The Unlimiteds - 2005 in Review
By Fred Farley - ABRA Unlimited Historian
If the 2006 American Boat Racing Association season is anything like the 2005 season, watch out.
Of course, the circuit was without a MISS BUDWEISER hydroplane for the first time since 1964. The team, founded by the late Bernie Little, having retired at the end of 2004. This helped set the stage for the battle royal to see who would succeed to the "Beer Wagon's" National Championship throne.
No one team won the majority of races or dominated for very long on the inaugural ABRA tour. Four different boats and five different drivers achieved victory at one time or another during the year.
And for the first time in eight years, the national high point championship for boat and driver was not won by the same team
At season's end, MISS E-LAM PLUS (U-16), owned by Erick Ellstrom of Seattle, had secured the National Point title for the first time in the team's history. And for their effort, the E-LAM PLUS will carry the U-1 on its hull for '06.
And while the MISS E-LAM PLUS took the boat title, it was Steve David in the OH BOY! OBERTO/MISS MADISON (U-6), the community-owned hydroplane from Madison, Indiana that captured the drivers' title.
It was David's first driver title in 17 seasons of Unlimited racing and also the first national title in the 45-year history of the U-6 racing team. (The late Jim McCormick had been the closest with a second-place finish in 1971.
The National High Point Driver Championship wasn't decided until the last day of the season in San Diego. David took the title over Jean Theoret in the LLUMAR WINDOW FILM by virtue of winning all three of his preliminary heats on Mission Bay on the final day of the season.
Though Theoret placed second to David, the former champion Grand Prix Class driver was selected as the Unlimited Rookie-of-the-Year for 2005.
Four different boats and five different drivers achieved victory at one time or another during the 2005 season with a full field of at least eight boats attending all seven race sites.
Here is a summary of the 2005 season.
(1) THUNDER ON THE OHIO; Evansville, IN
When the fleet arrived for the season-opening "Thunder On The Ohio" at Evansville, Indiana, in June, a rejuvenated format was in evidence. Gone was the "managed" competition of recent years. All turbine-powered teams were regulated at 4.3 gallons of fuel per minute. No longer were boats assigned starting lanes. In every heat of every race, the drivers had to fight for lanes as in days of old.
And gone was the MISS BUDWEISER.
The highlight of the pre-race activity at Evansville was the mishap involving Ken Muscatel's SUPERIOR RACING (U-25). During a Friday morning test run, the U-25 broke a steering linkage. Dr. Muscatel immediately shut off the engine, but the boat's momentum carried it up onto the riverbank and into a clump of trees on the Kentucky shore. Muscatel, fortunately, escaped injury but the boat had a severely damaged left sponson and had to be withdrawn from the race.
The winner-take-all Final Heat at Evansville saw Greg Hopp and RE/MAX (U-100), the Fred Leland entry, first across the starting line in lane-one, followed by OH BOY! OBERTO. Hopp exited turn-one with Steve David "on his hip" David stayed within Hopp's roostertail length for two and three-quarter laps until Hopp blew his Lycoming turbine engine.
J.W. Myers in MISS E-LAM PLUS inherited second-place when Hopp conked out and took off after OBERTO but fell three-quarters of a roostertail short at the finish line. OBERTO averaged 137.374 miles per hour for the 5-lap/10-mile distance, while E-LAM did 135.977. MASTER TIRE, the hometown entry and the only boat with a reciprocating Allison engine on the 2005 tour, checked in third at 128.043 with Jimmy King at the wheel.
The victory at Evansville was the first for the OH BOY! OBERTO team and driver Steve David since the Madison Regatta of 2001.
(2) INDIANA GOVERNOR'S CUP; Madison, IN
Moving a few miles upriver to Madison for the Indiana Governor's Cup, the fleet was augmented by the repaired SUPERIOR RACING. In his first heat of competition in 2005, owner/driver Muscatel finished first in Heat 1-B but later had to withdraw due to faulty shaft log bearings.
Arguably the most competitive race of the year, the Madison Regatta utilized an unusual system, based upon qualification speeds, for assigning entries in the preliminary heats. The plan, developed by OH BOY! OBERTO representative owner Bob Hughes, did away with the blind draw and guaranteed that every boat would race against every other boat at least once during the day.
So successful was the Hughes Plan at Madison, it was likewise used later in the season at the race in Nashville, Tennessee.
In terms of pure boat racing, it would be difficult to improve upon the spine-tingling duel that occurred during preliminary Heat 2-A at Madison. King in MASTER TIRE and David in OH BOY! OBERTO battled side-by-side for three heart-stopping laps. First one would lead and then the other with King finally taking it by a scant three boat lengths.
In the finale for the Governor's Cup, King and MASTER TIRE led out of the first turn, followed closely by Myers and MISS E-LAM PLUS. Myers passed King at the end of lap-one and pulled away on lap-two. King ran one to two roostertails behind Myers the rest of the way.
Theoret and LLUMAR WINDOW FILM battled with David and OH BOY! OBERTO for third-place for four laps with LLUMAR maintaining a slight edge over OBERTO when LLUMAR conked out at the start of lap-five.
Long touted as one of Unlimited racing's most talented prospects, J.W. Myers made a stunning impression at Madison, winning all four of his heats and propelling MISS E-LAM PLUS into the National High Point lead.
The local Madison Regatta committee members did themselves proud in 2005, despite the lack of a title sponsor. They were honored, at season's end, as "Race Site of the Year" by the ABRA.
(3) APBA GOLD CUP; Detroit, MI
Moving north to the Motor City of Detroit for the APBA Gold Cup, the Unlimited circuit had its third winner in three races. The circumstances, however, were unusual.
For the first time in thirty years, a Detroit-based boat won boat racing's Crown Jewel. MISS AL DEEBY DODGE (U-13), a team that didn't exist a week before the race, captured all of the marbles.
This was the former back-up hull for the temporarily inactive Kim Gregory team, purchased by Detroit Hydroplane Museum owner Dave Bartush. The boat was trucked from Las Vegas to Detroit with one turbine engine and a few spare parts. There wasn't even time to repaint the hull.
Veteran chauffeur Terry Troxell agreed to drive. Knowing that his equipment was severely limited, Troxell ran conservatively in the preliminary heats, playing a waiting game and earning just enough points to qualify for the Final.
The 2005 Gold Cup was marred by three accidents--one during qualifying and the other two during competition.
J.W. Myers and MISS E-LAM PLUS took flight while attempting qualification. The U-16 did two high loops in front of the Detroit Yacht Club before the left sponson caught the water. The E-LAM landed upright and flipped upside-down. Myers was uninjured and the boat was repaired in time for the race.
Jean Theoret in LLUMAR WINDOW FILM was shaping up as a major Gold Cup threat after reeling off three wins in the first three preliminary heats. But the U-8 team's chances were ruined when Theoret ran into the roostertail of Jimmy King and MISS CHRYSLER-JEEP (U-3) in the final turn of Heat 4-A. The impact tore off the LLUMAR's right sponson. King, in a disputed call, was disqualified for reportedly switching lanes and not leaving enough room.
J. Michael Kelly in MISS DYC (U-2) climbed up a roostertail, blew over backward, and landed upside-down in the first turn of the Final Heat. OH BOY! OBERTO was disqualified for causing the incident. Kelly complained of back and neck pain but an examination at a local hospital showed no injury.
For the re-run of the Final Heat, only three boats answered the starting gun. MISS E-LAM PLUS stopped and restarted on the backstretch during the one-minute period. Terry Troxell and MISS AL DEEBY DODGE, after running under wraps all weekend, "let it all hang out."
Troxell crossed the starting line first in the outside lane and pulled to a decisive lead over E-LAM, which clearly lacked the power that had propelled it to victory at Madison. Myers and third-place Mike Weber in FORMULABOATS.COM were never a factor.
"Detroit is awesome," excaimed a jubilant Troxell. "This is the best drivers' course in all of boat racing."
MISS AL DEEBY DODGE, amazingly, was the oldest boat in the race, having been built in 1987 as MILLER AMERICAN. It had previously won the Gold Cup in 1988 as MISS CIRCUS CIRCUS, in 1991 as WINSTON EAGLE, and in 1994 as SMOKIN' JOE'S.
With the scene shifting out west, MISS E-LAM PLUS still retained the National High Point lead, the team's troubles at Detroit not withstanding. The U-16 and pilot Myers had 4594 accumulated points, compared to 3405 by second-place Steve David and OH BOY! OBERTO.
But for J.W. Myers, the season was over. Starting with the Tri-Cities, Washington, Columbia Cup, former MISS BUDWEISER driver Dave Villwock would occupy the MISS E-LAM PLUS cockpit.
(4) COLUMBIA CUP; Tri-Cities, WA
When the roostertails subsided after the Final Heat on the Columbia River, the sport had its first repeat winner of 2005. "Super Dave" left no doubt that he was back and as competitive as ever by guiding the Ellstrom team to victory in the Columbia Cup.
Villwock and MISS E-LAM PLUS overtook front-running OH BOY! OBERTO on lap-two of the Final Heat and powered on to the checkered flag. OBERTO and Steve David took second, followed by Jimmy King in the unnamed U-3 and Mike Weber in FORMULABOATS.COM.
According to Villwock, the win did not come easy. "I've never driven this hard in my life, I don't think."
MISS E-LAM PLUS also posted the fastest qualification lap at Kennewick-Pasco-Richland with a clocking of 164.898 over the 2.5-mile course.
In the words of owner Erick Ellstrom, "Dave has driven the boat as well as it has ever been driven."
(5) CHEVROLET CUP; Seattle, WA
The fifth stop on the 2005 tour at Seattle was historic on several counts. The five races were won by five different drivers and four different teams. Winner number five was Jean Theoret, who piloted LLUMAR WINDOW FILM to victory in the Chevrolet Cup.
Theoret became the first Canadian driver to win an Unlimited race since Bob Hayward captured the Harmsworth Trophy at Picton, Ontario, with MISS SUPERTEST III in 1961.
And not since 1966 had a rookie driver claimed the top prize at Seattle when Jim Ranger won the Seafair Trophy on Lake Washington with MY GYPSY.
Theoret and the bright yellow U-8 dominated the Final Heat action of the 2005 Chevrolet Cup by outrunning Villwock and MISS E-LAM PLUS, 137.448 miles per hour to 133.955. The margin of victory was 6.8 seconds after five laps.
Then came David and OH BOY! OBERTO, Weber in FORMULABOATS.COM, rookie Jeff Bernard in MISS LAKERIDGE PAVING (U-99), and Ken Muscatel in KISW MISS ROCK (U-25).
On a human interest level, U-99 pilot Bernard is the stepson of U-13 driver Terry Troxell and the nephew of U-5 pilot Mike Weber.
The Provisional Heat at Seattle--to determine the trailer boat for the Final Heat--was a wild affair indeed and brought the crowd to its feet. Jeff Bernard outran his stepfather over the finish line by barely a boat length. It doesn't get much closer! This advanced U-99 to the Final Heat.
LLUMAR WINDOW FILM owner Bill Wurster now had seven victories in the Unlimited Class. His most recent win in Seattle had occurred in 1992 with THE TIDE and driver George Woods.
With five down and two races remaining on the Unlimited schedule, MISS E-LAM PLUS led OH BOY! OBERTO in National Points, 7369 to 5810.
(6) MUSIC CITY HYDROFEST; Nashville, TN
The sixth stop on the tour marked the second straight triumph in the current campaign for LLUMAR WINDOW FILM and driver Jean Theoret in the first-ever Music City Hydrofest at Nashville, Tennessee.
Theoret and the U-8 were actually fourth over the finish line in the five-lap Final Heat on J. Percy Priest Lake. But the three front runners--MISS E-LAM PLUS with Villwock, OH BOY! OBERTO with David, and SPIRIT OF DETROIT (U-13) with Troxell--were all assessed penalty laps for various infractions.
The race was a heartbreaker for Jimmy King, driver of the unnamed U-3. King and the Allison-powered craft were the legal leaders after four and three-quarter laps in the Final Heat when a broken propeller shaft sidelined them just short of the checkered flag.
The corrected order of finish was LLUMAR first, OBERTO second, SPIRIT OF DETROIT third, and E-LAM fourth.
LLUMAR owner Bill Wurster now had eight wins in the Unlimited Class since 1985. This was the first time that he had ever won two races back-to-back.
Driver Theoret was shaping up as one of the most successful rookies in Unlimited history. Only Howie Benns, who won three races in 1974 with MISS BUDWEISER, has more victories during his rookie season.
E-LAM owner Ellstrom experienced disappointment in not winning at Nashville but consoled himself by clinching the 2005 ABRA National Boat Championship with former driver J.W. Myers and current pilot Dave Villwock. This marked the tenth consecutive year that Villwock had driven for a National Championship team.
(7) BILL MUNCEY CUP; San Diego, CA
The seventh and final stop on the 2005 Unlimited hydroplane series tour marked the third triumph of the current campaign for the Ellstrom team--this time in the Bill Muncey Cup on San Diego's Mission Bay.
Villwock and MISS E-LAM PLUS fought off an early challenge in the Final Heat from Jean Theoret in LLUMAR WINDOW FILM and Steve David in OH BOY! OBERTO but eventually pulled away to a commanding lead.
LLUMAR took second, followed by Terry Troxell in SPIRIT OF DETROIT (U-13), Ken Muscatel in MISTER HOMELOAN (U-25), and J. Michael Kelly in GRAHAM TRUCKING. OBERTO and FORMULABOATS.COM with Mike Weber failed to finish.
OH BOY! OBERTO/MISS MADISON driver David claimed the ABRA High Point Driver Championship at San Diego on the strength of winning all three preliminary heats on Mission Bay.
A serious accident involving Kevin Aylesworth and the FREEDOM RACING (UL-5) marred the running of the Unlimited Light race at San Diego. The UL-5 blew end over end, while contending for high position on lap-one of the B-Main, and landed upside-down. The safety canopy saved Aylesworth's life. Kevin was able to free himself from the overturned craft, but he ingested a lot of salt water into his lungs.
Aylesworth was airlifted to a local hospital in critical but stable condition. Thankfully, Kevin recovered completely.
Two days prior to his accident, on Friday, September 16, Aylesworth announced his team's purchase of the entire U-25 racing team equipment inventory from Ken Muscatel for participation on the 2006 ABRA tour.
MISS E-LAM PLUS driver Villwock increased his victory total in the Unlimited Class to 48 at San Diego. Only the late Bill Muncey (who has 62) and the retired Chip Hanauer (who has 61) have more wins.
Villwock has now won seven times on Mission Bay since 1992 -- once with COORS DRY, once with PICO AMERICAN DREAM, and four times with MISS BUDWEISER.
Owner Erick Ellstrom now has two San Diego triumphs, the first in 2001 with driver Nate Brown.