SEATTLE – You can suck the horsepower out of the Miss Budweiser.
You can force it to lug through the water towing restrictions no other boat faces.
You can pick grounds under which to protest an apparent Miss Budweiser victory until well after the fact.
You can erect any hurdle you like to bring the Bud down among the mere mortals.
But one thing’s for sure: Nothing would deny driver Dave Villwock and the Miss Budweiser the Chevrolet Cup at Seafair victory Sunday, likely the dominant unlimited hydroplane’s Seattle swan song under the red-and-white colors of a sponsor that’s paid the bills for 42 years.
Performing all year under a cloud that comes from knowing Anheuser Busch will yank its sponsorship after this season, Villwock and the Bud team took advantage of an egregious error by Terry Troxell to win the final, perhaps the last time fans will see the Bud in its present, glorious form in Seattle.
“Who knows what’s going to happen?” Villwock said of the team’s future. “If this is the end, I couldn’t have picked a better way to go out.”
The Bud operated on less horsepower than the field, thanks to Hydro-Prop’s desire to level the playing field by reducing the boat’s fuel flow to an undisclosed amount. That meant Villwock’s crew, simply the best, most experienced and best-paid in the sport, had to tinker with the boat’s setup as it had never tinkered before.
The crew changed the propeller from Friday and Saturday’s qualifying rounds. It played with the setup to come up with a boat that could fly in rough, choppy Lake Washington and make up for the lack of horsepower.
Whatever the Bud’s crew members are paid, they earned every cent.
“This was a great victory not only for Dave, but also the crew,” said owner Joe Little, whose late father, Bernie, began the Miss Budweiser dynasty 42 years ago. “They just found a way.”
They had help from an unexpected source.
In what has to count as among the worst, most glacial starts in the history of the sport, Troxell, piloting the U-16 Miss Elam Plus, was detected over the starting line by a maddening four-tenths of a second.
In an almost comical beginning, Troxell, in his haste to nail down the inside lane before the race started, moved into it prematurely and had to practically crawl to the line in order to avoid crossing it before the timer read zero.
He didn’t make it, to his own chagrin.
“We knew we were going to start that way,” said Troxell, who looked like a man who either wanted to crush a Budweiser can on his forehead or shave a Clydesdale. “I thought for sure I had it. From the count I had, I thought I had it. I don’t know. It’s kind of a racing game.”
Making things worse for Troxell was the apparent ease he still separated himself from the field, including the Miss Budweiser, which lunked and lurched into second place.
Officials almost immediately slapped a one-lap penalty on Troxell, although Villwock didn’t know it until halfway through the second lap of the five-lap race around the two-mile course.
“I knew something was going to happen,” Villwock said. “At about two minutes (before the starting gun), they’re either going to decide to go or turn off. I was going to position myself behind them. That was Move 1. If that didn’t work, I was going to have to leapfrog him later. This day, it worked out. That was our only shot.”
Villwock won going away, well in front of J.W. Myers in the U-8 Llumar Window Film and series points leader Steve David in the U-6 Oh Boy! Oberto.
The Llumar and U-2 Miss Graham Trucking team each protested Miss Budweiser victory, claiming Villwock failed to keep the boat on plane (level to the water line) prior to the start, as it is required to do for a fair start. Officials watched the tape, however, and ruled in Villwock’s favor.
It was a fitting end to a team that won six of the last seven Seafair races, including the last three.
It was the Bud’s 141st victory in those 42 seasons, a dynasty that has included 23 world championships, 14 Detroit Gold Cups and 17 Seafair victories, a legacy unrivaled in team sports.
“Vince Lombardi said that as long as you fall down on the field, exhausted, if it’s victorious, that’s the best,” said Villwock, who recorded his 46th career win. “If it’s something else, you gave it everything you had. If you do that and win the race, it’s more special.”