1996 Budweiser Columbia Cup
PICO Enjoys Dream Day
By Jim Riley, Herald sports columnist
Dave Villwock glided the PICO American Dream into the Columbia Cup pits, jumped onto the top of the cowling like it was a saddle on a friendly bull and threw both hands into the air in complete and total ecstasy.
Villwock and the Fred Leland race team will head home to Seattle next weekend sitting on top of the world of unlimited hydroplane racing.
Villwock extended his lead in the national high points chase and won his fourth race in six starts this season by winning the 31st running of the Columbia Cup on Sunday.
"That was a great boat ride the guys on my team gave me," Villwock said. "The boat was able to ride about a foot over the rough stuff and it worked really well all weekend."
Villwock averaged 149.477 mph over the five-lap final on the rough 2.5-mile Columbia Cup course to beat defending champion Smokin' Joe's by several roostertails.
DeWALT Tools was third, Lynnwood Honda fourth and Trendwest fifth. Miss Budweiser, the defending national points champion, went without a win for its sixth straight race when it hooked into the infield after hitting a roller on the second lap and did not finish. Neither did Chaplin's Bellevue Mazda Subaru.
Budweiser driver Mark Evans, who took over when Chip Hanauer was injured during the second race of the season, tried to keep his spirits up.
"A big old sturgeon came and slapped the boat," Evans joked. "Actually it was driver error on my part and makes me mad at myself. When you are racing with these guys you have to be aggressive and that's what we were."
Bernie Little, who holds the all-time record for wins as an owner at 101 but has been on hold since last year, couldn't believe his luck.
"If we were a duck," Little said, "we would have drowned."
Villwock knows all about troubles on the Columbia River, blowing over in the Circus Circus in 1993.
"I've had horrible luck here," Villwock said. "I've crashed, tore the rudder off the boat, had the skid fin come off, and that's just in the final. I guess the odds were in my favor. Sooner or later we had to win."
The key moment of the day came in heat 3B.
Mark Tate and the Smokin' Joe's had earned the inside lane position by beating the PICO in the second heat.
It was close heading into the first turn, but as they came into the straightway, Villwock and the American Dream were in control.
Smokin' Joe's went dead in the water shortly after that when the propeller spun off the prop and blew the engine.
"Dave went into that corner and he was going to come out first even if he had to carry the boat," Leland said. "Nobody in the world could have taken that corner the way he did."
Tate wasn't sure what happened in that fateful corner, but he knew it was a great piece of driving by Villwock.
"It's hard to see when you're watching the buoys and everything, but Dave must have gone through there pretty clean because he came through ahead," Tate said. "That gave them a great position for the final. That's racing. It might be just the opposite next weekend."
Villwock knew that turn could well decide the whole weekend of racing.
"Every game has its moment and that was it," Villwock said. "Depending on how we did in that heat we were either going to win or finish as low as third of fourth. Getting the lane choice for the final is a big part of racing."
Villwock earned 1,500 points this weekend and now has 8,464 points through six of the 10 races this season. Smokin' Joe's earned 1,100 at the Columbia Cup and is second with 7,108 points.
"I said coming in here it was like halftime in basketball and we were ahead by 20 points," Villwock said. "I guess we added a couple of free throws today. This was a good weekend, but there's still a lot of racing to go."
The boats race next weekend in Seattle and then are in Kelowna, British Columbia the following weekend.
(Reprinted from the Tri-City Herald July 29, 1996)