KENNEWICK, Wash. - His boat's not in the pits yet, but U-16 Ellstrom's Elam Plus driver Dave Villwock is wandering the pits at the Tri-Cities talking to fans and crew members from other teams.
For a guy that has been bashed sometimes for being fan-and-media-unfriendly, he's making an effort this week. Showing up early, smiling a lot, and talking to anybody who stops.
And despite winning three out of three races so far this year, he's playing it down. "We'll just try to get enough points to get into the final and then we'll worry about what happens there," Villwock said. "There are 6 or 7 boats out here that are fast enough and can win."
Villwock has 54 career wins - that's more than 45 more wins than anybody else who is racing. He's closing in on the legendary records of drivers Bill Muncey and Chip Hanauer with 61 and 62 career wins. "I'm just happy to be mentioned in the same company," he said.
He says he's in great physical shape and will continue to race "as long as I can handle it physically." He's been able to stay out of trouble this year so far on the water. "It's experience," he said. Villwock said it's the only sport where the playing field changes every time you go out on it - even during a race - as was evidenced in Evansville earlier this year. The course ran smooth for one lap, and then "rollers" would show up - waves that come at angles to the boat. That caused three boats to flip in three straight heats.
"At some point, every hydro driver either runs into a bad situation or runs out of talent," he said. He blames himself and his talent for the big flip at last year's Columbia Cup. He did a 360 and landed right-side up. Despite the damage, the crew was able to piece the boat back together. Villwock went out and won the 2006 Tri-Cities race and he's looking to repeat in 2007.
One of his critics this year has been U-37 Beacon Plumbing driver Jean Theoret, who had claimed Villwock moved in on him, taking his lane in Detroit. Officials reviewing the race disagreed with Theoret's assessment, but that hasn't stopped Theoret from speaking out. "We haven't done anything to anybody," Villwock said. "They're (Theoret) putting the boat in bad positions and then blaming other people.
He is the driver a lot of fans love to hate. He quoted Dale Earnhardt, Sr. who once told Dave: "If they ain't booed ya, ya ain't done nothin' yet." Villwock explains it like this: "If 51% of the people love you and 49% hate you, I'm happy that 100% care." When they stop caring, they stop coming out to watch and support the sport. That's when he says you have a problem.