1996 APBA Gold Cup
Detroit River, Detroit MI, June 2, 1996
Final Recap of Wild and Wet Cup Weekend . . .
DETROIT -- The oldest continuously contested motorsports trophy in the world rests in brand new, somewhat surprising and terribly deserving, hands for the next year.
The courageous and under-financed Fred Leland Racing team, with "Super Dave" Villwock in the cockpit of the PICO American Dream, flashed beneath the checkered flag as the gloaming rolled over the mighty Detroit River to annex the Chrysler Jeep APBA Gold Cup on the first Sunday in June.
It was an unexpected climax to a weekend chock full of shock and excitement for the big throngs who sashayed through two days of sunshine and then endured a final day full of wind, sleet, snow, rain, delay and disappointment.
In the latter category, include the top qualifier, defending Budweiser/O'Doul's High Point champion Mark Tate and his Smokin' Joe's racing team, headed by owner Steve Woomer of Auburn, Wa. The Canton, Mich., veteran missed a sure shot at a third career Gold Cup win when his superbly prepared mount was wasted in a spectacular Heat 2B collision on Saturday.
The other half of that unfortunate mating, Chip Hanauer and the Miss Budweiser, also suffered a mixed result, with the dual ten-time champions (both driver and boat are the Gold Cup record holders in terms of career wins) laid low. Bud crew chief Ron Brown managed to repair the boat in time for Sunday's (eventual) 7:40 p.m. winner-take-all-final. But Hanauer was too stiff and sore from his loop-the-loop launch off the Smokin' Joe's left sponson at 155 miles an hour to resume driving.
Conversely, despite being trapped for a half- hour in his virtually demolished safety canopy (and beneath his crushed but not totally collapsed roll cage), Tate was rarin' to go Sunday -- but the task of rebuilding the roll cage was too daunting even for Jim Lucero's crack Smokin' Joe's crew.
Enter the Leland team, now owners of four Unlimiteds -- and all of them built, literally, in Fred's Kirkland, Wash., backyard, including the dashing red, white and blue PICO flagship. Villwock, just six years ago a world champion crew chief for Hanauer's Miss Circus Circus boat and still one of the best propeller craftsmen in the business, thus continues to make the world sit up and take notice of his driving skills.
The six-foot-six, 41-year-old driver -- who won the first Unlimited race he ever drove in at San Diego in 1992 -- came away with his fifth lifetime win and second straight this season after a lidlifting triumph in the Gila River Casino Unlimited Cup at Phoenix. And this upstart Leland team -- longtime spear carriers in the sport but never a winner until as recently as Seattle in 1994 -- looks to be a full-fledged equal to the vaunted Budweiser and Smokin' Joe's team.
Villwock, for his part, couldn't heap enough praise on the brilliant engineers at Progressive Tool &Industries, Co., the Detroit-based firm that has lent so much technical expertise to the PICO team, headed up by crew chief Dan Walters.
In fact, crafty Leland's low-budget outfit now appears so deep in boats and talent that they could even afford lending U-99.9 Miss Wellness Plan driver Mark Evans to Bud owner Bernie Little for Sunday's long-delayed final heats. Evans scooted off with the win in Heat 3B at 6:20 p.m. and then chased Villwock home in the five-lap final. Mike Hanson in the beautiful black-and-yellow DeWALT Tool entry from Madison, Ind., took the third place on the awards podium following a truly remarkable weekend of racing.
Saturday's frightening accident sent the Bud -- locked in mortal combat with the Smokin' Joe's at the apex of the Belle Isle Bridge turn -- skidding over Tate's safety canopy before executing a full 360-degree turn in mid-air and then barrel-rolling twice to land right side up. Hanauer, dazed but able to climb out of a cockpit from which the canopy had been completely torn off, was taken to Detroit Receiving Hospital. He remained there, under observation, for several hours before being released with a mild concussion, short-term memory loss, facial lacerations and a body covered by bruises.
Tate, whose 168 mph-plus qualifying lap Thursday had nearly eclipsed Chip's Gold Cup record, could only remain calm while wedged into the wreckage of his craft. Not until it was towed back to the Horace Dodge Memorial Pits and hosted aloft by the crane could he be plucked from the safety hatch on the boat's underside.
So, at the end of Saturday's two, three-lap preliminary heats, the surprise leaders were PICO American Dream and DeWALT Tools, with 700 points apiece (Hanson won the two-boat Heat 2B re-run).
Sunday, after two days of bright sunshine, a balmy breeze and record crowds . . . well, the wind gods flat turned their backs on the delicately handling, 200-mile-an-hour Unlimiteds. The river was transformed into an angry, elephant-gray sea, whipped by gusting winds up to 30 miles an hour, wiping out all action -- even from the smaller boats -- until UHRA Commissioner Bill Doner finally could wait no longer, if the event was going to be concluded.
As the wind somewhat diminished, Doner said, with typical wit:
"Carmen was announced . . . and Carmen will be sung."
With that, the remaining seven boats -- Rick Christensen's Miss Wellness Plan Too had been wounded by a vicious wave Saturday -- deployed into Heats 3A and 3B. Talk circulated that only a final would be run, but the Gold Cup rule book stipulates at least one other heat must be run on the same day as the championship final.
Villwock roared away and hid from Ken Dryden, his own crewman who had been recruited to fill in for Mark Evans in the Bud, to win Heat 3A. Evans then stormed to an early lead and easily won 3B, setting up a six-boat final minus, of course, the still-ailing Smokin' Joe's.
The river was still rougher than most would have liked it but Villwock appeared to pay it no mind, dusting off Evans and the Bud on the first-lap back straight and then hurtling over five laps in a commendable 149.328 mph average for the 12.5-mile distance. Though only the 1941 Gold Cup, held to one 30-mile heat, was the only shorter previous event in this series dating to 1904, Villwock could have cared less that only 35 miles of racing was staged in two days.
He was on his way into the cherished Gold Cup annals while his owner, Leland, crouched in the pits, so nervous he was barely able to watch. At the end, the popular Leland was mobbed by friends and well- wishers. "It's a dream," he said, a tear glistening his eye. "I never thought anything like this could ever happen." His wife, Jackie, must have kissed 2,000 people in the champagne-spraying melee that carried on from the pits and far into the night at the team's R/S Eastin Hotel in suburban Roseville.
The tens of thousands who saw any of this drama, or its aftermath, will have no difficulty understanding why they call this wondrous APBA Gold Cup the crown jewel of all powerboat racing. Lost mostly in memory is its real name: the APBA Challenge Cup. This particular, blustery Sunday -- to be sure -- provided all the challenge anyone ever could have wanted.
BUDWEISER/O'DOUL'S HIGH POINT LEADERS (through Detroit) DRIVERS--1. Dave Villwock 2,753 2. Mike Hanson 1,829 3. Mark Evans 1,764 4. Chip Hanauer 1,570 5. Mark Tate 1,388 BOATS----1. PICO American Dream 2,753 2. Miss Budweiser 2,270 3. DeWALT Tools 1,829 4. Miss Wellness Plan 1,533 5. Smokin' Joe's 1,388 HEAT 1A 1. Chip Hanauer, Seattle WA, Miss Budweiser, 148.772; 2. Dave Villwock, Auburn WA, PICO American Dream, 142.079; 3. Steve David, Pompano Beach FL, Miss D.O.C./Acuvue, 137.584; 4. Mark Evans, Wenatchee WA, Miss Wellness Plan, 134.989; 5. Mitch Evans, Chelan WA, The Roostertail, 111.927. HEAT 1B 1. Mark Tate, Canton MI, Smokin' Joe's, 149.823; 2. Mike Hanson, Madison IN, DeWALT Tools, 139.352; 3. Jimmy King, Richmond MI, Carpenter Communications Presents Miss Exide, 131.988; DNS-- Rick Christensen, Eatonville WA, Miss Wellness Plan Too. HEAT 2A 1. Dave Villwock, PICO American Dream, 144.434; 2. Mark Evans, Miss Wellness Plan, 140.823; 3. Steve David, Miss D.O.C./Acuvue, 138.155; 4. Rick Christensen, Miss Wellness Plan Too,- 110.415. DNS-- Mitch Evans, The Roostertail. HEAT 2B (re-run) 1. Mike Hanson, DeWALT Tools, 131.739; 2. Jimmy King, Miss Exide, 129.578; DNS-- Chip Hanauer, Miss Budweiser; Mark Tate, Smokin' Joe's (involved in first-lap crash during the original Heat 2B). HEAT 3A 1. Dave Villwock, PICO American Dream, 138.159; 2. Ken Dryden, Miss Wellness Plan, 129.803; 3. Mike Hanson, DeWALT Tools, 126.610. HEAT 3B 1. Mark Evans, Miss Budweiser, 144.715; 2. Steve David, Miss D.O.C./Acuvue, 134.984; 3. Jimmy King, Miss Exide, 118.463; 4. Mitch Evans, The Roostertail, 108.489. GOLD CUP FINAL HEAT (Sunday, June 2, Detroit MI) 1. Dave Villwock, Auburn WA, PICO American Dream,149.328; 2. Mark Evans, Wenatchee WA, Miss Budweiser, 145.938; 3. Mike Hanson, Madison IN, DeWALT Tools 136.075; 4. Ken Dryden, Des Moines WA, Miss Wellness Plan, 130.454; 5. Steve David, Pompano Beach FL, Miss D.O.C./Acuvue (no speed, penalized two laps for demolishing buoys in Roostertail turn); DNF-- Jimmy King, Richmond MI, Miss Exide.
(Reprinted from the UHRA Thunder Letter V.2 n.93 June 5, 1996)
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