Seafair Hydros | Winner of everything but hearts
Dave Villwock would be perfect for a remake of one of those old "Do You Know Me? " American Express ads. Do you know who has the highest...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Dave Villwock would be perfect for a remake of one of those old "Do You Know Me?" American Express ads.
Do you know who has the highest winning percentage in the history of unlimited hydroplane racing? The driver who, if everything continues on its current course for a few years, will have more victories than any other driver?
Who the legendary Chip Hanauer is talking about when he says "as a whole package, there has never been anyone like him"?
The answer to all the clues, of course, is Villwock. He will be driving the U-16 Miss Ellstrom Elam Plus as he goes after the 56th victory of his career Sunday at the Chevrolet Cup at Seafair, closing in on the record of 62 set by Bill Muncey (Hanauer won 61). Villwock has won 45 percent of all races since he began driving in 1992 (55 of 121, some of which he missed due to injuries and other reasons).
Along the way, he's earned a reputation as someone whose overall knowledge of boats and engines and propellers might be unsurpassed by any other driver in history.
"He understands everything in the boat," said Hanauer, who readily admits he didn't have the technical expertise of Villwock. "He could go to any team, and that boat would get better simply because of his knowledge."
Yet eight years after he last drove a hydroplane, Hanauer remains to many as the public face of unlimited hydroplane racing.
And when the Unlimited Hydroplane and Raceboat Museum ran a contest a few years ago asking fans to name their favorite drivers, it was Hanauer and Muncey — the latter of whom died in an accident in 1981 — who split almost all of the 6,000 votes cast. Villwock got about 50.
"It doesn't look to me that he has the same level of adoration that they had," said David Williams, who is the director of the Hydroplane Museum and also the driver of the U-48 Miss Lakeridge Paving.
Williams cautions that Muncey also was fairly controversial in his day. Time, as it often does, helped smooth over the rough patches of someone's career in people's memories.
But others in the pits wonder if Villwock will ever reach the Hanauer/Muncey level of respect/love from competitors and fans.
"I would also say it's not fair," said Ken Muscatel, longtime driver. "People say he just has the best equipment, the best stuff. But look at where Elam was before he got there [in 2005] and what it is now. You tell me Dave had nothing to do with that?"
The lack of appreciation for Villwock might simply be timing. Hydroplane racing doesn't have the same hold on the sporting public as it did back in the heyday of Muncey's career, before the Mariners, Sonics and Seahawks came to town, or even during the 1980s and early '90s, when Hanauer dominated.
"It was a different era back then," Villwock said.
The driver admits he could probably promote himself better, but he's perfectly content building a propeller.
But there's another reason for Villwock's lack of popularity.
"Dave's hurt himself, too," Hanauer said. "A lot of his career, he has not been gracious."
Therein lies the rub.
Stories of the day referred often to Hanauer's "movie-star looks" and Muncey as a "glib, articulate spokesman for the sport." Villwock "sort of has that Darth Vader persona thing that follows him around," in the words of Muscatel.
Indeed, Villwock readily acknowledges his sole goal is winning, and he's willing to do just about whatever it takes to accomplish that goal.
"It's not a popularity contest," he said. "I do admit that when I'm racing boats, I try to focus on racing boats and everything else kind of gets pushed to the side. Like anything else, there's a personal tax to be paid to reach another level over the average."
A few years ago, when a previous hydro administration enacted some new rules designed to bring more parity to the sport, Villwock railed at every opportunity about the unfairness of it all. He seemed oblivious, in the eyes of others, of how his dominance might hurt the sport. Last week, he talked of his team's success being in part a residue of other team's mistakes, comments that rub some of the teams the wrong way.
There's no disagreement he's a uniquely Northwest success story. Villwock grew up in the Bremerton area, and his technical expertise was honed being around the family plumbing and heating business and helping out on the family's 15-acre farm.
He caught the racing bug at age 10, serving on the crew for his uncle, Al, who raced limited boats. Then he soon began driving his own.
He won all kinds of championships in smaller boats but said he resisted the lure of the unlimiteds for years for safety reasons, making his living as a sheet-metal worker.
He finally broke into unlimiteds as team manager for Hanauer's Circus Circus team in 1989, leading it to a national title the following season. He's essentially made his living in the sport ever since, the only current driver able to do so.
Two years later, with cabover cockpits improving safety, he took the plunge. Villwock won his first race — only the second driver to pull that off — piloting the Coors Dry to a victory in San Diego.
After some fits and starts with his driving career, he landed with Fred Leland's team and drove the Pico American Dream to an unlikely 1996 national title, which attracted the attention of Budweiser owner Bernie Little, who needed to find a permanent replacement for Hanauer.
The combination of Villwock and Bud's unlimited budget produced the longest stretch of dominance in the history of the sport, one a lot of people in the pits felt harmed it greatly. The Bud won 22 of 28 races at one point.
"The Bud dominated the sport for years and years and years to the point that it was almost a negative," Williams said. "You could say Chip had a lot of Bud wins, too [Hanauer had 21 wins in the Bud to 38 for Villwock] but Chip started out as the David who killed Goliath. He got a lot of his wins in the Atlas and the Miller and the Circus Circus running against the clearly superior equipment of the Bud. So when Chip later went to the Bud, he sort of already had his good-guy credentials. Dave had one good season with Pico but then he went to the Bud before he really had a chance to be solidified as 'the good guy.' "
When the Bud team dissolved after the 2004 season, Villwock sat out briefly before hooking on with the Elam midway through 2005. Controversy followed Villwock there as well. He replaced J.W. Myers, a popular presence in the pits who many of his peers believed hadn't been given an adequate chance in the Elam, after driving the boat for just three races.
But Villwock won his first race in the Elam and nine overall since.
Now 51, Villwock says he intends to keep racing as long as "I'm healthy and having fun." The record for victories, he says, isn't a motivating factor, although others who know him figure he wants it.
For now, Villwock insists he's happy simply to be in "quote, unquote, the club. Where if people look back five years from now, whether I do it or don't do it, they'll say, 'You know what? That Muncey guy, that Hanauer guy and that Villwock guy are the best guys that ever did this. Now who's the next one?' "
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org
|1951||Slo-mo-shun V||Lou Fageol|
|1952||Slo-mo-shun IV||Stan Dollar|
|1953||Slo-mo-shun IV||Joe Taggart|
|1954||Slo-mo-shun V||Lou Fageol|
|1955||Gale V||J. Lee Schoenith|
|1956||Shanty I||Russ Schleech|
|1957||Miss Thriftway||Bill Muncey|
|1958||Hawaii Kai III||Jack Regas|
|1960||Miss Thriftway||Bill Muncey|
|1961||Miss Bardahl||Ron Musson|
|1962||Miss Century 21||Bill Muncey|
|1963||Tahoe Miss||Chuck Thompson|
|1964||Miss Bardahl||Ron Musson|
|1965||Miss Bardahl||Ron Musson|
|1966||My Gypsy||Jim Ranger|
|1967||Miss Bardahl||Bill Schumacher|
|1968||Miss US||Bill Muncey|
|1969||Miss Budweiser||Bill Sterett Sr.|
|1970||Miss Budweiser||Dean Chenoweth|
|1971||Pride of Pay N' Pak||Bill Schumacher|
|1972||Atlas Van Lines||Bill Muncey|
|1973||Pay N' Pak||Mickey Remund|
|1974||Pay N' Pak||George Henley|
|1975||Pay N' Pak||George Henley|
|1976||Miss Budweiser||Mickey Remund|
|1977||Atlas Van Lines||Bill Muncey|
|1978||Atlas Van Lines||Bill Muncey|
|1979||Atlas Van Lines||Bill Muncey|
|1980||Atlas Van Lines||Bill Muncey|
|1981||Miss Budweiser||Dean Chenoweth|
|1982||Atlas Van Lines||Chip Hanauer|
|1983||Miss Budweiser||Jim Kropfeld|
|1984||Miss Budweiser||Jim Kropfeld|
|1985||Miller American||Chip Hanauer|
|1986||Miller American||Chip Hanauer|
|1987||Miss Budweiser||Jim Kropfeld|
|1988||Miss Budweiser||Tom D'Eath|
|1989||Miss Circus Circus||Chip Hanauer|
|1990||Miss Circus Circus||Chip Hanauer|
|1991||Miss Budweiser||Scott Pierce|
|1992||The Tide||George Woods Jr.|
|1993||Miss Budweiser||Chip Hanauer|
|1994||Pico American Dream||Dave Villwock|
|1995||Miss Budweiser||Chip Hanauer|
|1996||Pico American Dream||Dave Villwock|
|1997||Pico American Dream||Mark Evans|
|1998||Miss Budweiser||Dave Villwock|
|1999||Miss Budweiser||Dave Villwock|
|2000||Miss Budweiser||Dave Villwock|
|2001||Miss Elam Plus||Nate Brown|
|2002||Miss Budweiser||Dave Villwock|
|2003||Miss Budweiser||Dave Villwock|
|2004||Miss Budweiser||Dave Villwock|
|2005||U-Llumar Window Film||Jean Theoret|
|2006||Miss Beacon Plumbing||Jean Theoret|
|1||Dave Villwock (U-16)||6,625|
|2||Steve David (U-6)||5,104|
|3||Jean Theoret (U-37)||4,238|
|4||J. Michael Kelly (U-13)||3,208|
|5||Greg Hopp (U-100)||3,125|
|6||Jimmy King (U-3)||3,097|
|7||Jeff Bernard (U-5)||2,606|
|8||Ken Muscatel (U-25)||2,164|
|9||David Bryant (U-10)||1,970|
|10||Mike Allen (U-1)||1,713|
|11||Chris Bertram (U-9)||894|
|12||Brian Perkins (U-21)||668|
|13||David Williams (U-48)||480|
|14||Jimmy Shane (U-1)||255|
|U-16||Ellstrom Elam Plus||6,625|
|U-6||Oh Boy! Oberto/Miss Madison||5,104|
|U-13||Spirit of Detroit||3,208|
|U-48||Go Fast, Turn Left||480|
Top 3 finishers listed
Columbia Cup, Tri-Cities
1 — U-16 Miss Ellstrom Elam Plus, Dave Villwock, 145.013
2 — U-6 Oh Boy! Oberto, Steve David, 142.164
3 — U-10 Hoss Mortgage Investors, David Bryant, 137.454
Gold Cup, Detroit
1 — U-16, Miss Ellstrom Elam Plus, Dave Villwock, 147.687
2 — U-6 Oh Boy! Oberto, Steve David, 146.526
3 — U-13 Spirit of Detroit, J. Michael Kelly, 142.56
Indiana Governors Cup, Madison, Ind.
1 — U-16 Miss Ellstrom Elam Plus, Dave Villwock, 139.641
2 — U-6 Oh Boy! Oberto, Steve David, 137.684
3 — U-13 Spirit of Detroit, J. Michael Kelly, 132.634
Thunder on the Ohio, Evansville, Ind.
1 — U-16 Miss Ellstrom Elam Plus, Dave Villwock, 140.203
2 — U-37 Miss Beacon Plumbing, Jean Theoret, 136.167
3 — U-3 Master Tire, Jimmy King, 135.982
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
UPDATE - 08:52 AM
Hundreds attend funeral for fallen Mich. player
UPDATE - 09:40 AM
Norway's Tarjei Boe wins men's biathlon at worlds
NEW - 08:46 AM
Tripoli ruled unsafe for international soccer