2006 Atomic Cup

Destruction Derby in the Desert

by Barb and Duane Dahlum

The Tri-Cities race was supposed io be called "Rumble on the River," but with all that happened, it could have been called "Destruction Derby in the Desert." All of the confusion, excitement, and destruction happened on Sunday, but there is a lot to report before we get to that so... BE PATIENT. After all, the spectators had to be patient and wait for several hours to see any boats on the water after the drivers' parade!

Writing this report in a chronological order is almost like holding back a stallion at the starting gate. There are many stories that are just ready to bust out. By the time qualifying started on Friday the Neil F. Lampson Pits were completely full. Fred Leland brought two boats from his "navy," the U-99 Lakeridge Paving, hull #9610 (Jeff Bernard), and U-100 Todd Hoss American Dream (Greg Hopp). The two red Formulaboats.com boats U-5 (Mike Weber), and U-7 (Mike Allen), were there as well as U-1 Ellstrom (Dave Villwock), U-2.25 Graham Trucking (Ken Muscatel), the piston powered U-3 (Jimmy King), U-6 Oh, Boy! Oberto (Steve David), U-10 Solutions Plus (J. W. Meyers), U-13 Acura of Bellevue Wa. (J. Michael Kelly), U-21 Area Codes Cellular (Kevin Aylesworth), and U-37 Miss Beacon Plumbing (Jean Theoret). The beginning of the Western swing also welcomed back Mike and Lori Jones with their U-9 Jack-Son's (Sports Bar) Kennewick with rookie driver Chris Bertram. The Ellstrom's primary hull, #0116, was back on the water for the first time since the accident at Valleyfield thanks to tireless work of the crew and because Fred Leland agreed to sell them a sponson.

Normally miserably hot and dry, the Tri-Cities Water Follies welcomed race fans with cooler, low 90's weather. A scorching heat wave with more than 100 degree temperatures the previous week was replaced by comfortable 91 degree heat on Friday. The only concern was the wind and whether it would give the predicted gusts of over 30 miles per hour or not.

Friday's water seemed only a little choppy when viewed from the shore with a few whitecaps on the backstretch in the afternoon. Depending on the driver the water was "choppy" or "fast" or "not bad." Five boats took advantage of the water during the first testing session and reached qualifying speeds on their first runs: U-21 (130.663 with an increase to 147.717 by the third lap), U-6 (150.385 with the fastest being the second lap at 151.757), and U-2.25 (at 142.922, increasing to 143.380). U-3 was not so fortunate, as it threw a rod in the turbo-Allison the first time out and did not post any times. By the end of Friday's sessions, Ellstrom, at 160.395, was the fastest qualifier for the day. Lakeridge Paving did not qualify even though they ran a lap timed at over 140 mph. The box did not get put in the boat, so there was no official time for them. Greg Hopp in the Todd Hoss American Dream blew the short shaft and had to be towed back to the pits. Solutions Plus had trouble with propeller alignment issues related to the difficulties from Madison and Detroit so they did not qualify, either.

Friday, after qualifying, is the traditional "Dash for Cash." This time though, little or no cash was involved so most of the boat teams were reluctant to go out and possibly damage their equipment. Graham Trucking and Area Codes Cellular were the only two boats that answered the call. They put on a good show for the crowd and television though, taking turns crossing the start/finish line and taking turns holding the lead while providing deck to deck racing. At the end of the three laps Graham Trucking with Ken Muscatel crossed the finish line first. Lap 2 was Muscatel's fastest lap at 143.334.


Saturday's temperatures were under 90, with winds gusting as high as 30 mph. Again, depending on which driver was consulted, the condition of the water was varied.

It seemed as if Solutions Plus was able to correct their alignment problems of the previous day as they clocked arespectable 160.912 mph on the second lap of their first run. By the end of the qualifying sessions all the boats had put in their times with none less than 143 mph. The U-3 received sponsorship and became Conover Insurance. Jimmy King showed that the crew had worked out all of the engine troubles by turning in the fastest time of the day at 161.521, but a few minutes later Villwock put Ellstrom onto the course and came back with 161.899.

Heat 1

In 1A Ellstrom, Conover Insurance, Area Codes Cellular, Jack-sons, Formula II, Lakeridge Paving, and Acura of Bellevue Wa. faced off.

First onto the course was King in the Conover Insurance. The race before the race saw King slide into the inside lane with Allen next to him. Villwock ended up in lane 4 and hung back just a bit. Lanes 5 and 6 were taken by Aylesworth and Bernard respectively. Bertram was the trailer and started the race the required five seconds behind. On the outside, Kelly in lane 3 crossed the start/finish line first, but before he could make a complete lap Acura got caught between Area Codes Cellular and Lakeridge Paving, and was washed down blowing cowling off. (He tried to restart, but the air in take was blocked by debris and although he pushed himself closer, was unable to cross the line and ended up drifting close to traffic near the S/F line. He was given a DNS.) Coming out of turn 2, Conover Insurance took the lead followed closely by Ells from and Formula II . As they roared up the backstretch fighting for position. King pulled ahead by a roostertail. Formula II threw its prop coming out of turn 1 in the second lap and ended up drifting toward the rocks near turn 2. Lakeridge Paving also threw a prop coming out of turn 2, and drifted toward U-7 outside the lanes of traffic. Ellstrom finally caught Conover Insurance on the backstretch, going wide around the turn, and accelerating past at the finish to come in first.

When the water had settled and the boats were back on their trailers, it looked as if Formula II might be done for the weekend. The bottom of the boat to the left of the prop shaft had been had been completely shredded.

The scoring up period before the start of 1B saw American Dream stake a claim on lane 1 early. Solutions Plus had to do some adjusting to avoid being early and as a result ended up trailing the field at the start.

Beacon Plumbing moved quickly into and out of the first turn and ahead of American Dream and Oh Boy! Oberto coming out of turn 2. Theoret didn't move out of that position for the three laps. American Dream slowed noticeably coming out of turn 2 on the first lap and fell behind Oberto and Formula. Then the parade began. The only racing occurred on lap 3 when Formula was challenged by American Dream. Solutions Plus and Graham Trucking followed the leaders in that order. After the finish, it was determined that Beacon had violated the N2 regulation before the start on the backstretch during the scoring up period and was disqualified. The team quickly filed a protest. To add insultto injury, they were also assessed a monetary fine for going outside the course before the start.

On that first lap Hopp hit something in the water. When he returned to shore there was yellow paint along the sponson from top to mid-point and a separation of the left strut from the sponson. The crew was looking to spending the night doing repairs.


Sunday dawned cool again (79 degrees), bright and breezy with gusts expected in the afternoon up to 40 mph. Wind delays started early as the first was announced at 8:30 a.m.

Formula II was still under repair and on barrels. They ended up flying people and parts in from back East, accepting the help and offers of help from every other team and worked through the night to repair the damage. By start time for 2A, it still did not look promising, even with all that had been done.

There was little activity in the morning testing session with drivers going out to see if the set up was what they needed for the conditions. There were white caps visible when the wind gusted and the water was very rough.

After the drivers' parade, the racing was put on hold. At first it was for ten minutes, then 20 minutes, then indefinite. At 11 a.m., Mitch Evans went out to check the course in one of the patrol boats. He felt it was not a safe course to run on.

At noon the announcement came that 12:30 p.m. would be the tentative start time for 2A. Muscatel volunteered and took three very bumpy laps to determine if it was a raceable course. It was also announced that Tri-Cities would have until 8:00 p.m. to run the Atomic Cup. "Monday is not an option." It was Sunday or not at all. When he returned he made the determination that a race could be run and said, "Let's go racing," as the Graham Trucking was hoisted to the trailer for refueling. Ellstrom didn't want to wait and suggested that 2B be run first, but the officials declined the idea.

By the time racing was approved. Formula II had been repaired, the engine trailer fired and it was ready to race.

Heat 2

At 1 p.m. 2A finally got going. Beacon Plumbing, Solutions Plus, Lakeridge Paving, Jack-sons, Ellstrom, Graham Trucking, and Formula II were pitted against each other.

The scoring up period had a heart stopping moment when Jack-sons was coming toward the start/finish buoy. Formula II made a turn on the infield and was heading directly for the same space.

Quick thinking by rookie Chris Bertram avoided the collision. He turned in an unfamiliar direction; hard right. The two boats missed each other by inches. Formula II was black flagged for the infraction. After all the work, through the night by his crew,

Allen was certain he "let them down."

The race hardly got started before it ended.

On the backstretch of lap 1 Just before turn 3 Villwock was charging hard in the lead. He caught air and rose into the air at tremendous speed. The boat lifted about 50 feet off the water and did a slow motion complete turn in the air. As he started to lift into the second revolution, the tail section caught the water and slapped him down, right side up. Beacon Plumbing slid past on the inside. Villwock immediately got out of his cockpit and signaled that he was okay. He refused transport to the hospital. The heat was rescheduled.

The restart of 2A saw a four-boat field. Ellstrom, the cause of the stoppage, was ineligible to run and Formula II was disqualified due to the infraction. Graham Trucking, while attempting to start, created a huge and continuous flame out the exhaust pipe and smoked his tail wing. He did not attempt a restart. In the "start before the start," Solutions Plus took lane 1 very early and was hardly on plane as he approached turn 3. Beacon Plumbing was in lane 2 and Lakeridge took lane 3. Jack-sons was the trailer. The first two boats to cross the starting line were Bernard and Theoret, but out of turn 2 Myers was right behind Beacon with Lakeridge in third. Jackson's trailed the field the entire race. Beacon Plumbing won the race by at least three roostertails.

There was a full six-boat field for 2B with American Dream, Conover, Formula, Acura, Oh Boy! Oberto, and Area Codes Cellular. Again Hopp took lane 1 early and held it around to the start. Formula trailed the others at the start.

After a near perfect start, Acura hit turn 1 first and Conover was at his side coming out. They continued up the backstretch with Acura pulling up, but Conover pulling ahead into turn 3 and staying there for the rest of the race. In lap 2, Oberto took over second position from Acura on the backstretch. In lap 3 the race was for third place between American Dream and Acura, but going into turn 3, Hopp ran into Kelly's roostertail and went dead in the water. He was able to restart but was unable to place better than sixth.

Conover took first by at least three roostertails. Oberto came in second and A cur a was third. J. Michael Kelly in the Acura of Bellevue, Wa. lost his steering wheel ring going into the first turn and drove the rest of the race by holding the spokes!

Heat 3

The story of this heat was the Ellstrom crew. The boat came out onto the race course looking as if it had no previous damage, yet the crew had to replace the propeller, canard, the rear wing and stabilizer, as well as the gearbox.

The first boat onto the course was Conover. Before the start, three boats came around the first turn together Formula (with Allen now driving), Ellstrom, and Beacon Plumbing. Conover, Graham Trucking, and Solutions Plus cutthrough the infield and settled in into lanes 2,4, and 1 respectively. Beacon Plumbing held onto lane 3 while Ellstrom moved over to lane 5 and Formula fell into lane 6. Jack-sons was again the trailer. Solutions Plus crossed the start line first and led as the boats jammed into turn 1. Graham Trucking got washed down, but Muscatel later got the boat restarted. Also in trouble in the first turn was Beacon Plumbing.

Theoret also got washed a bit and lost considerable speed.

Solutions Plus held the lead for two laps with Ellstrom continually gaining as they came upon lap traffic. Into turn 1 Ellstrom used Graham Trucking, held his lane and squeezed Solutions Plus Heat 3B could have been a real tragedy. Fortunately, Acura, upside down in the tightly into the turn just enough to move past. Solutions Plus was unable to regain the lead and Ellstrom won by at least a roostertail. In the rest of the pack Conover and Formula fought it out in the second lap for third place. There were two monetary penalties for encroachment. Conover for encroaching Beacon Plumbing in the first turn and to Graham Trucking, who finished a lap behind, for not allowing for faster traffic to pass.

The destruction derby on the desert continued in 3B. The players for the constantly delayed heat were: Oberto, American Dream, Lakeridge, Formula II , Acura of Bellevue, and Area Codes Cellular. Oberto was the first boat onto the course at the five minute gun. The score up saw American Dream cross a wake and stutter before rejoining the mix. Lanes were fought for and won as Lakeridge crossed the start line first with American Dream right behind. Oberto was first into the turn. Then there was a jam. Lakeridge hooked and bumped Oberto, then Acura and Oberto hit sponsons. Lakeridge then went dead. As the boats were coming out of turn 3 into turn 4, J. Michael Kelly hooked and flew over David in Oberto crashing onto the wing then landed upside down. Hopp did not have a working radio and did not see the flare, so he came around on lap 2 and had to swerve to avoid hitting the wreckage and the rescue sleds that were rushing in. The sleds had to wait for him to clear the area before they could move into the Acura.

Kelly was transported to the hospital (he was later released), and Acura was towed, upside down, to the pits. Only as the boat was lifted from the water was the damage evident. The entire right sponson (looking from the stern), had exposed framework. There was no cowling and the engine was bent. The pieces in the water were collected and brought over to the official barge by the sleds for transport to the pits by patrol boats.

Since the lead boat had not completed two-thirds of the heat, it was not considered complete and 3B was scheduled to restart at 5:30 pm.

In the rerun of 3B, Oberto was the first boat out again. Area Codes Cellular and Formula II followed. American Dream was disqualified from this heat due to not shutting down after the red flag. At the 5-minute gun Lakeside was still on the trailer. When it was put into the water, the first attempt to start it was unsuccessful. At 2 minutes it still had not fired up. It finally made it onto plane with 15 seconds to spare.

The lineup to the start was Aylesworth in lane 1, Allen in 2, David in 3 and Bernard in 4. Lakeridge Paving as the first to cross the starting line. Going into turn 1, Formula II and Oh, Boy! Oberto were in a dead heat, with David reaching the turn first and Allen leading coming out. By the end of lap 1, Formula II was ahead of Oberto by at least two boat lengths. Lakeridge fell behind as the race continued and Area Codes Cellular was a roostertail behind him. At the exit of turn 2, Formula II hit a hole and skipped out a lane encroaching on Oberto. (A fine was assessed - no other penalty.) By the time they crossed the finish line Formula II was a roostertail ahead while Lakeridge held back about four and Area Codes Cellular came in a half lap behind the others. Oberto was found to have damage to the left sponson, but it was repaired before the final.


By the time the final started the total time of the delays was two hours, 20 minutes. Twilight was rapidly approaching. Drivers had to contend with the sun in their eyes as they approached turn 3, while spectators had to identify boats by shape as they came toward the finish line as it was to dark to see color clearly.

The field consisted of Oh, Boy! Oberto, Ellstrom, Conover, Formula, Solutions Plus, Area Codes Cellular, with Beacon Plumbing getting the points to be the trailer. Aylesworth could not get Area Codes Cellular started thus received the DNS.

The drivers and crews were eager to get this day over with as evidenced by everyone being either in the water or on a sling above the water well before the five-minute gun. Again Oberto was the first boat out onto the course. The shore up seemed like a rerun as Solutions Plus moved into lane 1 and moved slowly along the backstretch. Conover took lane 2. Lane 3 was filled by Beacon Plumbing, while 4, 5, and 6 were taken by Ellstrom, Formula, and Oberto respectively.coming to the start Theoret let the other boats pull ahead and became the trailer boat.

Conover jumped out ahead and led the pack into and out of the first turn with Ellstrom and Solutions Plus close behind. On the backstretch there was deck-to-deck racing between Villwock and King, with Myers not far behind.coming around the turns on the west end of the course, Ellstrom went wide and accelerated to pass Conover on the front stretch.coming out of turn 2 King went dead in the water. By lap 4 the race became a parade with Villwock leading by two roostertails. Myers, Theoret, and David followed about a roostertail apart with Allen about three back. On lap 3, Beacon Plumbing missed a buoy and had to cutback around to pick it up, which dropped Theoret into last place. By the finish line he was able to battle past Formula to finish in fourth place. The problem that caused Conover to go dead in the water was their battery failed.

Dave Villwock and the Ellstrom team became the second team in the history of the sport to do a "flip and win." Mark Evans, driving for Leland's team, had done it in Seattle in 1997.

(Unlmited NewsJournal, September 2006)