SEATTLE – As the bell-cow race for what many consider a sport on life support, this weekend’s Chevrolet Cup at Seafair certainly has its passionate following.
It’s especially passionate about rooting against the resident superstar.
“Anyone who beats Villwock, drinks are on me,” said Bob Menske of Edmonds, a self-described unlimited hydroplane-racing historian.
“Villwock” would be Dave Villwock, American Boat Racing Association points leader, winner of the first four races of the six-race season and acknowledged big fish in a small pond. With 55 career victories, the Auburn native seems a lock to break Bill Muncey’s record of 62. Villwock has won 15 of 16 heat races this season in the Miss Ellstrom Elam Plus, a mark that seems eerily reminiscent of the time he rolled up 38 victories while piloting the powerful and well-heeled Miss Budweiser. In one torrid stretch, Villwock and the Bud won 22 times in 28 races.
Many fans equate Villwock to Barry Bonds and Muncey to Hank Aaron.
“It’s always Villwock, Villwock, Villwock,” said Stan Vincent, a fan from Everett. “It’s him, then there’s the rest of the field. He’s always there at the end. You think it has to change, but it never does.”
“Villwock’s like the Yankees, the Cowboys and the old Lakers, all rolled into one,” said Menske, who has taken in the races at Seafair and Tri-Cities annually so many times he says he’s lost track. “I live for the days someone knocks him off.”
Menske and the rest of the Villwock haters have had a long year. And they may have a long weekend.
In is own way that more than a few consider self-satisfied (dare we say arrogant?), Villwock reiterated this week how important it was to him to win his ninth Seafair race Sunday on the Lake Washington course.
“You’re going to see us race with more passion than we ever have,” Villwock said. “We know we have a lot of great competition out there. They’re all going to be throwing fastballs at us, but we’re going to hit a few of them.”
The Miss Ellstrom Elam Plus crew have hit more than a few out of the park. While it doesn’t approach the Miss Bud in resources, the team is deep in the finest equipment in the sport.
“We have a motor we haven’t run all year and we have a bunch of propellers and gear ratios that we haven’t even touched yet,” Villwock said. “They’ve all been sitting back in the corner of the truck waiting for one race, the biggest one for us. It’s Seattle.”
That should make the haters happy. While others such as Nate Brown in the Miss Red Dot/USNW have a bare minimum of parts – Brown said Friday that if he breaks a propeller, he’s done for the weekend – Villwock is swimming in it, as he did in the Miss Bud.
To the fury of many, Villwock regularly won in the Bud even when HYDRO-Prop, the former and short-lived governing body of the sport, tried to stack the rules against him. That was when rules dictated that the previous race winner was required to reduce the fuel flow into the engine, thereby hindering acceleration.
“He whined,” Menske said. “Then he won and whined some more.”
If one team appears to have the best shot at knocking off the Miss Ellstrom Elam Plus, it may be the Oh Boy! Oberto, driven by Steve David.
“We have a shorter course this weekend,” Oberto spokesman Larry Oberto said. “It’s better for the gears we’re currently running. Steve is on his game and we welcome a head-to-head battle with Villwock.”
Maybe. But Villwock was the fastest qualifier Friday at 156.501 mph, a 5 mph bulge faster than the rest of the field.
Sports columnist John Sleeper: firstname.lastname@example.org