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Keeping Pace

Villwock chases another victory heading to the 31st annual Thunder on the Ohio unlimited hydroplane race

 (The Spokesman-Review)
(The Spokesman-Review)

Dave Villwock looks to add to his impressive 2009 season with a win in the ABRA's next stop on the Unlimited Hydroplane circuit which comes this weekend in Indiana.

Courtesy: ABRA Media Relations

EVANSVILLE, Ind.--The battle for the coveted national high point championship continues this weekend when the ABRA  teams gather on the Ohio River for the 31st annual Thunder on the Ohio unlimited hydroplane race (August 22-23).


Dave Villwock (Auburn, Wash) seems to have a stranglehold on this event, winning 10 of the last 13 Evansville races—and he did not participate in the event last year. That does not bode well for the current national high point leader and defending National High Point Champion Steve David (Lighthouse Pt., Fla.).


Going into this race, David holds a slight 249 point lead with his Oh Boy! Oberto U-1 team. 


“We suffered a pretty big blow a few weeks ago in Seattle,” said David.  “We lost at least anywhere from 225 up to 300 points when the boat hit a hole in the water during the final heat.”


That hole and the subsequent engine damage knocked David out of the final heat at the Chevrolet Cup at Seafair, allowing Villwock’s U-16 Ellstrom Elam Plus team to capture 400 points and the championship.


“I thought I had a pretty good line going in against Dave (Villwock),” added David. “Then I hit some stuff, bounced around and then said to my crew ‘I think we’re going over.’


“We didn’t go over but the engine revved up over 48 percent on the N2 and the engine was around 600 to 900 (Celsius temp) and I had to shut it down otherwise we would have blown the engine.”


“Those things happen and we have been fortunate this year,” said Villwock, the winningest active driver with 59 career wins. “This season we have had a few issues but we have been able to overcome most.”


Villwock has won three of the four races on the circuit this year.


The boats will test Saturday morning with qualifying set for the afternoon.  All elimination heat and the championship final will take place on Sunday.


A fleet of 11 boats are expected to be in Evansville pit area for this weekend’s event.


TICKET INFORMATION: Buttons are $15 and are available at most supermarkets, banks and credit unions and MotoMart. Or visit



GREAT RUN FOR EVANSVILLE HOMETOWN BOAT IN SEATTLE:  Ed Cooper, Jr. owner of the U-3 Master Tire and Evansville native had his best run of the season at the Chevrolet Cup at Seafair.  Not only did driver Jimmy King (Detroit, Mich.) win one of his elimination heats, the team also placed second behind Villwock in the final heat.


“We have had our share of mechanical problems throughout the year,” said King.  “I am really proud of the way this team has worked to keep us competitive.  It is easy to give up but these guys have worked their butts off to get us ready for each event this year.”


Cooper’s boat is the lone piston powered craft on the ABRA circuit.  While all other teams run T-5 Turbine, the Cooper boat is powered by a V-12 Allison engine—the same engine used by the P-51 Mustangs fighter planes in World War II.  The combination of speed and noise makes this team one of the big, fan favorites.


VILLWOCK (REALLY) 10 OF LAST 12:  Since Dave Villwock did not race in Evansville last year; he has really won 10 of his last 12 races on this Ohio River course.  Villwock’s first win can in 1996 when he drove Fred Leland’s Pico American Dream to the title.


NATE BROWN BACK IN THE COCKPIT?  Nate Brown announced his retirement from the sport as a driver in 2008 but don’t be surprised if you see him back behind the wheel of the U-17 actiVwater hydroplane for a few laps this weekend.  Driver Kip Brown cannot make the trek to Doha, Qatar for the season finale in November and Nate could pilot the boat overseas.  Before he does that, Nate wants to get a few laps back in the boat.


EVANSVILLE HYDROPLANE HISTORY: The city of Evansville replaced Owensboro, Kentucky on the Unlimited hydroplane calendar in 1979. Evansville was the world headquarters of Atlas Van Lines, Inc. which sponsored Bill Muncey's race team.
Muncey played a major role in Evansville being awarded its first sanction. "Thunder On the Ohio" has been an Unlimited mainstay for 30 consecutive years. The 725 Cubic Inch Class boats, the forerunners of the modern Unlimited hydros, raced at Evansville in 1938-39-40.


“Ideal Evansville” has established itself as one of Unlimited racing’s most important venues with superb spectator viewing areas. Historically, most of the world speed records for 2-mile courses have been set on Evansville’s sporty tri-oval.

Having hosted its first Thunderboat classic in 1938, only two current race sites pre-date
Evansville, Indiana. Madison, Indiana, conducted its first major event in 1929 and Detroit, Michigan, debuted in 1916.



Thunder on the Ohio (Expected fleet)



No.       Boat Name     Driver     Hometown                 Owner Hometown            


U-1 Oh Boy! Oberto        Steve David Lighthouse Pt. Fla    City of Madison, Indiana Madison, Ind


U-3 Master Tire Jimmy King Memphis, Mich        Ed Cooper, Jr. Evansville, Ind


U-5  Jeff Bernard Kent, Wash Ted Porter Family Decatur, Ind


U-7 Graham Trucking     J Michael Kelly Puyallup, Wash  Ted Porter Family Decatur, Ind


U-16 Ellstrom Elam Plus Dave Villwock Auburn, Wash      Erick Ellstrom Seattle, Wash


U-17 actiVwater             Kip Brown Maple Valley, Wash  Nate Brown Preston, Wash


U-22 Matrix Systems     Mike Webster Reading, Pa         Steve & Sue Webster Reading, Pa      U-25 Superior Racing         Dr. Ken Muscatel Seattle, Wash Dr Ken Muscatel Seattle, Wash              U-37 Renton Coil Spring Jean Theoret Maple Grove,Que Billy & Jane Schumacher Seattle, Wash


U-48 Albert Lee Brian Perkins Black Diamond, Wash Greg & Brian O'Farrell Maple Valley, Wash


U-100 Greg Hopp Snohomish, Wash Fred Leland Kirkland, Wash

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Keeping Pace

Motorsports correspondent Doug Pace keeps up with motorsports news and notes from around the region.