1999 Budweiser Thunder on the Ohio

Budweiser Thunders Again

Beer boat Triumphant at Evansville

by Joe Rood, "The Voice of Thunder"

Miss Budweiser won Evansville's Thunder on the Ohio, June 27. The victory gave Dave Villwock his fourth consecutive win on that 2-mile racecourse, a record. The final-heat duel between Villwock and Chip Hanauer ended at the start when Hanauer, in Miss PICO, jumped the gun.

Testing and Qualifying

Rain Friday and Saturday hampered qualifying a bit. Referee Bo Darling said, "Where am I, in Seattle?" The weather was not typical for Evansville. There was not sweltering heat, and there was a good breeze most of the weekend.

U-1 Miss Budweiser was the class of qualifying again. On Friday, Dave Villwock turned 159.936 in T5 '97 and 157.694 in T3 '95. Nine camps qualified that day. Chip Hanauer returned to the dogleg course for the first time since 1995 and drove Miss PICO "L-2" to a 151.960 lap and "L-1" to 149.124. YORK (Mark Weber) did 145.906, LLumar (Nate Brown) 142.146, U-9 (Mike Hanson) 135.387, Appian Jeronimo (Mitch Evans) 134.246, and ARC Construction (Steve David was set back to 130.000 for an N2 violation. It turned several fast laps, including the disallowed 150.219 and, reportedly, 159.670 in testing. Master Tire (Mike Weber) thundered around the hometown course at 123.616. The Hopps picked up a local radio station as sponsor; Greg Hopp qualified WIKY at 146.095.

Seven camps improved their speeds next day. Two remained unqualified. Miss Madison got into the pits late Saturday after repairing major hull damage from a flip at Barrie, Ontario, the previous weekend. Todd Yarling tried to qualify several times, but the boat apparently had water in the fuel system that had not been purged following the Barrie accident. He could not get it up and running for any distance. Madison was granted a Commission Option on Sunday morning.

Ken Muscatel finally put his brand-new U-14 on the Ohio River between heats. He did not achieve qualifying speed. On the second lap, the engine hood blew off on the dogleg in front of the crowd. Then the boat fishtailed (loose steering cable?) coming out of the far turn. It next sustained a small fire aft when exhaust heat ignited the displaced Kevlar safety blanket as Ken came back into the pits.

Heat 1

Heat 1A was one of the better heats this weekend. Mark Weber crossed the start/finish line first in lane 2 with Chip Hanauer in lane 1 close behind. YORK held the lead for one lap, but Miss PICO was right there the whole time. Chip pulled ahead, then Mark came on again as the lead moved back and fourth until the second turn of lap 3. Hanauer held on to win by two boat lengths. U-100 averaged 141.991 and U-10 had 141.551. LLumar was third all alone, and U-9 came in fourth. ARC Construction ran an extra lap after hitting a buoy and finished fifth.

Heat 1B was mostly a parade behind the "Big Red 1" as Dave Villwock was never tested. Greg Hopp continued picking up big points as WIKY finished second.

Appian Jeronimo pulled off a third, and Mike Weber brought the hometown Master Tire across in fourth. Miss Madison did not start. Budweiser ran a fast first lap of 154.308.

Heat 2

Heat 2A was fun, because three of the five boats were over the line at the start. Appian Jeronimo, Budweiser, and YORK jumped the start in that order, and the race was on between Miss Madison and ARC Construction. Yarling took off and left David in his wake. Villwock dominated the second group. The Evansville riverfront erupted in joy as underdog Yarling brought Miss Madison (126.923) across first, followed by ARC Construction, Miss Budweiser, and Appian Jeronimo. YORK did not finish.

Miss PICO ruled 2B as Chip brought the big blue boat across the line. The real race was for second between LLumar and WIKY, who raced sponson to sponson for 2½ laps. Brown finally took charge and beat Hopp to the 300 points. U-9 came in fourth, and Master Tire rumbled home at 115.473, still thundering after all these years.

Heat 3

Another 400 points for Miss PICO as Chip ran away with 3A. ARC and YORK dueled all three laps and thrilled the Thunder crowd with close racing. The sun finally arrived in Evansville, and the two yellow boats made a beautiful picture as they threw more than two tons of water into the first summer-weekend air. David got the better of Mark Weber and took second. Hanson brought the white U-9 to fourth, and Master Tire crossed fifth.

The last preliminary heat, 3B, started with LLumar first across the line, but by the end of the first turn the "Red Rocket" took over the lead for the rest of the way.

Appian Jeronimo got squeezed between Budweiser and LLumar and was washed down in that first turn: DNF. Brown came in second with LLumar while WIKY led Miss Madison to the finish line.

Unfortunately, LLumar sustained damage to the bottom of the hull during the last turn in 3B. ARC Construction cracked a prop; Appian Jeronimo had water in the engine; and the Jones Racing team decided they did not want U-9 to be the trailer. There was no need for a provisional heat.

Final Heat

Coming to the start, Hanauer had Miss PICO, in lane 1, across the line first with Miss Budweiser on the outside right behind. Five boats hit turn 1 with Master Tire trailing. PICO held on with Budweiser right there as they flew up the backstretch. Then the word came . . . Chip crossed the line 1/30 of a second before the clock hit zero. Bo Darling had to rewind the VCR on the judges' stand to be sure, but there it was: PICO was assessed a lap penalty, and the race was essentially over. Villwock backed off his speed, and the parade went for four more laps. Mark Weber ran a half a straightaway back for second. Hopp had a little competition with Yarling for third until the last lap. Hanauer passed Mike Weber for fifth. Then Master Tire split an exhaust pipe, started a small fire, and went down.

Dave Villwock passed the late Jim Kropfeld for overall wins in a career with 23. With two more wins, he can tie Dean Chenoweth at 25. He told the Evansville Courier and Press, "Mark McGwire never played against Babe Ruth or Roger Maris. Comparing himself to them, he could only do it statistically. I'm racing against one of the greats. There was only one left, and that's Chip Hanauer. This puts me in that arena to be evaluated."

(Unlimited NewsJournal, July 1999)