Dave Villwock & U-16 Ellstrom's Elam look for next step in Unlimited Hydroplane's perfect season
Dave Villwock is driving for an unlimited hydro record. If he takes the U-16 Ellstrom's Elam to victory in Sunday's Seafair race in Seattle and the final race in September in San Diego, he'll have swept every race this season.
No driver has won every hydro race in a season since racing resumed after World War Two.
Villwock also is closing in on the career record win mark of 62 set by Bill Muncey. Chip Hanauer is second with 61 victories, followed by Villwock with 55. "I'm just happy to be mentioned in the same company," Villwock said.
Despite winning four out of four races so far this year, he'll give you the same answer - or something similar - every time he's asked about it. "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."
Race fans are still talking about what happened in the final race in the Tri-Cities. After winning all three heats, Villwock found himself in lane four on the outside in the Tri-Cities. During lap two, he just turned on the jets and blew past everyone.
"Speed is incremental," he said. "It's not just the engine, or the prop, or the gear box. It's a combination of all those things." Is it fair to call them a dynasty? "No," said owner Erick Ellstrom. But it's sure starting to look that way.
Still, Seattle's the homeport for the Elam and the Ellstrom team. And this race is the one they gear up for all season. "We've got parts we haven't used yet," said Villwock. "Propellers and gear ratios we haven't touched. They've all been sitting back in the corner of the truck waiting for one race, the biggest one for us - it's Seattle."
"We've saved some of the best equipment that we have," he said.
And maybe even more speed? Villwock said he and Erick Ellstrom had some discussions about how to set the boat up for the finals at Tri-Cities. Erick "won" the discussion and set it up for flat-out speed. "Let it fly, he said," said Villwock. "Big speed." He got that.
In Friday's qualifying laps, Villwock set a course record in the fuel restricted era when he hit 165.687. Still, Steve David in the U-6 Oh Boy! Oberto wasn't far behind. The U-6 came in at 160.599. "We were 11 mph back in Evansville, 7 miles back in Detroit, now we're 5 miles back," said David. "We're getting closer."
But it wasn't close enough. David's finished second the last three races now. He was leading in the Tri-Cities when Villwock seemed to find a whole other gear and chase down the U-6 and flew past him.
Villwock 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.
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.