1998 Pontiac Grand Am Thunder

Pontiac Grand Am Thunder on the Ohio

Evansville, Indiana, Sunday, June 28, 1998, 7:00 p.m. - - The first race of the 1998 Unlimited Hydroplane Racing Series was hard coming. But when racing finally started in the afternoon, fans saw first hand what a difference the new clock start could make, delivering two of the largest upsets in hydroplane racing history.

In the end however, it was Dave Villwock making a spectacular return to racing piloting the U-1 Miss Budweiser to victory in the 'Thunder on the Ohio.'

"This was a very special win for this whole team," Villwock said. "We were in a tough position down here, with not much time to run the boat, but I knew our team would have the very best race set-up when it came time to go, and we did."

After spending the Winter and Fall preparing for the race season, the hard-working UHRA fleet gave a huge crowd in Evansville one of its finest days of racing.

High water on the Ohio River caused cancellation of qualifying on Friday and kept anxious race teams from putting their boats in the water until 7:30 p.m. on Saturday. After dropping another 4.5 feet overnight, the river dropped nearly another foot after 8 a.m creating the need to move several cranes and creating a five-hour delay on race day.

Once everything was set the Thunderboats and the Unlimited Lights went to work fitting in five qualifying sessions and a final in one heavy afternoon of racing.

Heat 1A was taken at the wire by Mike Weber in the U-9 Miss Carpenter Communications over Mark Evans in the U-100 PICO American Dream who finished second. Hydroplane pundits were calling it the biggest upset since Bob Gillian won two heats in Buffalo in 1959.

It took only two heats (in 2A) for U-14 Miss Northwest Unlimited driven by Ken Muscatel to cause another uproar by beating the PICO in what was labeled the second biggest upset since 1959.

Heat 1B saw Villwock starting right on the clock and winning with an average speed of 134.7 mph. Second place went to Steve David U- 2 ARC Construction. U-14 Miss Northwest Unlimited finished third and Mitch Evans in the U-20 Appian Jeronimo not finishing the race.

Ken Muscatel took his Miss Northwest to the front at the start of Heat 2A and held on to win with an average winning speed of 135.071, the fastest heat of the day at that time. Second went to Mark Evans in American Dream. Third went to U-99 R.S. Easton Hotel with Rick Christensen at the wheel. U-3 Miss Master Tire did not start.

Villwock made it two straight winning heat 2B with an average of 133.8 mph. Second place went to David in U-2 ARC Construction with Mitch Evans placing third. Mike Weber finished fourth in U-9 Carpenter Communications.

With the upsets that took place in the qualifying rounds setting the stage, race fans were not disappointed with the winner take all final. For two laps it was neck to neck racing with Steve David leading the Miss Budweiser.

"We were lucky to have a good start," said David, "We were wide open at the start, which is where we had to be."

But on lap three, Villwock unleashed Bernie Little's "Big Red Bud Machine" and pulled away to beat David by nearly 400 yards at the finish. PICO American Dream suffered from a lack of power from the start and was penalized an extra lap after hitting a buoy in lap 2. Mark Evans misfortune allowed U-20 Appian Jeronimo to move up in the standings and finish third.

This race was Villwock's return to racing after he narrowly escaped death last year in accident in last year's Tri-Cities Washington race. Villwock underwent a series of operations and doctors were able to save his right hand which was nearly severed in the accident. Villwock lost two fingers and handling of his boat was a concern coming into the season, however after extensive rehabilitation therapy and the aid of a specially notched steering wheel any speculation was quickly put to rest.

"It's a lot easier steering now than it's ever been," Villwock said.

Series watchers expected the Fred Leland Team to be the biggest challenge to U-1 Miss Budweiser. PICO arrived at this first race with three hulls, two of them brand new. This race was the first time the U-99 and the U-100 had been put in the water. The last time an owner brought two new boats to the same race was 41 years ago. Still, the Leland team will have to wait until Sunday July 5, in Madison Indiana, to seek its first victory.

Alabama's Charley Wiggins drove High Pressure to victory in the Unlimited Light competition. Randy Haas of Ohio finished second to Miss Leroi with Bo Schide Third in Alamo.

Thunder Festival officials, who gave the event a new look this year were able to raise $ 150,000 from the community and sold well over their goal of 30,000 $ 5 buttons a full day before the event.

The success of this years event secured the hydroplane races for at least one more year according to Thunder Festival President Mike Ball.

"With the community and corporate support, this event will go on for years to come," said Ball.

No. Sponsor/Name Driver Speed Pts
Heat 1A
U-9 Carpenter Communications Mike Weber 125.680 400
U-100 PICO American Dream Mark Evans 124.851 300
U-99 RS Eastin Hotels Rick Christensen 101.337 225
U-3 Master Tire Mark Weber DNF 0
Heat 1B
U-1 Miss Budweiser Dave Villwock 134.739 400
U-2 ARC Construction Steve David 129.911 300
U-14 Northwest Unlimited Ken Muscatel 128.370 225
U-20 Appian Jeronimo Mitch Evans DNF 0
Heat 2A
U-14 Northwest Unlimited Ken Muscatel 135.074 625
U-100 PICO American Dream Mark Evan 120.617 600
U-99 R.S. Eastin Tire Mark Weber 101.79 450
U-3 Master Tire Mark Weber DNS 0
Fastest Lap: (2) Northwest Unlimited Ken Muscatel 137.292  
Heat 2B
U-1 Miss Budweiser Dave Villwock 133.833 800
U-2 ARC Construction Steve David 129.895 600
U-9 Carpenter Communications Mike Weber 113.931 569
U-20 Appian Jeronimo Mitch Evans 126.267 225
Fastest Lap (1) Miss Budweiser Dave Villwock 140.023  
Course Record: 2 Mile
Competition Lap: 156.713 Miss Budweiser, Chip Hanauer 1993
Unlimited Final
U-1 Miss Budweiser Dave Villwock 137.013 1200
U-2 ARC Construction Steve David 133.864 900
U-20 Appian Jeronimo Mitch Evans 121.898 450
U-100 PICO American Dream Mark Evans 130.700* 769
U-14 Northwest Unlimited Ken Muscatel DNF 625
U-9 Carpenter Communications Mike Weber DNS 569
Fastest Lap (3) Miss Budweiser Dave Villwock 143.773  
      * Penalty Lap  


(Reprinted from UHRA.com)