2006 Thunder on the Ohio

Evansville Thunder on the Ohio Ellstrom Wins 2006 Season Opener

by Dan Lopez

Friday morning the course never opened as crews worked to free a coal barge that was stuck inside the first turn. In the afternoon it was decided to leave the barge until evening and open the river to the unlimiteds.

For this new season. Master Tire was the only team trying something obviously different. They had two engines with a new fuel injection system. However, after Jimmy King was unable to complete a lap with the new setup, the crew went back to the old, conventional system. After qualifying ended Saturday, not surprisingly, Ellstrom was the fastest of the nine qualifiers at 156.842 mph. The tenth boat, Kenny Kent Chevrolet, hadn't left its trailer as the crew battled propeller shaft-gearbox alignment and electrical problems. And, while neither David Williams nor Mike Allen had yet completed the fifteen laps required to qualify as unlimited drivers, they were allowed to race in the first round as long as they started on the outside and at least seven boat lengths back. They were also not eligible for driver points.

Heat 1

In 1A, Steve David, in lane 1, nailed the start and led into turn 1, only to come out trailing Ellstrom, which went on to victory. Oh Boy! Oberto, held off the U-5 Formula, which remained within a roostertail's length of the U-6 until the final turn. EMCOR ran fourth and was never a factor.

After crossing the finish line, the leading three boats caught Michigan Mortgage, which was still running up the backstretch on the outside. All three drivers slowed, Dave Villwock, David, and Mike Weber, to allow Williams to pass them and finish. However, Williams slowed to let them pass and the engine died. He was able to restart and finish fifth.

Greg Hopp had the inside lane in 1B, with King beside him, and Jean Theoret in Miss Seattle in lane 3. In turn 1, the skid fin broke on Re/Max and it slid into Master Tire's roostertail sending pieces of its cowling flying through the air. King led to the finish, followed by Theoret and Allen in the U-7 Formula II. Hopp restarted and limped in to fourth place.

The top part of the skid fin was still solidly attached to Re/Max, but the bottom piece, approximately 80% of the fin, dangled from one bracket. The hull received only minor damage to the right sponson.

After the running of 1B, Kenny Kent Chevrolet finally got on the river, but Kevin Aylesworth only completed one lap at 86 mph.

By Sunday, the Ohio River had risen approximately one foot due to heavy rains up river. During the Sunday test period, Allen finished his driver qualification and Williams was nearly done with his. In fact, he was in the first turn of his final required lap when he was forced to stop. At the other end of the course, Master Tire had blown an engine and a small oil fire erupted.

The vintage Allison had a hole on both sides of the block. Minor damage to the hull was not enough to keep it from racing, but now Master Tire only had one engine left for the entire day.

Meanwhile, the course was reopened and Williams completed his final qualification lap.

Then Aylesworth took the Kenny Kent Chevrolet out, but going up the backstretch the boat struck a floating telephone pole, severely damaging the rudder assembly, and ending this team's day on the water.

Heat 2

During the score up in 2A, Re/Max coasted to a halt on the backstretch with a clogged fuel filter.

Master Tire started in lane 1, Miss Seattle was in lane 2, EMCOR in 3, and the Formula on the outside. Formula led out of the first turn, but Master Tire took over in turn 2 and went on to the win. Though Miss Seattle ran ahead of Formula, Theoret was assessed a one lap penalty and ended up fourth. Formula finished second and EMCOR third.

In 2B a faulty igniter kept Oh Boy! Oberto, from leaving the dock. Villwock, in lane 2 was first across the line and led the entire way. Michigan Mortgage started inside and got passed on the backstretch of lap 1 and ended up third. Formula II, after passing Ken Muscatel, moved within two roostertails of Ellstrom and stayed close behind throughout the heat on its way to second place.

Heat 3

Nate Brown had lane 1 in 3A, but the boat died in the final turn before the start. This allowed Miss Seattle to have the inside, next to Oberto, then Ellstrom, with Formula outside. Ellstrom took an early lead, followed by Miss Seattle, with Oberto, just ahead of Formula. On lap 2, Ellstrom started to lengthen its lead, while Formula gained on Oberto,. Then, in the first turn of the final lap. Miss Seattle's right sponson hit a roller and rose into the air. After doing a barrel roll, the boat landed right side up. Theoret suffered no major injuries, but was sore and had a headache afterwards. Even though flotation bags were used, the boat was almost completely underwater as it was towed back to the pits. Only the tips of the uprights and the canopy were above water. Both sponsons suffered damage and arrangements were quickly made to have the boat taken to Wright Motors in Evansville for repairs. The heat was declared complete.

During the score up for 3B, Michigan Mortgage inhaled too much water and failed to cross the starting line. Re/Max was on the inside and led until the first turn of lap 2. Hopp kept up the chase, briefly regaining the lead in the final turn, only to be out accelerated by Master Tire on the final sprint to the finish. Formula II trailed throughout the heat and finished third.

Final Heat

At the start of the final, Re/Max was inside. Master Tire was in lane 2, with Oberto, Ellstrom, Formula, and Formula II outside. Ellstrom took the lead going into turn 1 and led the rest of the way to the finish. Master Tire finished the first lap in second place, and then was passed by Formula on the backstretch. King retook second place on the final turn of the heat, finishing about a roostertail ahead of Weber. Allen and Formula II quickly moved into fourth place and stayed there throughout the heat. Re/Max was running fifth when it lost part of a propeller blade after two and a half laps. Although minor damage occurred in the area of the rear strut it was not nearly as severe as broken propellers often cause. Water spraying over the cockpit caused the usually sure starting David to trail at the start, placing the Oberto, in a position it was unable to overcome. Brown started in the trailer position and returned to the pits before finishing a lap to avoid beating EMCOR up for last place.

After the heat Villwock explained that with a slight breeze coming from the west he felt lane 4 was the best to start in as the wind would tend to slow the boats on the inside. Meanwhile, Ed Cooper was not happy with Villwock's driving, feeling that while Villwock didn'tdo anything illegal, he had moved over in front of the Master Tire unnecessarily.

(Unlimited NewsJournal, July 2006)