2003 General Motors Cup

Somebody Still Cares About Starts

Villwock Earns Divine Seafair Win

by Jon Osterberg

Seafair 2003 unfolded under warm skies and the driest Seattle summer in memory. A fast fleet gathered at Stan Sayres pits for the General Motors Cup. The previous Sunday in the Tri-Cities, four hydros — LLumar, Ellstrom [E-Lam Plus], Vacationville, and Budweiser - each had averaged between 145.748 and 140.807 mph over four heats of racing. Of those, only Ellstrom hadn't won a 2003 race. Some thought Seattle would be the Ballard boat's turn. But in the end, Dave Villwock skillfully drove Joe Little's Miss Budweiser through a fortuitous opening to earn the win.

Villwock must have felt a bit like Moses watching the Red Sea part before him. Indeed, after the final heat, the Bud jockey suggested Bernie Little must have arranged for some divine intervention.

Testing and Time Trials

Thirteen unlimiteds (counting both Bud T5 and T6) crowded the pits, while a horde of Unlimited Lights occupied the lagoon side. New sponsor monikers adorned nearly half the hulls, and Fred Leland assigned a rookie - J. W. Myers - to drive Miss Nicole Marie Yacht Charters (representing former Appian owner Jerry Rise's latest business venture). Near rookie Doug Brow helmed Leland's other hull, Fairweather Masonry Presents Interstate Batteries.

Oh Boy! Oberto threw a prop on Friday, shredding its transom. The Bud team offered its shop and resources for repairs, so the Hurryin' Hoosier hunkered down in Tukwila until Sunday morning. Vacationville Presents Kirkland Toyota set yet another piston record, this time a 2-mile lap of 153.266. Mitch Evans missed Bud's top-qualifier spot by 0.524 mph.

The hydros and Blue Angels entertained large Friday and Saturday crowds. Inexplicably, the shoreline and log boom were packed beyond race-day levels of recent years. On Sunday morning, the throng cheered when the 1980 Griffon-powered Budweiser roared through several speedy exhibition laps. Then the turbines and alone piston took to Lake Washington to close out Seattle's annual summertime festival.

Heat 1

Hydro-Prop lumped the six-fastest qualifiers into heat 1A — a fan plan — then told them to fight for lanes. Mike Hanson cut the course to snatch lane 1 aboard Skyway Park Bowl & Casino, but his engine briefly stalled. At the start, inside out, were Miss Grand Central Casino (Mike Weber), Miss Budweiser (Dave Villwock in T5 '97), Skyway, LLumar (Mark Evans, half a roostertail behind the others), Vacationville/Toyota of Kirkland (Mitch Evans), and a lagging (Nate Brown). TV replays showed Hanson veered out down the straightaway; LLumar's lane disappeared, and the Columbia Cup winner got hosed.

Grand Central and Bud exited turn 1 together with Vacationville close behind. Bud powered into first; then a plenum blew off U-3's turbocharger in the north turn, and the piston boat limped back to the pits. Brown and Weber battled for second, and toward the end of lap 3 Hanson joined them for a drag race down the front chute. However, penalties on Weber and Hanson left Bud the winner followed by Ellstrom and LLumar.

Ken Muscatel nailed the start of heat 1B in Silver Dollar Casino/ Miss Rock, but Terry Troxell soon sprinted past in Trendwest. Meanwhile, Jerry Hale's Miss Graham Trucking floated without power. Steve David in Oberto (lane 2) battled Myers Nicole Marie (lane 3) deck to deck through the north turn, with Myers eventually edging ahead. Troxell flew high, showing U-2's underbelly. Penalties again took their toll as four of six boats earned penalty laps for jumping the gun, handing a surprise win to Brow and Interstate Batteries.

Heat 2

Officials assigned lanes for 2A: Vacationville, Grand Central, Skyway, LLumar, Ellstrom, with Bud outside. Evans and Weber timed the start perfectly. Mitch led into and out of turn 1, then built a solid lead into the north turn before a burned piston stopped Vacationville at the exit buoy. Grand Central led LLumar by half a 'tail; Ellstrom and Skyway overtook U-8 a lap later. Then Brown charged after Weber, closed the gap in the north turn, and squeaked by in another drag race to the finish line. LLumar was assessed a penalty for encroachment in lap 1, but TV replays showed Grand Central veered out approaching the south turn, pinching Skyway.

Rock, Nicole Marie, Oberto, Trendwest, and Interstate lined up in that order. Graham, DNS, left lane 1 open. Again, the doctor nailed the start aboard Miss Rock, and this time he held it through turn 1. Myers charged on by halfway up the back chute with David and Troxell close behind. Muscatel hooked and missed a buoy in the four-boats-abreast north turn - was he pinched by Myers? He circled back. Myers led David and Troxell by just two lengths ending lap 1; a great duel ensued up the back chute for second place. However, Myers was penalized a lap, and Oberto won, followed by the flighty Trendwest.

"Trendwest wants us to put the name on the bottom of the boat, because you can see it more," Troxell quipped.

Heat 3

Vacationville, needing time to swap gearboxes as well as engines and props, did not start 3A. Hydro-Prop™ assigned E-Lam to lane 1 flanked by Grand Central, Skyway, Bud, and LLumar. All five hit the line at once. Weber led exiting turn 1, but Villwock moved three boat lengths ahead ending the lap. Ellstrom closed in lap 2 before getting hosed in the north turn. LLumar nosed into second ending lap 2, while Bud took full command, leading a parade to the finish.

Oberto reported to lane 1 for 3B flanked by Trendwest, Interstate, Rock, and Nicole Marie; Graham did not start. Rookie Myers had the red-white-and-blue boat flying before his prop let loose, and he settled to a stop at the end of the front stretch. Brow floundered along far behind the others, down on power. David blazed to the front and won wire to wire, followed by Troxell and Muscatel. Brow was flagged off the course, and Nicole Marie's transom submerged at the dock because of open wounds.

Provisional Heat

Four boats answered the start for the provisional: Rock, Grand Central, Vacationville, and Skyway. Weber led from the first turn on, although Hanson closed to within a roostertail at the finish. Evans's untested and ill-suited motor-gearbox-prop combination lacked the power to compete, so he returned to the pits early, capping an abysmal day with zero points.

Final Heat

Amid mostly sunny, 71-degree skies and 13-mph winds, six finalists entered the course to fight for lanes. Drivers had been early all day. Brown and Weber grabbed inside positions up the backstretch but did so too soon; both drivers goosed the gas and circled the infield to kill time. The smart crowd gasped. Villwock, who did a masterful job of keeping just on plane in lane 3, must have thought he was dreaming: Suddenly lane 1 lay open. He took it, and at that point the outcome was sealed. Barring a breakdown or driver error, Villwock knew he could hold off the field from the inside.

Bud, Oberto, Ellstrom, LLumar, Trendwest, and Grand Central charged the line, with Trendwest half a 'tail ahead of the others - and over the line too soon. LLumar slowed and veered out a lane. Villwock gained ground through the south turn, chased Troxell up the back-stretch, and caught him at the apex of the north turn. Bud led ending lap 1, followed by Grand Central and Oberto. On the backchute, a roostertail separated each of the three leaders, and other than a good duel between Grand Central and Oberto it became a parade to the finish. Bud won at 139.323 mph followed by Grand Central, Oberto, Ellstrom, a lethargic LLumar, and the penalized Trendwest.

At the dock, an emotional Villwock said, "This Seafair's for my mom and in memory of Bernie. This will probably be my mom's last Seafair." [Doris Villwock is battling cancer—Ed. (August 2003)]

Asked about the pre-start dicing, he said, "Some other guys were fighting 'way too early, and I managed to be in the right place at the last second. I had to get an inside lane to win, as you saw from when I was on the outside and couldn't pass."

Other winners: Grand Central, which went from the provisional to second overall; and Oberto, whose transom glue might not have been dry when racing began at 11 a.m. Biggest disappointments: Vacationville, which soared in qualifying but stumbled at showtime; and Skyway, which for all its speed couldn't make the final and sagged to fifth in national high points.

(Unlimited NewsJournal, August 2003)