The last time we saw Dave
Villwock, he was thrusting the Indiana Governors Cup trophy into
the air at the conclusion of last years Madison Regatta.
It was a scene repeated three other times at the beginning of last years
six-stop race circuit as Erick Ellstroms Miss Elam Plus Unlimited
hydroplane team marched to an American Boat Racing Association national
But this year, the Miss Elam Plus is a no show. Ellstroms Seattle-based
race team elected to skip the first three eastern U.S. races of the 2008
season to instead travel overseas to drum up sponsorships for an international
exhibition tour later this year. The team is expected to rejoin the ABRA
field when it arrives on the West Coat for the final three race events
in Tri-Cities, Wash., Seattle and San Diego.
by Don Ward
Elam Plus driver Dave Villwock
will be noticeably absent at this
years Madison Regatta, opening
the door for a new champion.
While overseas, meanwhile, the Elam team will be
negotiating deals for exhibition appearances in such foreign cities as
Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Monte Carlo and Muscat, among others. The team has signed
a contract to participate in exhibitions during the winter months in hopes
of developing a future race circuit there, team officials said. The actual
race circuit could begin as early as November and run through January
each year, Ellstrom said. The tour may allow up to four boats to be brought
over from the United States to participate this year, with the goal of
increasing the sports international exposure, sponsorships and financial
race incentives. Ellstrom also is hoping the international tour will provide
race purses in addition to trophies since we havent had a
purse in 14 years, so the incentive of many teams to risk all
has just not been there.
We feel that this added international publicity will increase sponsorship
support, bring in millions of new fans and help to stabilize a sport that
has seen some pretty rough years, Ellstrom said in his announcement.
Sounds great for Ellstroms team, but where does that leave the Unlimited
hydroplane racing fans here in Americas heartland? Are we now faced
with planning a serious road trip to Dubai?
At first blush, it seems like the door is wide open for the hometown favorite
Oh Boy! Oberto-Miss Madison to repeat its 2001 victory on the Ohio River.
Winning the Indiana Governors Cup without the Miss Elam Plus on
the water is one thing; beating the Elam Plus before the hometown fans
is a much bigger feat, as Im sure Obertos David would agree.
David, along with other members of the hydro circuit, expressed mostly
regret not glee over the news of Ellstroms decision.
They want the best on the water when race day comes not for competition
but for the fans.
Its unfortunate, and I was surprised, but Erick must have
had a good reason because I know he would like to be here racing, and
I would like to have him here, David said in late June as the story
circulated throughout the media.
The Oberto family bought the team a brand new boat last season. Oh Boy!
Oberto finished a close second in front of the hometown Madison fans,
and it kept improving throughout the season, winning the final two races,
held on the West Coast.
Mike Allen, driver of the 2006 national champion Formulatboats.com boat,
told the Seattle Times: Life will be a little easier without the
Elam, yes. But like I told everyone else, we werent going there
to finish second in the first place.
by Don Ward
Elam Plus races to victory over
the Oh Boy! Oberto during last years
Madison Regatta final heat.
U-3 Cooper Motorsports driver Jimmy King said:
Everybody wants to win, but we want to win with the Miss Elam there
because you want to beat the best. If you win the Madison Regatta and
Villwocks not there, its still a victory but its not
ABRA chairman Sam Cole put a positive spin on the news, while expressing
surprise that the Miss Elam Plus team was staying home. The ABRA
has had numerous discussions about taking this sport worldwide, and we
support anything the Elam team can do to further that vision. Cole
said in a statement.
Reading between the lines, you had to wonder if Cole was crossing his
fingers behind his back when he wrote that. A Regatta without Villwock
is like a Ryder Cup without Tiger Woods. Oops, never mind!
This obscure sport that sorely need sponsors and is always seeking heroes
needs to remain on solid financial footing if it is to survive. The ABRA
has come a long way in providing that stability but as it enters another
season it is now juggling the news that its national champion has left
Lets face it: To be the best, you have to beat the best. And Villwock
is at the top of the sport a mere eight victories away from becoming
the all-time best. He had won 10 of the last 12 Unlimited races prior
to the 2008 season opener at Evansville. He has earned the tours
National High Point Driver Championship nine times since 1996. And with
55 career victories, he stands as the third-winningest driver in the sports
history, behind the late Bill Muncey (62) and retired driver Chip Hanauer
So beating Villwock would be much sweeter for these drivers than going
home with a victory that has an asterisk beside it.
Nonetheless, fans are in store for three exciting season-opening races.
And in a sport when any one of several factors driver error, river
conditions, mechanical failure, or crashes can change the outcome
at any moment, Villwocks absence will be soon forgotten once the
starting gun fires and the sleek turbines sail past the crowd at speeds
topping 220 mph.
Most agree that there are at least six boats in the 10-boat field that
could win at any time. But considering its success last season in which
it finished second in team and driver high points, the Oberto has definitely
emerged as the new favorite for 2008. Thats quite a feat for the
little hometown boat whose team in past years was often just happy to
make the final heat.
Perhaps this will be the breakout year for the Oberto boat to claim what
would be the teams first-ever series points title. With or without
the Miss Elam Plus and Villwock, an Oberto series championship would be
a sweet memory for the ages for area hydroplane fans.
Don Ward is the editor, publisher and owner of RoundAbout.
Call him at (812) 273-2259 or email him at: Don@RoundAboutMadison.com.