1998 Chrysler Jeep APBA Gold Cup

Super Dave's 3-Peat Tops Off 12-Pack For Bernie

Compiled by Kirk Barker

Under sunny skies and beautiful weather uncharacteristic of the past two years, eleven Unlimited Hydroplanes lined up along the Dodge pits on the Detroit River ready to do battle for the most prestigious trophy in powerboat racing, the APBA Gold Cup. At the western end of the pits, in the traditional U-10 pit slot stood dozens of flower bouquets and some potted trees along with a picture in tribute to Steve Woomer, owner of the Competition Specialties team, who died of a heart attack in April at age 58.

Moving along pit row the line-up started with Jim Harvey's U-2 Miss Chrysler/Jeep with Steve David driving; Jerry Rise's U-20 Miss Appian Jeronimo with Mitch Evans driving and ready to improve upon last years great 2nd place finish. Bill Wurster was back after a couple year absence in Detroit with his popular U-8 LLumar Window Film with Nate Brown handling the driving duty. Two PICO American Dreams ('96 & '98) owned by Fred Leland, the U-100 driven by Mark Evans and the backup hull which was entered into competition for the weekend as U-101 with Mark Tate piloting. The U-9 of Lori Jones, Miss Carpenter Communications, driven by Mike Weber.

Next was the third Leland hull - U-99 R.S. Eastin presents Miss Bell Fork Lift with Rick Christensen as pilot followed by the only V-12 piston powered craft on the circuit, the U-3 Master Tire: (U3) of the Cooper's (Ed Sr. & Jr.) and driven by Mark Weber. Further down towards the Roostertail and the Hot Pit Corner were Bernie Little's big red Miss Budweisers (T3 & T5) with Dave Villwock returning as driver a nearly fatal crash on the Columbia River in July. Since then he has undergone 15 surgeries, including the amputation of his ring and pinkie finger followed by extensive rehabilitation And finally, owner & driver Ken Muscatel's U-14 Vaurnet presents Audio Bahn.

After two days of testing and qualifying, the big news developed Friday when Driver Mark Tate was spotted sitting in the cockpit of the U-100 PICO American Dream '98 getting a run through of the cockpit controls by U-100 driver Mark Evans. Tate was left without a ride in '98 after U-10 team owner Steve Woomer passing away. Before long, it was being announced that Tate would be taking the U-100 out for a spin during afternoon qualifying. By days end his boat was officially registered as U-101 PICO American Dream '98. Apparently there were rumors of this possibility on Thursday but first Mark Tate's drivers suit and helmet had to be sent overnight from Seattle, Washington. Tate had presented them to Steve Woomer's son Kenny the week of his father's funeral.

However when the smoke had cleared the main story still remained Dave Villwock's attempt to become only the sixth driver to win three straight Gold Cups since 1904. Villwock qualified both Bud boats in excess of 163 mph, nearly 5 miles an hour faster than the next fastest qualifier, Mitch Evans in the U-20 Appian Jeronimo (158.931). Nate Brown, qualifying with a speed of 154.467 in the U-8 LLumar Window Film broke a prop setting up an all night session to repair the bottom of the hull in an effort to make it into the next days qualifying sessions. Miss Chrysler/Jeep driven by Steve David posted a respectable 151.565 mph. The PICO boats struggled, posting speeds of 148.9 and 145, respectively. The 145 of the PICO U-100 was later thrown out due to an N-2 Fuel Restrictor infraction and posted at the 130 mph minimum qualifying speed.

Also during afternoon qualifying, the U-14 Vaurnet presents Audio Bahn driven by Ken Muscatel sheared the main motor shaft and was having trouble finding one that matched up, leaving the status of this team in question.

Fridays racing was topped off by the Chrysler Jeep Automotive Gold Cup Race, a race consisting of the top Unlimited Lights and Grand Prix boats, with the more powerful Grand Prix starting 10 seconds back of the Lights. The event was won by Bo Schide in the UL-16 Alamo in an average speed of 101.095 mph.

Race day Saturday came again with sunny skies and beautiful racing conditions. The U-14 Vuarnet crew had replaced the boat's sheared main motor shaft and was ready to race. In the morning test session U-2 Miss Chrysler Jeep ran a test lap of 159 mph leaving everyone to wonder where the extra speed came from. Answer: The team flew in a new prop purchased from the old Steve Woomer shop. It arrived via overnight shipping at 8 a.m. and gave the boat more speed instantly.

In Heat 1-A, Dave Villwock jumped out into the lead with a fast lap of 152.558 mph to take the Budweiser to a wire to wire win in an average speed of 146.448, followed closely by Steve David in the Chrysler/Jeep and Mitch Evans in the Appian Jeronimo. Fourth went to Ken Muscatel in the U-14 Vuarnet and Mark Weber brought up the rear in the Master Tire.

The second heat of the day was an all Leland affair (almost) as the U-8 LLumar wasn't finished with repairs in time for the heat and Mike Weber in the U-9 Carpenter Communications did not finish. Mark Evans in the U-100 PICO took the lead with a first lap of 151.439 on his way to average 141.885 heat win. Mark Tate led the U-99 Bell Fork Lift across the line in the U-101 PICO '98.

After working all night to get the boat repaired, Nate Brown couldn't get the U-8 started in Heat 2A. The problem was dead batteries. Too many test fires on the trailer drained them without enough time to be recharged before the heat.

Heat 2A provided the most excitement of the day not only for the fens but for the race teams as well. The U-100 PICO American Dream '96 driven by Mark Evans started the race five to six boat lengths ahead of the Budweiser. Obviously the start would have given PICO a chance to win but ended up with both the PICO and Bud boats receiving a one lap penalty for jumping the gun. Overcoming a near spin-out coming out of the roostertail turn on the last lap, the heat was won by Steve David in the U-2 Miss Chrysler Jeep. Both Evans and Villwock were upset, Evans saying that Villwock cut him off going up the backstretch at the start of the race.... And Villwock talking with officials a full hour after the heat claiming he did not jump the start. Villwock and race officials viewed a tape to confirm he did start early.

Mitch Evans took command of heat 2B in the U-20 Appian Jeronimo, leading off with a first lap of 146.896 mph. His dominance of the heat was short lived as he succumbed to gear box failure, yielding the win to Mark Tate in the U-101 PICO '98. Rick Christensen was second in the U-99 Bell Fork Lift followed by the Weber brothers, Mark in the Master Tire taking one from his brother Mike in the U-9.

With his strong performance of a 1st and a 2nd, Steve David held the points lead toward the Gold Cup final at the conclusion of the first day of racing. The top six drivers in point from the 10-boat field advance to the Gold Cup final. Mark Tate, prior to Friday, had not anticipated racing in this year's Detroit APBA Gold Cup. Following Saturday's preliminary heats, he was tied with teammate Mark Evans for second.

Gold Cup Sunday came with the same beautiful sunny weather of the previous three days. Heat 3A started the day off with a fierce, though short-lived, battle between the U-100 PICO and the Bud. Evans taking the inside lane kept pace with the Bud through the first lap into the tight roostertail turn where Dave

Villwock took advantage of the PICO's missing cowling to crowd Evans in and wash down the PICO. Further crowding of the PICO down the front straightaway caused the PICO to temporarily loose power . Dave Villwock took the heat in an average of 143.559 mph followed by Nate Brown in the LLumar. Mike Weber in the U-9 Carpenter and Rick Christensen in the U-99 Bell Fork Lift battled for third with Carpenter taking the honors. PICO '96 rounded out the heat at 104.655 mph . Christensen damaged his rudder in the heat and injured his shoulder and wrist.

The excitement continued in heat 3B with Mitch Evans and the Appian laying down a hot lap of 140.847 mph on lap one in an effort to keep ahead of Steve David in the Chrysler Jeep while Mark Tate in the U-101 PICO '98 tangled with Dr. Ken Muscatel in the Vuarnet/Audio Bahn for third. One notable moment occured when Mark Tate had the closest call (no pun intended) with the Waterworks seawall known as Reynolds Wall/Hansons Wall. For those unfamiliar with 'the wall', it's a concrete wall along the front of the grandstands starting with a corner, or 'point' on the outside of the exit of the Roostertail turn - the tightest turn on the UHRA circuit. There is a buoy about 12 feet off the point as a warning to the drivers to steer clear. As the Appian came out of the roostertail turn in the lead, he came out wide, causing Steve David, on Appian's right tail, to come out wide. Following not far behind, seeming to come out of the Appian/Chrysler's roostertail, exiting the Roostertail turn came Muscatel in the Vuarnet even wider. And on the outside of Muscatel's roostertail was Tate. As he came out of the turn, seemingly sliding into the wall while smacking the buoy with his LEFT sponson!. The bang! of the buoy exploding seem to catch everyones breath as they watch Tate skillfully, if not miraculously, pilot the PICO along the seawall while keeping the boat from hitting the concrete. Most people couldn't believe the boat came out without a scratch. No-one could crane closer without consequences.

Both the U-20 and the U-101 were assessed one lap penalties (Tate for hitting the buoy!), leaving the Miss Chrysler Jeep to take its second win of the weekend with Vuarnet second, Mark Weber in the Master Tire third, Jeronimo fourth and PICO '98 fifth.

The point leaders through the first 3 sets of heats battled it out in two boat duel heat 4A. Vuarnet (--) and Appian (gear boxes) did not start while Master Tire withdrew for the day after running through 4 engines. The Detroit course is always changing - there can be a few moguls in the turns you have to watch out for. Anyone can run when the water is perfect - what matters in Detroit is how well you run in the rough stuff. And by heat 4A, the water was getting rough. Dave Villwock powered the Bud out to a first lap of 148.248 mph to keep an edge on Steve David in the Chrysler/Jeep. The two boats kept at it wire to wire, with Villwock holding the lead on the inside while Steve David wouldn't let up on the outside. Villwock took the heat 140.847 mph to David's 138.689. A sterling performance as Steve David maintained the lead going into the Gold Cup final.

Heat 4B had all five participants in the water but Mark Tate in the U-101 PICO was unable to get the boat on plane by the one-minute mark and was black flagged from the heat, thus eliminating him from the final. LLumar fast lap of 146.891, took heat in 136.732; Carpenter second 134.880 and Mark Evans in the U-100 PICO '96 third at 133.794. Bell Fork Lift, with Mark Weber substituting for the injured Rick Christensen, took fourth at 110.865 garnering enough points to be in the final.

After the preliminary heats were done, there were some interesting developments before the Gold Cup final. The first development was when Fred Leland inexplicably withdrew the U-99 Bell Fork Lift from the final. Crew members and sponsors were frustrated due to the fact that the rudder required to get them into the final was sitting on the U-101 PICO '98, which itself was done for the day, and permission to put it on the U-99 was not forthcoming. Word had gone through the pits that a consolation heat would be run to determine the trailer boat for the final. However, with the withdrawal of the two Leland boats LLumar moved into the final by virtue of points standing. And with Appian out of gear boxes, Master Tire out of engines, Mike Weber and the Carpenter Communications boat got the trailer position by default.

Throughout the weekend, four other classes were also racing. Here are the results for the rest of the classes participating in the Thunderfest. George Kennedy, Jr. handily won the Big Boy Grand Prix Championship in the GP25 Shameless at 99.365 mph. The Authorized Cellular / Airtouch Unlimited Light Final was taken by Bo Schide in the UL 16 Alamo at an average of 90.521 mph. The Motor City Jersey Speed Skiff Bounce was taken by the JS99 Veri Cheri driven by Dave Greenlaw at 63.394 mph. And finally, the Performance Inflatables Bandit/Outlaw Final was taken by the team of R. Provitz/L. Pattyn in the PI38 Airtime Racing with an 43.113 mph average.

A highlight of the Unlimited Lights preliminary heats had George Stratton, who did a 360 degree flip in his Wild Fire and landing right side up and driving back into the pits in Kelowna last year was at it again. This time it was a 360 degree barrel roll in the Roostertail turn. Landing right side up, George popped the canopy, fires the boat back up and drove the GP12 back to the pits uninjured.

The anticipated showdown between Villwock and Evans in the unlimited final never materialized as Evans, minus engine cowling, lost power prior to the start and was unable to restart in time for the gun. Villwock made a clean start, took a large lead- and then stayed out of trouble on the 2.5-mile course to average 140.309 mph for the five-lap race. Steve David in the Chrysler/Jeep tried to keep the pressure on, but just didn't have enough to to beat the Bud.

Nate Brown, having lost a tip off a blade on his propeller at the start making it unable to maintain his challenge on the Chrysler/Jeep for second settled back into third, but had just enough to hold off Ken Muscatel in the Vuarnet and a last lap charge by Mike Weber in the Carpenter Communications who started from the trailer position (122.468 to 121.107 to 119.827 mph heat averages).

But in the end, it once again was the Miss Budweiser, king of boats, flying across the finish line first in an APBA Gold Cup final on the Detroit River. Dave Villwock became the sixth driver to win three consecutive Gold Cup unlimited hydroplane championships "This is awesome," Villwock said. " My first Gold Cup in PICO 2 years ago was great and my second last year in the Miss Budweiser was better, but this one is the best."

Villwock said qualifying runs in rough water Thursday and Friday helped him make the correct decision Sunday. "The water started to deteriorate around 3:30," Villwock said of Sunday's prerace conditions (the Gold Cup started at 3:40 p.m.). "I was able to keep, the throttle down going into the first turn, while the other guys were struggling."

Miss Budweiser owner Bernie Little, who now has 12 Gold Cups with this win, commented "He's remarkable, he was so determined to get back in racing. If he would have called me and said 'Bernie, I want to drive, but I don't think I can win,' I still would have him. He's earned the ride. There's nothing I admire more than loyalty."

# Boat Driver Qualifying Speed 1A 1B 2A 2B 3A 3B 4A 4B Final Pts.
U-01 Miss Budweiser Dave Villwock 163.080 1 - 4(a) - 1 - 1 - 1 1769
U-02 Miss Chrysler Jeep Steve David 151.565+ 2 - 1 - - 1 2 - 2 1700
U-03 Master Tire Mark Weber 128.051# 5 - - 3 - 3 W/D - - 577
U-08 Llumar Window Film Nate Brown 154.467+ - DNS DNS - 2 - - 1 3 925
U-09 Carpenter Communications Mike Weber 145.191 - DNF - - 3 - - 2 5 821
U-14 Vaurnet presents Audio Bahn Ken Muscatel 144.508 4 - 2 - - 2 DNS - 4 938
U-20 Appian Jeronimo Mitch Evans 158.931 3 - 1 DNF   4(b) DNS - - 394
U-99 R.S.Eastin/Bell Forklift Rick Christensen 147.828 - 2 - 2 4 - - 4 W/D 938
U-100 PICO American Dream '96 N. Mark Evans 130.000* - 1 3(a) - 5 - - 3 DNS 977
U-101 PICO American Dream '98 Mark Tate 148.934 - 3 - 1 - 5 - - - 752

# The U3 is a piston-powered boat and qualifies at 120 or above.
+ Denotes increased qualification speed
* Denotes N2 violation
(a) One lap penalty assessed on U-1 & U-100 for jumping the start
(b) One lap penalty assessed on U-20 & U-101


Detroit Records:

2.5 Mi Qualification Lap 170.087, Mark Tate, Winston Eagle, 1993.
5 Mi Qualification Avg. Record 168.957, Chip Hanauer, Miss Budweiser, 1992
World Record: 2.5 Mi Qualification Lap 162.166, Chip Hanauer, Miss Budweiser, San Diego, 1995.


(Thunderboat, August, 1998)