2009 Thunder on the Ohio

E-Lam Flips Out: Jeff Bernard Wins!

“New Look” Evansville Thunder a Huge Success

by Steve Garey

For a race that almost didn’t happen, the 2009 edition of Evansville’s Thunder-on-the-Ohio turned out to be a terrific affair.

Moved from its usual June date to August 22 and 23, this 31st running wasn’t expected to draw much of a crowd during the opening of football season in southern Indiana. But, “surprise”! The fans turned out and enjoyed a great weekend of concerts, prize-winning bar-be-cue and fantastic hydroplane racing.

Eleven Unlimiteds and five Grand Prix boats provided the action on the Ohio River. Qualifying for the Thunderboats took place on Saturday to determine lane selection for the first heat.

Dave Villwock took the U-16 Ellstrom E-Lam Plus to a 154.748 mile per hour lap, but Steve David in the U-1 Oh Boy! Oberto came out and did 155.215 to lead the way.

They were followed by Jimmy King in Master Tire at 151.841, Jeff Bernard in Formulaboats.com at 150.756, J. Michael Kelly in Graham Trucking at 150.379, and Jean Theoret in the U-37 Renton Coil Spring, in at 148.484.

Next came Kip Brown in the U-17 Seal Shield at 148.453, Greg Hopp in Mirage Boats.com at 143.420, Brian Perkins in the Miss Albert Lee at 134.461, Ken Muscatel in his Mister Home Loan at 129.356, and Mike Webster in Matrix Systems at 129.029.

The U-48 Albert Lee boat that raced in the Detroit Gold Cup was replaced at this race by the blue and yellow NAVY hull that ran last year.

Heat 1-A on race day featured a great start, with Oh Boy! Oberto taking the lead out of the first turn. But Dave Villwock was right with him in lane #2 for 2½ breathtaking laps! Master Tire held third, Graham Trucking fourth, Renton Coil Spring fifth, and Albert Lee sixth.

On the final turn, Steve David’s boat bounced out from lane one and into the path of the charging E-Lam. The maneuver pushed Villwock’s boat out of attitude and over backward.

The heat was stopped and recue operations commenced. Villwock was extricated quickly through his escape hatch and waved that he was OK, to the relief of the crowd, his crew and his wife, Pam.

The heat was declared complete. Steve David was first but was later disqualified for causing the accident, so King took first, Kelly second, Theoret third, and Perkins fourth.

Out came the boats for Heat 1-B, and it was a fine run by all. Ken Muscatel’s “new” boat ran very well. Jeff Bernard came out of the first turn first in Formulaboats.com, with Mirage Boats, and Seal Shield chasing. Matrix trailed on the outside.

Bernard led Greg Hopp all the way by about 100 yards. Kip Brown in Seal Shield had a terrific duel with Ken Muscatel in Mister Home Loan for 2 laps before pulling away for third. Mike Webster trailed the distance, riding very flighty at times.

For Heat 2-A, the E-Lam was still in the water draining out, using the Home Loan’s slings, so the race was held up for half an hour while the Ellstrom team got their boat on the trailer and Dr. Muscatel’s crew got their slings back.

In a good start, Oberto took off in lane #1, followed by Graham Trucking, Mister Home Loan, Miss Albert Lee and Matrix. Once again, Ken Muscatel battled for third, this time with Brian Perkins - and this time, winning the position. The doctor’s boat lost its engine cowling on lap 2. Oberto beat Graham to the finish line by 200 yards, followed by Home Loan, Albert Lee and Matrix.

Jeff Bernard took off and led all the way in Heat 2-B. Seal Shield did not start, the crew still involved in some hull repairs. U-100 Mirage Boats stalled in the first lap. Hopp restarted two laps later and raced on. Jimmy King and Jean Theoret gave chase to Bernard, but his boat was really percolating.

Before the draws for heat #3. Erick Ellstrom leased the U-17 Seal Shield and renumbered it U-16 to gain points for his national champion contender for the rest of the afternoon. Nate Brown would drive.

In Heat 3-A Ted Porter’s U-5 and U-7 boats took off and staged a 1-2 run, with Theoret holding third and Muscatel fourth. Brian Perkins trailed. At the flag, it was Formulaboats first, Graham Trucking second, RCS third, Home Loan fourth and Albert Lee fifth.

The last preliminary heat saw Jimmy King in lane #1 staging a tremendous drive, holding off Steve David for two laps and, eventually, pulling away. Greg Hopp held third throughout, and Nate Brown had the U-16 in fourth. Webster again trailed.

Advancing to the Final Heat were Formulaboats with a perfect 1200 points, Master Tire with 1100, Graham with 900, Mirage Boats with 794, and Oberto with 700. Renton Coil Spring withdrew, so Home Loan got in. A Last Chance heat was run with the U-16 advancing to the finals after beating Miss Albert Lee.

Piston power in the Unlimited Class is still a viable alternative, as proven by Jimmy King in Ed Cooper’s Master Tire. Jimmy took off in lane #1 of the Finals after Steve David was told that he would start in lane #6 after being docked an additional 150 points. King led for two thrilling laps and was pulling away from the turbine Formulaboats and Graham Trucking. On lap 3’s final turn, the hometown boat ground to a halt with a busted propeller.

The crowd let out a collective groan that could be heard above the engines.

Jeff Bernard, who admitted after the race that “King had him covered”, assumed the lead and outran his teammate Kelly for the remaining two laps to win the race. Steve David, meanwhile, was busy passing boats and wound up fifth. Greg Hopp brought Fred Leland’s Mirage Boats home fourth, Ken Muscatel’s purple U-25 was fifth and Nate Brown gave Erick Ellstrom 95 points for sixth.

Bernard climbed out of the cockpit after the race, climbed up on the U-5’s engine cowling and pointed to the sky, dedicating this win to his late step-father, Terry Troxell. Dad, this one’s for you!


Evansville final accumulated points including qualifying
Number Boat Driver Points Finish
U-5 FormulaBoats. com Jeff Bernard 1660 1st
U-7 Graham Trucking J. Michael Kelly 1250 2nd
U-3 Master Tire Jimmy King 1170 7th
U-100 Mirageboats.com Greg Hopp 893 4th
U-1 Oh Boy! Oberto Steve David 875 3rd
U-25 Mister Home Loan Ken Muscatel 720 5th
U-37 Renton Coil Spring Jean Theoret 715 6th
U-48 Whirlpool/Miss Albert Lee Brian Perkins 495 8th
U-22 Matrix Systems Mike Webster 411 9th
U-16 Ellstrom E-Lam Plus D. Villwock/N Brown 344 10th
U-17 Seal Shield Kip Brown 255 11th


Final Heat Results
  No. Boat Driver Avg. Speed Pts.
1 U-5 FormulaBoats.com Jeff Bernard 140.395 400
2 U-7 Graham Trucking J. Michael Kelly 139.854 300
3 U-1 Oh Boy! Oberto Steve David 138.092 225
4 U-100 Mirageboats.com Greg Hopp 131.808 169
5 U-25 Mister Home Loan Ken Muscatel 122.706 127
6 U-16 Ellstrom Elam Plus Nate Brown 114.415 95
DNF U-3 Master Tire Jimmy King 0 0


[Reprinted from Thunderboat, November 2009]