. Theoret was understandably upset, claiming the penalty was unjust because “we were all going the same speed.” Simmering rage would best describe the look on team owner Billy Schumacher’s face. Billy said he would file an immediate protest of the officials ’ ruling. Former team owner Bill Wurster tried but was unsuccessful in calming him down.

A few days after the race, Billy and Jane Schumacher would make a trip to the KIRO-TV studios to watch footage of the incident with an interviewer. “Horse(bleep)” was Jane’s assessment of the call. Chief referee Mike Noonan, interviewed the same day at the KIRO studios, defended the call, pointing to the exact moment on the tape where he said the infraction occurred, noting the water briefly splashing from the sides of Beacon’s sponsons and the lack of same on Amos W. Moss. A very fine line, to be sure. Later, the owner of Beacon Plumbing, Bill Cahill, was quoted by KIRO as threatening to drop out of boat racing and Seafair altogether if the decision wasn’t overturned, but within a day he publicly took it all back.

It would be over a week before the protest was rejected on the basis that the officials’ call for an off-plane violation was not subject to review or reversal per the ABRA rulebook. ABRA’s Sam Cole also issued an apology on their website to the fans and media for the embarrassing delay in passing along the official calls.

After an inauspicious Eastern half of the 2008 circuit, ABRA was looking for less controversy and more racing out West. More racing they found in Washington State. Hopefully an end to controversy awaits the hydros at the season finale in San Diego.

— UNJ

[Reprinted from Unlimited NewsJournal, September 2008]