2007 Thunder On The Ohio

Flip, Flip, Flip

Evansville Thunder on the Ohio

by: Clint Newman

Unlimited hydroplanes were flipping at Evansville like pancakes flipping at IHOP! The U-5 Formula (Jeff Bernard), U-37 Miss Beacon Plumbing (Jean Theoret), and U-1 Formula II (Mike Allen) all flipped in turn two in the first three heats of racing on Sunday. A brand new boat (U-6 Oh Boy! Oberto, Steve David) got wet for the first time. David Bryant (U-10 Ahern Rentals), a rookie driver from the flat-bottom boats sailed through his 15 laps at 130 mph to qualify as an unlimited driver. Jim Harvey's old T-Plus hull #9301, which last raced in 2002, came out of retirement. Ken Muscatel piloted the baby blue with maroon stripe Superior Racing hull. Dave Villwock (U-16 Ellstrom) continued his mastery of the Evansville course with win number 10 out of the last 12 races. The victory put him within 10 races of Bill Muncey's 62 career wins, and within nine of Chip Hanauer's 61 wins. A special tribute was made to Evansville's "Voice of Thunder" and UNJ reporter Joe Rood, who passed away earlier this year. We miss you, Joe!

Qualifying and Testing

The buzz among the fans was the brand new Oh Boy! Oberto. Crew chief Mike Hanson described his new craft: "This hull is basically what the Bud, Elam, and Beacon Plumbing guys have been running. We didn't want to stray too far from what we know works. We'll make some refinements as the season progresses, and try to run a little faster than they do. We didn't have any problems with making the old boat go fast. We couldn't go slow! So, we couldn't fight for lane 1 or lane 2. We got stuck on the outside. When you are not considerably faster than the other boat, you aren't going to go around him on the outside. Now, we can fight for inside lanes and have a better chance of winning." The major difference? Hanson said,'The cockpit. Steve will feel a lot more comfortable with this cockpit. He will see better. Less water on the canopy means better vision. If you can't see, you don't feel real comfortable at 180, 200 mph!"

After qualifying the first time out at 140.479 Steve David described his new ride: "It's very rigid! Because it's a new boat, there is no flex in it yet. You hear everything. It's sort of like being in a kettle drum! We are just going to creep up on the speed in 10 mph increments. I don't want to do anything stupid!" David later noted that a very slight movement of the steering wheel made a major change in the boat's steering. This would be worked on before the Madison race.

Rookie David Bryant described his first run in an unlimited: "It was unbelievable! That thing really throws you into the corners. We got a 133 and a 140 mph lap, first time ever in a boat. I've run 130, 140 mph in a circle boat, in a straight line, but never that fast for an average speed. I don't know what the hell I was doing down the straightaway!" The major difference between an unlimited and a flatbottom? "When you go into a turn, they just hook and go! A lot of G-forces through the turns. Down the straightaway, you don't get the sensation of speed until you throw it into a turn. Man, when you go into a turn, you are bending in the cockpit."

Dave Villwock set a new restrictor-era qualifying record for a two-mile course with a 161.167 mph.

Heat 1

Jean Theoret claimed lane 1 very early coming out of turn 1 prior to the to a stop upside down on the Ohio River, start of 1A. By the end of the first lap, Theoret held a roostertail lead over Jeff Bernard, followed by the U-100 Mirageboats (Greg Hopp), rookie David Bryant running on the outside, with Dr. Ken Muscatel bringing up the rear. At the finish, Theoret led Bernard by half a straightway, with Hopp half a straightaway behind Bernard. Muscatel had gone dead in the water in turn 1.

Theoret commented on claiming lane 1 so early: "I had the opportunity with a boat that can go really slow and stay on plane. We use that to our advantage. I got to my reference mark right on time, so we nailed the start."

Before the start of 1B, J. Michael Kelly in Spirit of Detroit didn't leave a lane, causing Mike Allen in Formula II to hit the first buoy after the exit buoy of turn 2 in the lap before the start. In the same lap, Kelly and Steve David bumped in turn 1. At the start, Jimmy King accelerated Master Tire across the line first, but Ellstrom had a roostertail lead going down the backstretch of lap 1. King put the pressure on Villwock, with Oberto and Formula II racing behind. Villwock won by two roostertails over King, and then came Formula II, Oberto, with Spirit of Detroit bringing up the rear.

Steve David described the bumping incident with Kelly: "When Ellstrom moved out a bit coming up in lane 1, the U-13 was maybe four lengths behind him, and I was in lane 3. When Ellstrom moved out, there was no lane left, and he just tried to drive up where there wasn't a lane. I didn't have to move over to allow him to keep his lane. I guess he wanted it real bad, so there was a little meeting of the hulls. He got a little fine for it. He's a good kid ... he's just been hitting us a little too often." U-6 engine man Larry Hanson had a heated exchange with Kelly and owner Dave Bartush after the U-13 returned to the dock.

Heat 2

Two minutes before the start of 2A, Steve David cut the course to claim lane 1. At the one-minute gun, David was entering turn 2, as other boats picked up speed. The boats were close at the start. Officials quickly determined that Bernard and Kelly had I jumped the gun, earning them one-lap penalties. The race turned into a battle between Ellstrom and Formula, which ended when Bernard got into Villwock's roostertail in turn 2 of lap 3 and flipped. The hard-charging Bernard apparently didn't realize that he had been accessed a one-lap penalty. He landed upside down as the red flag was flown, stopping the race. Bernard suffered a bruised knee. Villwock won, and Steve David came in second despite a one-lap penalty for hitting a buoy. Kelly came in third. Ken Muscatel did not start. To add insult to injury, the U-5 dropped back into the river as a choker strap broke as the boat as it was being turned upright at the dock.

Heat 2B featured the second flip of the day. Greg Hopp in Mirageboats claimed lane 1, crossing the line first. By the time the boats exited turn 1, Master Tire had taken the lead. As the boats exited turn 1 on lap 2, Theoret had taken the lead, followed by King and Hopp.

Leading the pack into turn 2 on lap 3, Miss Beacon Plumbing did a 360-degree flip, landing right-side up, and continuing under power until Theoret could shut down using the emergency fuel shut-off. The race continued, with Master Tire winning, followed by Mirageboats and Ahern Rentals. Formula II did not finish.

Theoret's explanation: "The Lord is great! I'm surprised it flipped in that corner. The right side bounced once. I hit the wing all the way up, and it just lifted up and I lost it. The same thing happened on lap 2, but it came back down. Because it was in the turn, the wing did not have an effect." The boat suffered damage to an upright and fairing which were quickly replaced.

Heat 3

Heat 3A saw Oh Boy! Oberto cutting the course three times during the score up period. David claimed lane 1 very early, his boat "built to go slow" paying off as he crept up the backstretch. Side-by-side racing ensured, but Oberto was ahead as the boats exited turn 1 in lap 2. The third flip of the day occurred when Formula II flipped in turn 2 of lap 2, landing right-side up. Allen had run up the roostertail of Master Tire. He suffered a broken right thumb. Oberto was the winner, followed by Master Tire. Bernard and Muscatel did not start. Formula II suffered damage at the front of the right sponson, the canard was destroyed, the cowling was broken in half, the right rear decking, including the "shoe" was destroyed, and the rudder bracket and pitman were damaged.

The freshly repaired Beacon Plumbing claimed the inside lane in 3B, with Ellstrom in lane 2, then Miss Beacon Plumbing, Spirit of Detroit, and Mirageboats.

Dave Villwock had more momentum and crossed the line first. By the end of lap 2, Villwock was 2 roostertails ahead of Theoret. Villwock led Theoret by half a straightaway at the finish, followed by Hopp, David Bryant, and J. Michael Kelly. Provisional Heat The previously damaged Formula started the provisional heat, but was not up to the task, shutting down after one lap. Kelly and Spirit of Detroit cruised to the win.

Final Heat

Once again. Oh Boy! Oberto claimed lane 1, then Beacon Plumbing, Ellstrom, and Master Tire. King came roaring up for the start on the outside. By the end of lap 1, Villwock led then Theoret, David, and King. King managed to pass David during lap 2. Villwock increased his lead over Theoret to half a straightaway at the end. Theoret narrowly beat King for 2nd, Hopp finished 4th, Bryant came in 5th, with Kelly 6th. David finished last, running an extra lap for hitting a buoy.

Three flips in one race. Thank God for cockpits!

(Unlimited NewsJournal, July 2007)