1998 Budweiser Columbia Cup With Wings

Nothing Beats a Bud at Tri-Cities

A Perfect Weekend for Villwock and the Team

by Bill Osborne

Perfection as defined by Webster is "lacking nothing and complete in every sense." Dave Villwock and the Budweiser team, according to Webster, had a perfect weekend at the 1998 Columbia Cup. Villwock's domination was so complete that one final-heat participant conceded the win by saying, "Second place is up for grabs. We can't beat him [looking at the Bud camp], but we can race against the others."

The Budweiser team came to the Tri-Cities primed for a win, while everyone else was scrambling to sort out problems. According to a UHRA official, "The Bud team came here to race; everyone else came to work on their boats. They were so well prepared that very little hull work was done during this weekend. They were able to put all of their efforts into the next series of races."

Villwock nailed the start from lane 2 and quickly took control of the field in the first turn. He made it look so easy; Miss Budweiser pulled away from the rest and finished off the perfect weekend with a wire-to-wire win.

Testing and Qualifying

The T3'95 and T5'97 Miss Budweiser dominated qualifying as they have all season. T5 topped the field, checking in at 162.502, followed closely by T3 at 162.080 mph. The Bud team was so pleased with their performance that they elected not to push T3 against T5 on Saturday. According to Villwock, "T5 was faster in qualifying, but T3 felt better. We sat down as a team and decided to run T3. We knew that we could have run T3 faster, but we decided to set up T3 for the race. " Appian Jeronimo ended Friday's session with a speed of 154.446. By the time the course closed on Saturday, Mitch Evans had posted a speed of 160.749 mph. All of this was accomplished while the crew battled a rudder problem, which made handling the boat a tough chore for Evans on Friday and Saturday. Nate Brown qualified LLumar at 156+ on Friday and improved his speed to 159.747 on Saturday. Bill Wurster was very pleased about the performance: "This is an old boat. We haven't had the time and money to do what we would like to do, but our crew did a great job in preparing the boat. I am very proud of them."

The real surprise of the weekend came from Miss E-Lam Plus and Jimmy King. The Ellstrom family has quietly put together a strong team. Dan Heye, Tracy Bratvold, Erik Ellstrom, Scott Raney, and company prepared a solid race boat for King. E-Lam had a 160 mph lap wiped out on Friday with an N2 violation. On Saturday, they posted a time of 156.786.

Heat 1

Steve David took lane 1 and led the 1A field to the line with Mitch Evans alongside in Appian. Mark Evans was slightly late but hit the line going faster than the two inside boats. Jimmy King, making his first start of the '98 season in the newly remodeled E-Lam Plus, took lane 4. Rookie Greg Hopp, driving U-7/United Furniture Warehouse (the former Leland U-99), followed as the trailer. Evans and King were first and second into the turn. Exiting the turn, Appian took the lead and began to run away from the rest of the fleet. E-Lam moved into second until the first turn of lap 3. Appian slowed down because of handling problems, and E-Lam quickly took over first place. King went on to win easily, followed by Appian, Molson, and PICO. Hopp finished a distant fifth, while Master Tire failed to finish.

Nate Brown was fined $300 for encroaching on Dave Villwock as the two exited the west turn before the start of heat 1B. At one point, the boats were only five feet apart. Referee Mike Noonan explained the call: "The boat on the outside must leave 10 feet inside. If he fails to do this, a fine or a penalty may result. The inside boat can also be called for bearing out, but regardless, the outside boat must avoid the collision."

Despite the altercation at the start, Villwock hit the line first in lane 3. Ken Muscatel made an excellent start alongside Bud in lane 2, while Mike Weber drove Cost Less Carpet from lane 1. LLumar crossed the line fourth from lane 4. Budweiser held the lead entering the first turn followed by Muscatel in Jack-sons Sports Bar. Muscatel made a nice turn and ran within shouting distance of Villwock for most of two laps. In the last turn of lap 3, LLumar moved around Jack-sons to finish second. Muscatel finished third followed by Easter Seals and Cost Less Carpet.

Heat 2

For the second heat in a row, Villwock hit the line perfectly from lane 3. E-Lam followed Bud into the first turn and momentarily made the 2A race look good until Villwock drove around King. Despite having lane 1 at the start, Brown didn't have enough power to stay with the two leaders and settled into third place.

King drove well and kept E-Lam comfortably in second place. Molson passed LLumar in lap 1 and held on to finish third, followed by PICO, LLumar, and United Furniture. The surprise so far was Mark Evans in PICO who had only two fourth-place finishes for his efforts. "We are still having fuel problems," Evans said. "I can't go fast enough to race with these guys yet."

Appian from lane 2 and Easter Seals from lane 4 led the 2B field into the first turn. Mitch Evans opened up a substantial lead and never looked back to record Appian's first heat win of the '98 season. Fendler's boat held second easily until the last turn of lap 2, when Mike Weber passed. Entering the last turn, the two boats were side by side, when suddenly Easter Seals stalled, allowing Cost Less Carpet to finish second. Despite getting wet in the first turn, Muscatel finished third followed by Master Tire.

Heat 3

LLumar took lane 1 at the start of 3A but was passed as Villwock nailed another start, this time from lane 2. Appian showed excellent boat speed, staying with Bud into the first corner. Bud opened up a roostertail-length lead entering the west turn.

Brown used inside position to hold second place until the end of lap 1, when Villwock pulled away. Appian passed LLumar entering die east turn and appeared headed to an easy second-place finish when a wing support broke, which collapsed the tail assembly. Despite dragging his tail feathers, Evans held off Brown until the last turn. Brown used inside position and a better handling boat to overtake Mitch on the last straightaway. David drove Molson to fourth, followed by Master Tire. For the second heat in a row, Easter Seals stopped, again coming out of the last turn.

Muscatel took lane 1 at the start of 3B but was overpowered by King in E-Lam Plus. King made a perfect turn and moved away from Jack-sons, followed by PICO. He drove a perfect race to win the heat with ease. Muscatel, in lane 1, drove Jack-sons to second place, narrowly defeating PICO. Cost Less and United Furniture— now driven by Rick Christensen—finished fourth and fifth.

King was excited about his performance.

When asked if he felt somewhat vindicated after last year, he said, "There were times when I doubted myself.

I did so well in GPs, but things haven't gone well for me in the unlimiteds. This is the way I am supposed to drive. This is the way I know I can drive!"

When he had a poor handling boat, critics wondered if he was a good driver, and now that he finally has a good ride, guess what,

Jimmy King can drive a race boat. To those who watched him dominate Grand Prix, it is no surprise.

Final Heat

Bud from lane 2 and E-Lam Plus from the outside led the rest of the field into the first turn. Villwock went around Muscatel, who started in lane 1, and opened up a huge lead.

LLumar started next to Bud and moved into second place as the boats raced to the west turn. King put E-Lam into third followed by Muscatel, David, and Hale (trailer).

Appian got caught up in traffic at the start and stalled. "I don't know what happened," Mitch said. "The boat just shut down on me. This was disappointing, because our boat ran so well all day up to the final." By the time Evans got going he was out of contention and finished sixth, ahead of Hale.

Bernie Little heaped praise on Villwock and the crew. "Dave did a super job today. This river has been cruel to us. I lost my good friend Dean Chenoweth here, and last year Dave's injury was very serious. The crew did a fantastic job of giving Dave the fastest and safest boat here. Dave is a great driver. "

Make no mistake; Dave Villwock is a very talented driver. Dixon Smith, a long-time member of the Bud team, summed up Villwock's skill succinctly, "Dave has a great feel for the boat. He seems to know exactly what it is doing. What makes him so good is he can tell us precisely what setup changes are needed. "

He made no mistakes this weekend; every start was picture perfect, and he handled Miss Bud with ease, guiding the boat easily down the chutes and knifing through the turns with precision. How good are Dave Villwock and Miss Budweiser? Only time will tell for sure, but on this weekend, Dave Villwock looked like one of the best drivers in unlimited history. It may be a very long season for everyone else!

(Unlimited NewsJournal, September 1998)