Villwock
Villwock
Miss Madison owners representative Bob Hughes sent a playful but stern message to Miss Elam Plus driver Dave Villwock on Thursday.

Add a little "6" to the big white "1" on the Big Orange boat or somebody from the defending national champion Oh Boy! Oberto crew will come over and do it for you.

It was Hughes' way of serving notice that the U-6 Oberto/Miss Madison is and will be the U-1 Oberto/Miss Madison this season - a designation reserved for the defending champion and held by Villwock's boat 11 of the last 13 seasons.

Don't be surprised if Villwock and the U-16 Elam quickly re-establish themselves as the leader of the Unlimited hydroplane racing pack and the favorite to win the 2009 American Boat Racing Association national championship.

The Elam sat on the sidelines in 2008 - entering only two races - as driver Steve David and the Oh Boy! Oberto ran off with Miss Madison Racing's first championship in 48 seasons of competition.

Villwock did keep his hand in boat racing by setting a couple of world records in the flatbottoms and winning one of the two Unlimited races - the team's homeport race in Seattle - that the Elam entered n 2008.

Villwock also kept tabs on everybody else, making notes and studying the tactics of both drivers and teams in his absence.

Studying tactics has long been one of Villwock's strong suits. He is a direct descendent of the Bill Muncey drivers' tree, having learned a great deal about Unlimited racing from Chip Hanauer who in turn learned a great deal from Muncey.

It's a drivers' tree that has been more fruitful than any in the history of the sport as the late Muncey (62) and the retired Hanauer (61) lead all drivers in wins with Villwock a close and closing third with 56. The next driver on the list is the late, great Dean Chenoweth - 29 wins back of Villwock with 25.

Villwock's quest for a ninth drivers' championship begins this weekend in Madison with the running of the 59th Indiana Governor's Cup. It's a race in which three eras have been dominated by three drivers as Muncey, Hanauer and Villwock stand tied with seven Governor's Cups each.

But while Muncey and Hanauer won their seven Governor's Cups racing with no limits, a case could be made that Villwock won his seven Madison Regattas despite limitations. Sure, Villwock has always driven just about the best boat on the circuit but as a former crew chief turned driver/team manager, the superiority of his equipment can be directly tied to his well-rounded skills as a boat developer and racer.

Three of the boats Villwock helped develop with the former Miss Budweiser team will be among his main competition this weekend in the U-5 Formulaboats.com, U-7 Graham Trucking and U-37 Miss Bello's Pizza and many of the other top boats are either patterned after the Budweisers or Villwock's current Miss Elam.

During the offseason, the ABRA adopted rules changes to reduce the amount of fuel boats like the Miss Elam, the former Budweiser hulls and Oberto/Miss Madison compete with. The turbine powered boats - that's 10 of the 11 boats scheduled to compete this weekend - raced on 4.3 gallons of fuel per minute in 2008 but they will be restricted to 4.1 gallons this year.

In addition, lane selection will be based on qualifying with the top qualifiers having first choice in the first heat with the field reversed for the second heat and so on.

No driver in this year's race may be better prepared to face such fuel restrictions and lane assignments.

While driving for the Budweiser team, Villwock became the focus of fuel restrictions targeted at slowing his boat and evening the playing field. He once raced at Madison on 3.7 gallons of fuel per minute and won!

Villwock has won heats - and Governor's Cup finals- from just about every lane on the "Wild" Bill Cantrell Memorial Race Course. The only constant has been that regardless of the fuel or lane assignment, Villwock is always among the leaders and a contender to win.

So Villwock has to be the favorite to win this weekend's Governor's Cup, but Hughes and his driver, Steve David, and the Oh Boy! Oberto team, will be ready for that challenge as will defending Governor's Cup champion Jeff Bernard in the U-5 Formulaboats and a field of 11 very good boats.

Expect the rest of the fleet to do its best to beat Villwock and spoil his comeback to full-time Unlimited racing. That's what Villwock expects and he's known no other way for quite some time.

On Thursday Villwock recalled his return to Unlimited racing in 2005 after he'd lost his ride when the Miss Budweiser disbanded and was hired by Elam.

"When I came back in 2005 they said 'Boy, a lot of the drivers aren't happy that you're driving again.' I said "Well I wouldn't want to see me driving again either. I'd want the worst guy out there if I could get it.'"



Mark Campbell is the Madison Courier's sports editor. He's covered Unlimited hydroplane racing for 25 years. You can write to him at mcampbell@madisoncourier.com.