A hydroplane driver with Northwest roots is on the verge of making history this weekend on the Ohio River in Madison, Ind., at the Lucas Oil Governor’s Cup.
Dave Villwock can notch his 63rd victory on the unlimited circuit, surpassing the late Bill Muncey (1928-1981) as the winningest driver in history.
Muncey raced boats in open cockpits for more than a quarter century. His long and storied career ended when he died in a 1981 blowover crash while driving the Atlas Van Lines in Acapulco, Mexico, after winning his 62nd race earlier that year at Evansville, Ind.
Thirty years later, Villwock, 58, gets the opportunity to top the legend’s total.
Villwock, a 1972 graduate of South Kitsap High School in Port Orchard, Wash., first raced an unlimited hydroplane in 1992 in San Diego. He surprised many by winning his first race.
His win total jumped every year as he passed some heavyweights – Billy Shumacher (17 wins), Jim Kropfeld (22), Dean Chenoweth (25) and, last year, Chip Hanauer (61).
Hanauer retired in 1999, one short of Muncey’s record.
“When I was the crew chief of the Miss Circus Circus in 1990, Chip Hanauer at the time had 36 wins and I said, ‘How do you win that many?’ ” Villwock said.
Villwock dominated racing throughout the country in the Miss Budweiser, amassing 33 wins from 1997 to 2004.
His domination in the Bud included a scary moment in 1997 on the Columbia River.
Villwock blew over in the first turn of the final heat and had serious injuries, including the loss of two fingers on his right hand. He missed the rest of the season but vowed to return after doctors told him he was likely done racing.
“I’m not done yet,” Villwock told doctors after recovering from 15 surgeries.
Villwock and his racing team crafted a steering wheel with special grips to help him control the 6,700-pound craft.
He’ll drive the U-96 Spirit of Qatar for the Ballard-based Ellstrom team this weekend.
Villwock will contend with 11 other race teams, including his biggest rival, Steve David, driving three-time national champion Oh Boy! Oberto, owned by the City of Madison, Ind.
“The (abbreviated) 1 2/3-mile course will make things interesting, and it will be rough, so rough,” said Villwock, whose eight wins at Madison are tops there. “Look for boat parts floating down the Ohio.”