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2008 Season Preview

ABRA season to open
without ’07 champion Miss Elam Plus

International circuit
for Unlimited racing is being developed

By Konnie McCollum
Staff Writer

(June 27, 2008) – This year’s Madison Regatta could turn out to be an exciting battle to the finish in the wake of the surprise announcement June 19 by national defending champion Miss Elam Plus team to skip the first three races of the 2008 season.
The team won two of the last three season National High Points Championships and the last three Madison Regattas. The team also would have been the defending champion of the season opener in Evansville, Ind., and the upcoming 100th anniversary race at the APBA Gold Cup in Detroit.

Miss Elam Plus

Photo by Don Ward

The Miss Elam Plus, piloted by Dave
Villwock, rounds Turn 4 as it heads
down the homestretch at last
year’s Madison Regatta.

Miss Elam Plus owners Erick and Sven Ellstrom, along with several constituents, said they have been investing a large amount of money and time to develop an international series of races in other countries and did not have time to prepare for the eastern swing of the American Boat Racing Association’s 2008 schedule.
“Because of all the energy and time this has taken, and the continuing demands, our company just cannot afford the time to compete at the first three eastern races this year,” said Erick Ellstrom. “We have an opportunity, if we play our cards right, and diligently work out all the details, to have a seasonal circuit that will race in foreign lands. Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Monte Carlo, Oman, Muscat, England and several other wonderful locations are working with us to fashion an actual race circuit that would begin in late November and conclude in early January each year.”
The announcement, which came only eight days prior to the season opener in Evansville, Ind., surprised everyone in the hydroplane racing community.
“We were surprised by Erick’s announcement that he will miss the first three races of the season,” said ABRA chairman Sam Cole. “ABRA has had numerous discussions about taking this sport worldwide, and we support anything the Elam team can do to further that vision.”
The six-race series for the Unlimited hydroplane eastern swing began June 27-29 in Evansville for the Thunder on the Ohio. From there, the competition moves to Madison, Ind., on July 4-6 for the Madison Regatta Indiana Gov-ernor’s Cup. “We still are planning on having nine to 10 teams make the eastern swing, and we believe the competition will be as good or better than it has been in the past two years,” said Cole in a late June telephone interview. “All things considered, this could be the best season ever for competition.”
Ellstrom said the international series has taken more than a year to organize. Many people are involved, including several heads of state, the Boeing Co., and numerous city council members and city officials.

ABRA Logo
Sam Cole

"We were surprised by Erick (Ellstrom’s) announcement that he will miss the first three races of the season."

– Sam Cole, ABRA chairman

“This is no longer a dream. We have an actual signed agreement that will allow, in the first season, 2008, four hulls to be brought over to these countries and put on exciting exhibitions in the various cities, with the hope that in 2009 the (Abu Dhabi International Boat Racing Association) ABIBRA World Championships will be held in Abu Dhabi, much like they are doing with Formula One Racing and even golf,” he said.
“These people are extremely excited to have us come and have opened the door to an opportunity that may never come again. We have been doing all we can to make sure we present ourselves professionally, and responsibly.”
Ellstrom said organizers for the international circuit are considering “race purses” so teams can once again compete for money as well as trophies. “This is going to change and make the racing even more exciting and challenging,” he said. “We need to grow, mature and fully realize our potential. This gives us an opportunity to do just that.”
This season, for only the second time in its history, the Ellstrom team will have the U-1 painted on the side of the boat for the 2007 Team High Point National title. Sven Ellstrom also won the National Team High Point Championship in 2005.
Driver Dave Villwock, the winningest active driver in the sport with 55 career wins, will once again pilot the Elam. He is also the defending National High Point Driver Champion, an honor he has taken nine times.
“We love to compete and do so very well,” said Erick Ellstrom. “The decision to not compete is also very tough on our driver, Dave Villwock, and our dedicated crew. But they also understand the total picture and how and why we are investing in the future.”
Ellstrom said he believes the move will add international publicity, which in turn will increase sponsorship support, bring in millions of new fans and help to stabilize a sport that had seen some pretty rough years back in the early part of the decade. After nearly being dissolved in 2004 following a split over numerous issues, including controversial fuel restrictions, team owners regrouped to form the ABRA under Cole’s leadership. He promised to field eight boats per race and has made good on that promise. Since then, ABRA has put on a solid showing with well-administered races and continues to return each year with more sponsors backing more teams.

Steve David signs

Photo by Don Ward

Fans get up close and personal with
the Unlimited drivers each year
during the Madison Regatta
autograph sessions, which take
place Saturday and Sunday.

“The dedication of the owners to this sport is unparalleled, and the caliber of professionalism and competition has not been seen for many years in boat racing,” said Cole. “We have seen increased participation in each of ABRA’s previous seasons, and it is because of the strong support we get from this group of owners that Unlimited Hydroplane racing’s resurgence continues.”
A rule change this season is that boats must remain “on plane” during warm-up to increase “flying starts.” Cole believes this will provide not only more competition among the boats but will provide spectators more action and excitement. “People want to see action, and we intend to provide that,” he said.
“We have made it so that drivers are now able to drive, and things will be settled on the race course, not a rule book.”
Cole said all of the teams have worked over the offseason and will come into the 2008 season highly competitive. “While the Ellstrom-Elam team is always in the competition, the Oh Boy! Oberto came on strong at the end of 2007, and it looks to be even more competitive this season,” said Cole.
The Oh Boy! Oberto-Miss Madison, driven by Steve David, won the last two races of the 2007 season to finish second in the national high points standing. “We made some changes over the winter that should put us in at least as good as or even better shape than what we were in at the end of last season,” said Bob Hughes, president of the board of directors for Miss Madison Inc. “We certainly like to win, but this year it looks as though all of the teams will be highly competitive.”
ABRA Unlimited Historian Fred Farley, who has written extensively about the sport for more than 30 years, said the competition this year should follow the upturn that has been seen in the sport over the past few years. “We have seen tremendous competition over the past few seasons, and this year should be the same, if not better,” he said.
“We want to wish all the teams a very safe and successful eastern campaign and to look over their shoulder in Tri-Cities and Seattle,” said Erick Ellstrom.
After Madison, the series moves on July 11-13 to Detroit for the Chrysler Jeep Superstores APBA Gold Cup and then the west coast for the remaining three races.

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