The Saga of Dave Villwock
By Fred Farley - ABRA Unlimited Historian
Defending world driving champion Dave Villwock returns to the cockpit of the MISS BUDWEISER for the seventh consecutive year in 2003.
In the words of MISS BUDWEISER owner Joe Little, "I have been personally involved with many of the drivers for the MISS BUDWEISER over the years. I have to say that Dave Villwock truly has a passion for winning and being the best. He might not always have the fastest boat in the field, but he always finds a way to make it happen. Dave has proven that he is a true champion."
Joe reflects the words of his late father Bernie Little, who stated at the end of the 2002 campaign, "I've had some really great drivers and great crews over the past 40 years. But my current team is definitely the best. I know that Dave and his crew will always get the job done."
Villwock doesn't take all of the credit. In fact, he is quick to praise the MISS BUDWEISER mechanical crew for their hard work and dedication.
"It isn't so much the money that we spend. It's the people. The human factor is everything in motor racing. You have to invest in quality personnel. I can't say enough for these guys, especially our crew chief Mark Smith."
As both driver and team manager for MISS BUDWEISER, Dave is in many ways a throwback to days of old when an Unlimited hydroplane pilot not only drove the boat but essentially ran the team on a day-to-day basis. The majority of Unlimited drivers in recent years have done little more than sign autographs and steer the boat.
The 2002 season was a banner year for Villwock and the MISS BUDWEISER. They won three out of six races and accumulated 836 points in the O'Doul's High Point Championship Standings. This compares to 759 for second-place Nate Brown and MISS E-LAM PLUS and 709 for third-place Mike Hanson and SUN HARBOR MORTGAGE.
This brought Dave's victory total as an Unlimited hydroplane driver to 39, the highest among currently active Unlimited pilots. Only the late Bill Muncey (with 62) and the retired Chip Hanauer (with 61) have more wins than Villwock.
A boat racer since age 16, Dave enjoyed considerable success in the smaller Limited classes before accepting his first Unlimited assignment in 1989 as crew chief of MISS CIRCUS CIRCUS, which Hanauer drove.
In 1990, Villwock and Chip emerged as High Point champions with six wins in eleven races. And they raised the world lap speed record to 168 miles per hour.
At San Diego in 1992, Dave made his debut as an Unlimited driver with an experimental two-wing boat, owned by Ron Jones, Jr. Villwock scored an upset victory and, in so doing, became the first driver since Howie Benns in 1974 to win his first-ever Unlimited race.
His best pre-BUDWEISER year was 1996, when he won the Gold Cup and World Championship with PICO AMERICAN DREAM for owner Fred Leland.
To no one's surprise, Dave continued his winning ways in 1997 when he joined Bernie Little's team. Villwock took first-place in his first four races with the MISS BUDWEISER. Then an injury at the Tri-Cities Columbia Cup temporarily took Dave out of the line-up. Relief driver Mark Weber finished the season with the MISS BUD, while Villwock convalesced.
There was no stopping Dave in 1998 when he won eight races--a feat he duplicated in 1999. No one else in the history of Unlimited racing has ever won more than seven in a single season.
Villwock set a world lap speed record with the MISS BUDWEISER on San Diego's Mission Bay in September 1999. He posted an average speed of 173.384 on a 2.5-mile course. This eclipsed the previous record of 172.166 set by Chip Hanauer in 1995 on the same body of water with an earlier MISS BUD.
"Knowing a record is out there for the taking is always tempting," Dave admitted. "It's easy to get caught up in it, though, and do something stupid trying to break it. But the conditions that particular morning were absolutely perfect. The water was good, the temperature was good. Everything came together for us."
The highlight of the 2000 season for Villwock and the MISS BUDWEISER occurred at the Gold Cup race on the Detroit River. Dave set an Unlimited Class record for consecutive race wins with ten in a row, including the last six of 1999 and the first four of 2000. That broke Bill Muncey's long-standing mark of nine victories with the ATLAS VAN LINES during 1978 and 1979.
In 2001, the MISS BUDWEISER team powered to victory in the season-opener at Evansville, Indiana. It was a hard-fought campaign all summer long. But despite fuel restrictions, Villwock and MISS BUD hung tough and won 60% of their heats. In Dave's words, "We didn't have the fastest boat that year, but we sure had the most consistent. And that's what wins championships."
The 2002 season box score read three wins in six races, a 14th APBA Gold Cup for the team and a fifth for Villwock, victories in 14 out of 24 heats entered, six local speed records, and three HYDRO-PROP national records.
Speed records, of course, are old hat to Dave. Back in his Limited inboard days, Villwock established no fewer than eight world marks, some of which are still standing.
In summarizing the 2002 campaign, Dave chose his words carefully. "We have an excellent team with a lot of talent and experience. My job is to make sure that we all focus on the same plan. Throughout the year, the guys worked their hearts out and never let me down."
Villwock is the latest in a successful line of MISS BUDWEISER drivers. His predecessors (with one or more victories) include Bill Brow, Mike Thomas, Bill Sterett, Dean Chenoweth, Howie Benns, Mickey Remund, Ron Snyder, Jim Kropfeld, Tom D'Eath, Scott Pierce, Chip Hanauer, Mike Hanson, Mark Evans, and Mark Weber.
On April 25, 2003, Dave Villwock mourned the loss of Bernie Little:
"Bernie was a mentor, a friend and a family member all at the same time. Everyone, through the years of the MISS BUDWEISER team, looked to Bernie for guidance and stability.
"With Bernie's passing, we'll have to move on. We know that's what Bernie would want us to do. And he did his best to prepare us for that. Bernie always tried to help the team and others move forward and be successful. Bernie was bigger than life and he'll be missed."