1997 Budweiser Columbia Cup

Hydroplane Accident Hospitalizes Villwock

By Tom Fuller

KENNEWICK - Dave Villwock knew his streak of victories would end, just not with his head underwater and his life in danger.

In the first turn of the Budweiser Columbia Cup final yesterday - on the same site where legendary Budweiser driver Dean Chenoweth died 15 years ago - the Miss Budweiser blew over and landed on its back. Villwock, 42, wasn't breathing when race paramedics pulled him from the trap door under the hull.

"His helmet and oxygen had been torn off," said Eric Steilau, rescue director for the Unlimited Hydroplane Racing Association.

"From the time he flipped to the time we got him out of the boat it was probably four minutes."

Villwock, who underwent surgery last night at Harborview Medical Center to repair damage to an open fracture to the middle of his right hand, also had a fracture to his right forearm, said Harborview spokeswoman Pam Love. Villwock is left-handed.

He also suffered a concussion in the accident, according to preliminary tests, Love said.

Mark Evans drove PICO American Dream to his first victory since leaving the Budweiser team after last season. But the attention was focused on his old team and its new driver, who had helped PICO end Budweiser's streak of five consecutive national championships last season.

Villwock, a Bremerton native who lives in Auburn, was revived by UHRA paramedic Dave Miller and then taken by ambulance to Kennewick General Hospital. There he was treated for a fractured right arm and lacerated right wrist before being airlifted to Harborview for surgery and further treatment.

"He was conscious and answering questions," said Jeri Bauer, the nursing supervisor at Kennewick General.

So ended Villwock's streak of 19 consecutive heat victories, one short of the record Chenoweth set in 1980. It also ended Budweiser's streak of six consecutive race victories, dating to the last two races of last season.

The final was hardly a final without the season's most dominating driver in the field.

"You don't ever want to see a boat go over, and you don't want to beat anybody because they broke down," said PICO owner Fred Leland. "That ain't racing."

Leland's team won a race that will be remembered for being the fastest of all time, with 10 boats qualifying in excess of 150 mph. But it also will be remembered for being one of the most destructive.

Just seven boats were racing after the first three heats, and two others - PICO and Close Call - also nearly flipped in the final.

"I should have been upside down like Villwock," said Close Call driver Mark Tate, who placed second in the final after nearly flipping and was rewarded with an ice pack for his strained shoulder. "I'm not saying it's Dave's fault or the boat's fault or the water's fault. It's a racing incident."

Villwock easily won the first three heats, including a victory over Evans in Heat 3B in which Budweiser raced outside of Evans in Lane 2. Villwock chose Lane 2 again for the final. He was confident he had enough horsepower to outrun Evans as he has all year.

He was leading by about a boat length when the rough water in Turn 1 that gave drivers trouble all day sent him over backward.

"Out of the corner of my eye, in my peripheral vision, I saw the Budweiser straight up and down," Evans said. "It was quite high in the air. That's why I was surprised that nobody saw it from the beach."

Budweiser owner Bernie Little didn't see the flip. "What? The Budweiser's upside down?!" he screamed and ran down searching for answers and a closer look at his injured driver and broken hull.

It was a difficult day for Little. Gene Susa, 63, who has traveled with Little to races for more than 20 years, died of a heart attack at the race site during lunch.

The cockpit returned to shore in splinters. The canard was destroyed and the back of the boat was nonexistent, revealing a mass of wires and electrical parts that will take the crew countless hours to repair. And Little doesn't have a driver, either. The circuit heads to Kelowna, British Columbia, next weekend before its annual Lake Washington stop at Seafair. But that's a problem he'll deal with later. It was enough to know that Villwock was conscious.

"We've had a Bud boat in every race for 35 years. I might have to get in there and push it around myself, but we'll have a driver," Little said. "But the main thing is that the rescue crew did just an outstanding job. . . . He was absolutely unconscious, and Dave is a very big man (6-foot-4). So to take him out of the bottom of the boat, they really did a job on him."

Seattle Times staff reporter Arthur Santana also contributed to this report.

(Reprinted from the Seattle Times, Monday, July 28, 1997)


Bud Driver Nearly Loses Hand in Flip

By Jeff Morrow, Herald Sports Editor

Diver Mark Allen knew Dave Villwock was in trouble Sunday as soon as he saw the right hand of the Miss Budweiser driver.

"When I went under (the boat), I saw the hand basically was almost all the way amputated," Allen said. "I had to make sure it stayed attached. And I knew seconds counted on this."

Allen, a primary diver for the Unlimited Hydroplane Racing Association, was one of the first people to reach Villwock after the standout driver flipped the Budweiser in the final heat, landing the 6,000-pound boat upside down.

Villwock was revived, rushed to Kennewick General Hospital, then airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle on Sunday night. By midnight Sunday, Villwock was in surgery "for the near amputation of his right hand," said Harborview spokesman Larry Zalin. "The surgery lasted six hours. The team was led by Dr. Thomas Trumble, who performed microsurgery to repair damage to tendons, nerves and arteries. And the surgery was successful."

Physicians gave Villwock a few hours to recover before sending him back into surgery at 9:45 a.m. Monday to repair his fractured right forearm.

Surgery was completed at 11:38 a.m.

As of 10:45 p.m. Monday, a Harborview nursing supervisor upgraded Villwock from serious to satisfactory condition.

"He had a concussion but has been awake and alert," Zalin said. The fact that Villwock is alive is a testament to the work of the dive and rescue team, said race officials.

"Thank God for the rescue team," Budweiser owner Bernie Little said Sunday afternoon.

UHRA Commissioner Bill Doner said the flip was one of the worst he'd ever seen.

Allen, a veteran diver from Kennewick who got a lot of his training with the Columbia Basin Dive and Rescue team, agreed.

"It was definitely one of the worst crashes for the driver," Allen said. "Dave's a super guy. I knew him when they came down here for testing. Most drivers don't talk to us much. But Dave always invited us over. He's a super guy. That's why this gets to me."

In addition to Allen, Kay Metz, Skip Stoker, Terry Thrall, Eric Steilau and Dave Miller were on the UHRA rescue sled. "And the Water Follies rescue team was right on top of it," Allen said. "They did a good job."

As the team arrived, one diver popped up above the water line. "He said it was a mess under there, and there was no way to get the driver from underneath," Allen said.

Allen's job is to go under the boat in a situation like that. That's when he saw Villwock's hand. The canopy was ripped open and filled with water. Villwock was unconscious and sitting upside down.

"It was bloody, and the water was murky, too," Allen said. "I felt for his head, and he didn't have his helmet on. So I put my hand on his face to see if his oxygen mask was on. It wasn't."

That's when Allen knew he had to work fast because it had been at least two minutes since Villwock first went under water.

"The canopy was jagged fiberglass. I'm surprised I didn't get cut myself," Allen said. "If I had given him air underneath the water, he might wake up, freak out and start fighting me."

Allen had to fight to get the steering wheel off. It was bent. Rescuers from above opened the escape hatch and pulled on the legs of Villwock, who stands 6-foot-5. Allen pushed up from underneath, using a collar to keep from damaging Villwock's neck.

Once Villwock reached the surface, the team worked to clear his throat until he could start breathing again.

"They talked to him, asking him questions and trying to get a response from him," Allen said. "You know, where he was? Things like that. He started answering some of them. That felt good."

The team put Villwock in a transfer boat and started stabilizing his hand. Villwock was then taken to an ambulance. While Villwock is expected to recover, his driving career is over for this season. Perhaps longer.

Villwock won the national title last year with the PICO American Dream. He was hired by Little to replace longtime driver Chip Hanauer, who retired last year after being hurt in a crash while qualifying for the Gold Cup in Detroit.

On Monday, The Associated Press reported Hanauer said that Little had asked whether he would be available to drive, as did Jim Lucero, manager of the Close Call racing team.

Driver Mark Tate sustained minor neck injuries in Sunday's race, and Lucero was unsure whether he could compete this weekend at Kelowna, British Columbia. Hanauer declined both offers.

"I appreciate the offers from both teams, but I am not interested in being a back-up or fill-in driver," he said.

Little, reached Monday at a Seattle hotel, had not talked to Villwock on Monday because of all the surgery.

"I'll be there (today)," Little said. "I want to see how coherent Dave is and talk to him about a backup driver. It's Dave's boat whenever he's ready to come back." Little said he expected to announce a driver today for the Kelowna race, so that whoever it is can get fitted into the cockpit of the T-3 boat.

"I'll tell you, though, I'll never be without a backup driver again," Little said. "I had Mark Evans under contract for two years. But Fred Leland wanted to sign him to a deal, and I honored that."

Asked about Hanauer, Little said "Chip's not going to go boat racing, in my opinion. I called Chip (on Sunday) because I wanted to talk about drivers. He made a recommendation to me about a year ago. And I wanted to talk about this driver."

Little did say there were a lot of drivers who have thrown their hats into the ring. Speculation is that it could be U-99 driver Mark Weber, but Little declined to confirm.

"I'm not trying to hide anything from you," Little said. "Whichever driver it is, we'll decide after I talk to Dave."

Little said he's concerned mostly about Villwock's health--as are most people.

"For me, that was probably the worst flip," said Allen. "I've been a diver for a long time and seen a lot of flips, but that definitely was the most damaging.

"Thank God he's going to be OK."

(Reprinted from the Tri-City Herald, Tuesday, July 29, 1997)