April 10, 2010 in Sports

Villwock crusades for hydroplane safety

Chuck Stark Bremerton Kitsap Sun

Dave Villwock was sitting in the cockpit of a flat-bottom inboard boat he was building for a friend when he answered his cell phone earlier this week.

They were going to test it the following day at Lake Tapps near Olympia.

Villwock, the 57-year-old unlimited hydroplane driving legend, got his start racing inboards with his uncle, Bremerton’s Al Villwock, when he was 16.

The first record he set was in the E racing runabout class. Like a lot of unlimited drivers, Villwock has never strayed too far from his roots.

He’s still driving the Sunset Chevrolet Special. It’s not the same 6-litre hydroplane he won a national high points championship in back in 1988, but it has the familiar yellow paint job and remains one of the fastest limited boats in the stock and super stock class.

Villwock will be driving at Lake Lawrence in Yelm, Wash., this weekend along with the rest of the inboard fleet and some outboards in the Seattle Inboard Racing Association’s SIRA Run for the Record.

As much as the inboards trained him for what has turned out to be one of the most successful careers in unlimited hydroplane history, it’s not all about going fast for the South Kitsap grad.

“They were killing people in the flat-bottoms,” he said. “That’s what got me involved.”

And people are still dying. David Bryant, 44, who drove the U-10 on the unlimited circuit, died last weekend during a race in New South Wales, Australia, while driving an open cockpit flat bottom. Another driver died in the same race.

“You have to put capsules in,” Villwock said. “The guys in Australia fell out of the boat.”

Too many bad things can happen when drivers hit the water, Villwock said.

“That’s what motivates me,” he said. “Since 2005, I’ve started doing this. I’m trying to evolve and design something that is very fast and competitive, and safe at the same time.”

He met resistance at first.

“Nobody wanted to do it,” he said. “They’d rather be fast and die, then slow and live.”

Villwock is trying to make capsules mandatory. If the driver is strapped inside a capsule, and if the boat flips or crashes, he won’t get hit by the boat, or a prop or a rudder, Villwock said.

He’s also worked on other innovations with flat bottoms. Traditionally, builders centered the skid fin under the boat, but Villwock’s experimented with moving it on the side of the boat.

“There’s just a lot of technical reasons on why it works better that way,” he said.

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email