Dave Villwock and the Miss Elam Plus en route to winning the Indiana Governor’s Cup at the 2007 Madison Regatta.	(Courier file photo by Mark Campbell)
Dave Villwock and the Miss Elam Plus en route to winning the Indiana Governor’s Cup at the 2007 Madison Regatta. (Courier file photo by Mark Campbell)
The reigning national and Madison champion Miss Elam Plus will not compete in the three eastern races of the American Boat Racing Association schedule, the team announced Thursday.

Team owner Erick Ellstrom, whose boat has won two of the last three National High Points Championships and the last three Madison Regattas, released a statement late Thursday morning announcing the team's decision. Ellstrom has been heavily involved in negotiations for a series of international races to start later this year and he said due to that the team simply does not have the time to compete at Evansville, Madison and Detroit.

"Because of all the energy and time this has taken, and the continuing demands, our company just cannot afford the time to compete at the first three eastern races this year," Ellstrom said. "We are ready to go, and I am sure we would be very competitive as always, but we have had to make a very tough decision. We want everyone to understand that this decision has been thought about for over a month now, and weighs heavy on our hearts."

Ellstrom has been heavily involved in putting together a series of races on foreign water for more than a year now and has spent a considerable amount of money and time pursuing that endeavor.

"We have an opportunity, if we play our cards right, and diligently work out all the details, to have a seasonal circuit that will race in foreign lands," Ellstrom said. "Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Monte Carlo, Oman, Muscat, England and several other wonderful locations are working with us to fashion an actual race circuit that would begin in late November and conclude in early January each year. This is an entirely new presentation and has taken over a year to put together.

"This is no longer a dream and we have an actual signed agreement that will allow, in the first season - 2008 - four hulls to be brought over to these countries, and put on exciting exhibitions in the various cities, with the hope that in 2009 the Abu Dhabi International Boat Racing Association World Championships will be held in Abu Dhabi, much like they are doing with Formula One Racing and even golf. These people are extremely excited to have us come and have opened the door to an opportunity that may never come again. We have been doing all we can to make sure we present ourselves professionally, and responsibly."

Ellstrom said such a series could not only increase the sport's worldwide exposure, but also attract more financial sponsors and the financial rewards that go with such sponsorships and race performance incentives. With that in mind it is important that the initial exhibitions make a good first impression so Ellstrom is holding his boat out of competition at Evansville, Madison and Detroit to work toward that goal.

"... We feel that this added international publicity will increase sponsorship support, bring in millions of new fans and help to stabilize a sport that has seen some pretty rough year," Ellstrom said. "We are working on 'race purses' so teams can once again compete for money as well as trophies. We haven't had a purse in nearly 14 years, so the incentive of many teams to 'risk-all' has just not been there. This is going to change and make the racing even more exciting and challenging. We need to grow, mature, and fully realize our potential. This gives us an opportunity to do just that."

Ellstrom's announcement came as a shock to nearly everybody in the racing community, especially coming just eight days before the season opener in Evansville.

The Miss Elam Plus is the defending champion at all three races it will miss, including the upcoming 100th running of the APBA Gold Cup in Detroit. Driver Dave Villwock enters the season with 55 career wins, just seven away from the all-time record. For now, Villwock's assault on the record book is on hold.

"We want to wish all the teams a very safe and successful eastern campaign, and to look over their shoulder in Tri-Cities and Seattle," Ellstrom said. "This is also very tough on our driver, Dave Villwock and our dedicated crew, but they also understand the total picture and how and why we are investing in the future.

"We firmly believe that we are entering into a new and exciting chapter of unlimited racing, and furthermore we are honored to have the opportunity to be able to put this all together."

The Miss Elam Plus' decision reduces the number of boats that will come east to 10. The fleet, as it stands now, includes: Jimmy King, U-3 Cooper Motorsports; Jeff Bernard, U-5 Formulaboats.com; Steve David, U-6 Oh Boy! Oberto/Miss Madison; Mike Allen, U-7 Formulaboats.com II; David Bryant, U-10 Miss Ahern Rentals; J. Michael Kelly, U-13 Miss Graham Trucking; Ken Muscatel, U-25 Superior Racing; Jean Theoret, U-37 Miss Beacon Plumbing; Brian Perkins, U-50 Spirit of the Navy; and Greg Hopp, U-100 Mirageboats.