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Sizing up the field

ABRA to race 11 Unlimiteds for 2006

Competition tougher with
three former Bud boats in field

By Don Ward
Editor

(June 2006) – The new American Boat Racing Association has proven itself in the past two years and this year will field up to 11 Unlimiteds at Madison, including three former Budweiser boats that promise to be a competitive show.

2006 ABRA
Unlimited Race Schedule

Evansville, Ind. Thunder on Ohio June 23-25
Madison, Ind. Madison Regatta July 1-2
Valleyfield, QC Les Regates July 7-9
Detroit APBA Gold July 14-16
Tri-Cities, Wash.Columbia Cup July 28-30
Seattle Chev. Cup-Seafair Aug. 4-6
San Diego Bill Muncey Cup Sept. 15-17
• For more information, visit: www.abrahydroplanes.com.

After nearly being dissolved in 2004 following a split over numerous issues, the team owners regrouped to form the ABRA under the leadership of executive director Sam Cole. Cole promised to field eight boats per race, and made good on that promise.
After a divisive 2004 in which there were two competing race organizations battling over supremacy, last year the ABRA put on a solid showing with seven well administered races and this year returns with more sponsors backing more teams. The ABRA did away with controversial fuel restrictions and assigned starting lanes that had been instituted by the previous series owner, Hydro-Prop Inc.
The ABRA season opened June 23-25 in Evansville, Ind., and up to 11 Unlimiteds could compete the following weekend in Madison. In addition, Madison Regatta race chairman Joe Johnson says 11 vintage, two Jersey Skiffs and nine 2.5 stocks are expected. This will be the fifth year for the Bob Snelling Vintage Memorial Event. Johnson said five of the vintage boats coming to the Regatta were built by famed builder Henry Lauterbach, who died June 1 at age 87.

Miss Madison Crew

Photo by Don Ward

The Miss Madison crew
gets Steve David
(in cockpit) ready to race.

Many team ownership changes for 2006
During the offseason, nearly one-third of the Unlimited hydroplane fleet owners were shuffled.
The former Miss Budweiser T-3, T-5 and T-6 hulls will be returning to Madison this season under new names. Owner Ted Porter’s Precision Performance Engineering of Decatur, Ind., recently bought two hulls – T-5 and T-6 – from Bud team owner Joe Little. They are designated as U-5 (former T-6) and U-7 (former T-5) and will be sponsored by Formula Boats. Mike Weber will drive the U-5 and rookie Mike Allen will drive the U-7.
During a June 19 ABRA teleconference call, Weber said the two drivers already are feeling the heat. “Obviously, there’s a little bit of pressure involved. Mike Allen and I have a lot to learn about how to drive these boats and set them up. And we’ve got some rookie crew members, but we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Kim Gregory of Las Vegas bought the former Bud T-3 hull and is racing it as the U-10 boat this season with Nate Brown at the helm. Gregory took last season off but has returned to the sport for 2006.
The third ownership change is the sale of Bill Wurster’s former U-8 hydro to former Unlimited champion Billy Schumacher of Seattle. Now 63, Schumacher was the youngest driver to win the Gold Cup and national championship. His team will compete as U-37 Miss Seattle with Canadian Jean Theoret at the helm and, except for its ownership, hasn’t changed much from last year’s run as the Llumar Window Films boat.
Former Miss Bud-weiser driver and seven-time national points champion Dave Villwock returns to Madison this year to drive the U-1 Miss Elam Plus. He took over in midseason last year for J.W. Myers and led the team to its first-ever national championship for owner Sven Ellstrom of Seattle. Myers won in Madison but had a blowover at Detroit, ending his term in the cockpit last year. Out west, Villwock stepped in and won two races – enough to clinch the season team points title.
This year, Villwock had an early scare June 1 when he nearly crashed the Unlimited during a testing run on Seattle’s Lake Washington. The near-accident occurred with a safety patrol boat inadvertently drove onto the course and created a severe wake, which Villwock then had to negotiate at 170 mph without flipping.
Fred Leland is expected to send his U-100 to the eastern U.S. races – Evansville, Madison and Detroit – with Greg Hopp driving. Hopp and his father, Jerry, also compete together in the Unlimited Lights series, where Greg is a three-time national high points champion.

Sam Cole

Sam Cole

New entries this year include the U-13 Spirit of Detroit, owned by Dave Bartush, and the newly formed U-21 Freedom Racing Team, co-owned by San Diego’s Jeff Johnson and driver Kevin Aylesworth. The Freedom Racing Team has bought and renovated Ken Muscatel’s former boat. Muscatel, meanwhile, of Seattle is leasing and driving a Jim Harvey-owned boat, designated the U-2.
Terry Troxell gave up his seat to J. Michael Kelly in the U-13 for the Evansville race because he is still awaiting clearance from the ABRA to drive following two minor strokes he suffered Sept. 27. Troxell plans to drive the boat in Madison. Last year, Troxell took over driving duties for the U-13 just a week before winning the Chrysler-Jeep Superstores APBA Gold Cup in Detroit.
U-6 Miss Madison in gear
The U-6 Oh Boy! O’Berto-Miss Madison, meanwhile, has been undergoing renovations in the offseason in preparation for another run at the season title. Steve David, who won the 2005 season opener at Evansville and went on to earn the driver high points championship, returns for his sixth year at the helm of the world’s only community-owned Unlimited hydroplane.
The South Florida resident, remembered for his winning the hometown boat’s Madison Regatta in 2001, works in the offseason as a college instructor and realtor. As a driver last season, he managed to earn a podium finish in all but one race last year while driving one of the tour’s oldest hulls. As a result, the Oh Boy! Oberto-Miss Madison finished the year in second place in team high points.
During the teleconference call, David said he is excited about the level of competition he faces this year, calling it perhaps the toughest ever. “The competition is the deepest its ever been in the sport. Every heat you’re running it’s like a final,” David said.
To get ready, he said the Miss Madison team has “completely rebuilt the boat – the gear ratios, the engine, the hull – we’re as competitive as we’ve ever been, and we have to be to go up against this level of competition... We’re doing everything we can to win.”
David said the Miss Madison hull, one of the oldest turbines in the field, has a narrower hull than the newer boats, which feature a more triangular hull, making it easier to keep air underneath. The Madison team, therefore, must be creative to add speed when competing against these newer designs.
Specifically, the team has replaced nearly the entire right side of the boat, rebuilt a faulty gear box, and replaced the bottom rear hull section that had been damaged in the season-ending race at San Diego when a prop lost a blade during the final.
In the offseason, the Miss Madison team made an offer on one of the former Budweiser hulls but was unable to come up with the amount of money needed to buy it. David said in the conference call he wasn’t disappointed and was happy to see Weber’s team obtain two hulls. “Mike Weber and (team owner) Ted Porter both have a legacy, and it couldn’t have gone to a better group of people,” David said.
Weber, meanwhile, called his team’s acquisition of two former Bud boats “a dream come true.”
David said this season will also be great for the fans, since it no longer is the Budweiser boat and the rest of the field on the water. “They used to say it’s the red boat (to win) unless they break something, but this year it’s wide open... You won’t see any runaways in points. It will be close.”

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