1996 Molson Thunderfest

Hydroplane Racing : Wind-Assisted Win

By Brad Fay

KELOWNA, B.C. -- Apparently high winds and glass slippers don't mix.

Miss DeWALT Tools was primed for a Cinderella run yesterday at the Molson Thunderfest, when wind and rough water forced the cancellation of the championship heat.

After a phenomenal weekend on Okanagan Lake's liquid oval, the DeWALT boat found itself in a dead heat with heavy favorite PICO American Dream. Each boat had 1,100 points but when the final was cancelled, PICO was declared the Thunderfest winner by virtue of more qualifying points accumulated Friday and Saturday.

[Ed. note--The PICO was declared winner by virtue of 10.85-second time differential versus the DeWALT over the three, six-mile preliminary heats.]

"We would have loved the opportunity to settle it on the water," said DeWALT crew chief Charlie Grooms.

PICO, Smokin' Joe's and the Miss Budweiser are unquestionably the glamour boats on the unlimited hydroplane circuit, and most weeks it's those boats claiming the top three places. Even race announcer Mike Fitzsimmons continuously reminded Kelowna fans yesterday that those crafts would be the definitive favorites for the afternoon final.

But quietly plugging away was the DeWALT, a boat from Indiana which travelled west last month to take part in three races. Third-place finishes in Tri-City and Seattle set the stage for Kelowna, and what Grooms called one of the best overall performances his boat had ever put forth.

"Everything went well this weekend," said Grooms, whose disappointment in having the final cancelled seemed to be eclipsed by the strides his team made in Kelowna.

Miss Budweiser wound up third and Smokin' Joe's fifth, though in the winner-take-all final both boats would have made a serious run for the top prize.

"We always save our best engine for the final," said Miss Bud owner Bernie Little, whose team worked feverishly to change engines between their final qualifying heat at 2:30 p.m., and the scheduled 4:08 p.m. final.

"We have it down to where there's just about one mile per hour difference between us and them (PICO)."

In what amounted to the proverbial final, PICO and the Miss Bud waged a furious battle in Heat 3A, when Dave Villwock in the PICO held off a surging Mark Evans and Miss Bud to win by about five boat lengths.

Miss Bud had defeated PICO in an earlier heat, so the crowd of 30,000 lining the shores of Okanagan Lake was primed for an exciting final.

For PICO, it was the sixth win in eight races this season, pushing the team's nearly insurmountable points lead to 2,063 over Smokin' Joe's with just 3,280 points remaining up for grabs this season.

(Reprinted from The Daily Courier, Kelowna, August 12, 1996)