1998 Gila River Casino Lakefest Invitational

Mark Evans, PICO Win Unlimited Invitational

1st: Mark Evans U-100 PICO American Dream
2nd: Steve David U-2 Prime Star
3rd: Mark Weber U-1 Miss Budweiser


CHANDLER, Ariz. — Forty-year-old Mark Evans, who was flying upside down at some 195 miles an hour during the last event of the 1997 season (in Honolulu), began 1998 in the correct, upright position -- and in front of the pack at the annual Unlimited Invitational at Firebird Lake here.

The Gila River Casino Lakefest event -- sandwiched in around an IHBA drag boat race and the Super Stock Circle Boats -- saw Mark Weber and the Miss Budweiser surprisingly defeated, first by Steve David in the PrimeStar and then by Evans in the Fred Leland-owned PICO American Dream.

Evans took the final-round checkered flag after dicing back and forth with David and the PrimeStar. The two powerful unlimiteds, respectively third and fifth in the 1997 O'Doul's high point standings, battled deck-to-deck until David suddenly spun out exiting the south turn of the second lap. Evans, in the outside lane, drove around the stricken PrimeStar for the win, with David eventually restarting his craft and limping back to the pits..

The boats competed in less-than-optimum conditions, with a later-afternoon threat of a thunder storm punctuating the heretofore sunshine-filled day. A brisk, 25-mile-an-hour wind whipped up the Firebird Lake waters, temporarily shutting down the drag-boat action and moving up the big-boat finale. But, when the last run came, the sun was back in full force and conditions were calm on the water.

A large weekend crowd thoroughly approved of the exhibition, three-lap races (each round featured a solo run, as well as a side-by-side, match-race style encounter, determined by pre-race drawing).

The Unlimited Hydroplane Racing Association Thunder Tour '98, presented by LAS VEGAS, begins in earnest on June 26-27-28 at Evansville, Ind., scene of the Pontiac Grand Am Thunder on the Ohio River. The Evansville race will be followed by nine other scheduled events, concluding with the Hawaii Hydrofest at Pearl Harbor in mid-October.

The Budweiser will be seeking an 18th world championship for owner Bernie Little. Engine "vibration" was given as the reason for the boat's first and second-round setbacks. Don't be surprised if it's ready for bear at Evansville, though, where last year regular driver Dave Villwock nearly broke the world record for a two-mile course.

The big boats were on the lake three times for practice and tuneup Friday and Saturday, minus the expected fourth, Close Call, which was turned back at the Arizona border by Competition Specialties president Kenny Woomer and returned home in honor of the late Steve Woomer.

Of the three boats present, two spun out on the tricky Firebird course during the practice sessions. Mark Weber hooked the Miss Budweiser in the north turn, but did an excellent job of controlling the boat, re-fired it and then ran several more hot laps with no apparent difficult.

Steve David, in Jim Harvey's PrimeStar entry, spun around coming out of the pits and trying to negotiate the always-tough south turn. This, in turn, caused the boat to take on a little extra water. But, after laboring several minutes to get re-started, David got it up on a plane and ran a lap before retiring to the pits. On his second trip out, later Saturday afternoon, the boat ran reasonably well.

The Leland Unlimited crew was experimenting with a new canard system. It presented some problems, although nothing insurmountable, and it was decided to modify the system for the remainder of the weekend -- essentially returning to the original canard system.