1997 Gila River Casino Unlimited Cup
Firebird Lake, Chandler [Phoenix] AZ, April 6, 1997


Phoenix Unlimited Invitational Final Results

PHOENIX -- In a "rematch" of last year's Gila River Casino Unlimited Cup finalists, the result was turned around Sunday when Dave Villwock took advantage of an inside lane draw and shook off the challenge of Mark Evans in the PICO American Dream to win the Gila River Casino Lakefest '97 Unlimited Invitational, a four-boat, double-elimination exhibition race.

Villwock, who notched the first of six UHRA Thunder Tour '96 victories here last May, celebrated his maiden competitive voyage in the big red "U-12" by sweeping past Close Call and his former ride, the PICO American Dream, twice to complete a clean sweep. The winner's elapsed time for the final three-lap heat was 2 minutes, 14.40 seconds. (See below for instructions as to how this is converted into miles per hour.)

Evans, who filled in so ably for the injured Chip Hanauer in the Budweiser last year, was making his first run of the season in the Gold Cup-winning hydro and, while he was able to score twin wins over Mike Hanson and the DeWALT Tools, he never looked like getting too close to the Budweiser.

There is still strong feeling in unlimited circles about returning this even to a full points race, if only a fair course configuration could be designed. Once again, as was the case last season, the inside lane seemed to have the edge off of Sunday's results.

The exciting drag boats of the International Hot Boat Racing Association and the flat-bottom Super Stocks were competing as well this weekend to the delight of a good-sized and sun- drenched crowd at Firebird Lake, the man-made body of water which is part of the Firebird International Raceway.

The big boats will return to their home bases now to continue preparations for the official UHRA Thunder Tour '97 opener, set for Memorial Day weekend May 24-25-26 at Norfolk, Virginia. The inaugural Virginia Is For Lovers Cup will wind up on Monday, May 26, with same-day television coverage on ESPN2, beginning at 4:30 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time and 7:30 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time.

Then, just three days later, the boats will have shipped over Detroit and will be in the water for the first of two days' qualifying for the 90th APBA Gold Cup, sponsored by the Chrysler Jeep dealers of metropolitan Detroit. The final day's activity in Detroit will merit LIVE coverage on ESPN2, beginning at noon Pacific Daylight Time and 3 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time.

A rundown of what the fans at Firebird Lake saw on Sunday (incidentally, the show was very well received by the fans and the Firebird management, enough so that the big boats are most likely to return again next season):

First Round -- 10:15 a.m.

First out onto the Firebird Lake course was the Miss Budweiser, making her competitive debut under the guidance of new driver Dave Villwock, who drew the inside lane. On the outside was the Bud's old rival, the U-10, but Mark Tate had a new set of clothes and a new paint job to banner Steve Woomer's new Close Call sponsorship. An expected showdown failed to materialize when Tate's motor ingested a little too much of Firebird's salt water while leaving the pits. That left him with a sputtering and coughing machine that never was able to demonstrate its true mettle. Villwock completed three laps in 2 minutes, 19 seconds, to get the checkered flag. Tate finished about two roostertails to the rear.

The second half of the first round pitted Mark Evans, now in the PICO American Dream, against the yellow-and-black DeWALT Tools entry from Madison, Ind., and driven by veteran Mike Hanson. The latter, now in his tenth season with the Miss Madison Racing Team, gave a valiant chase and even led a couple of times before finally being headed down the backstretch of the third lap. Evans flashed across the line in an elapsed time of 2 minutes, 13 seconds, Hanson a little less than a roostertail's length behind. The crowd was most appreciative of the spirited duel.

That sent Tate and Hanson into a losers' bracket heat, with Villwock and Evans -- the two drivers who switched seats over the winter -- paired with one another in the winners' bracket.

Second Round -- 12:15 p.m.

The losers' bracket match between DeWALT and Close Call was surprisingly one-sided. Tate, on the outside, trailed most of the way, finally losing to the best elapsed time of the day so far, Hanson's 2 minutes, 11 seconds. So, by the rules of the double elimination affair, the Close Call went back on the trailer to stay.

Dave Villwock won his way through to the final by outrunning Mark Evans in Villwock's old ride, the PICO American Dream (incidentally, the "old" hull which won the Gold Cup in 1996). Villwock crossed the finish line after three laps in 2 minutes, 16 seconds, and then went back to await the winner of the semifinal heat between PICO and DeWALT.

Third (semifinal) round -- 3:15 p.m.

Running smoothly, Evans lost the lead only once, at the end of the first lap, before charging back on the inside lane of the south turn to head Hanson and maintain PICO's advantage over the DeWALT entry. The elapsed time wound up being 2 minutes, 14 seconds (you compute the average speed . . . if you can figure out the circumference of the race course; computed on the basis of a mile and two-thirds in length, that would work out to about 134 miles an hour, comparable to the speeds registered in competition by these boats during the 1996 Gila River Casino Unlimited Cup . . . remember, the so-called inside lane was some 200 feet outside the island which runs down the middle of the lake, making the course closer to a 1.67-mile layout than the 1.5 miles it reputed is around the inside shoreline.)

Final -- 4:30 p.m.

Villwock took few chances of missing victory lane in his first-ever competition ride in the fabled Miss Budweiser. If he ever trailed in any of the three heats today, it was only momentarily. Having already tested the T-3 hull on both Lake Washington in Seattle and the Columbia River in Tri-Cities, the Bud crew had few questions to answer here. Fred Leland's PICO American Dream gave it a good try, with the irrepressible Mark Evans behind the wheel, but it should be noted that this was the first time in the water for the PICO in '97. Expect more when they get to the full-sized, two-mile course on Willoughbay Bay in Norfolk. Both drivers slowed on their cool-down lap, popped the canopy tops and saluted the grandstand crowd. Evans resisted the urge to douse them with a roostertail.


New Miss Bud Racer Beats Old
By Jim Richards, Tribune Correspondent

Spectators that made it through to the final day of the Gila River Casino's Lakefest '97 witnessed quite an intriguing finale and a terrific rags-to-riches story.

Dave Villwock, the reigning Unlimited Hydroplane Racing Association's driving champion, won his first race as driver of the celebrated Miss Budweiser Sunday at Firebird Lake, defeating the man he replaced.

Earlier in the day, Shannon Stewart of Hesperia, Calif., came up from the last seed to win the top Fuel Hydro division of the International Hot Boat Association.

Villwock edged Mark Evans, last year's Miss Budweiser driver, with an elapsed time of 2:14.40 (155 miles an hour) to win the thrilling duel.

Evans, who is currently driving the PICO American Dream -- the team with which Villwock won the national title last year -- overtook Villwock during the back straightaway of the second lap, but the combination of Villwock 's expertise of the tight turns and his placement in the inside lane allowed him to hold off Evans. It marked the second consecutive year where the boat in the inside lane won every race at Firebird Lake.

"I'm hoping to meet with distributors later this year to get this course evened out," said Villwock, who downplayed any pressure that may have been applied by the winningest owner of all time, Bernie Little.

The embattled Firebird Lake course has been good to Villwock. He defeated legendary Chip Hanauer for the Gila River title last May with a course record of 149 mph. He topped that during a practice run Saturday with a 162 mph reading.

Stewart, who qualified as the last seed of the seven-man eliminations, made it all the way to the top after defeated Tom Cantrell of Albuquerque, N.M., in the finals. Cantrell, like John Irvine did in the second round aga inst Stewart, blew an engine in the finals.

(Reprinted from the Mesa Tribune, Monday, April 7, 1997)


[Flawed Boat Good Enough to Win Top Fuel]
By Larry Ward, Special for The Republic

With warm weather and calm water, Sunday was a perfect day for boat racing at Firebird Lake.

*  *  *

In the non-points Unlimited Hydroplane Racing Association circle boats exhibition, Dave Villwock drove Bernie Little's Miss Budweiser to victory from the inside lane, beating Dave (sic) Evans in PICO American Dream.

Villwock appeared to slow in the second turn of the second lap, and Evans pulled even down the back straightaway before Villwock regained a convincing lead.

"We hit a couple of rollers, or waves, that can slow a boat down 5 to 10 miles an hour," Villwock explained. "After that, we were fine."

(Reprinted from the Arizona Republic, Monday, April 7, 1997)


Miss Budweiser, Villwock Top Phoenix Exhibition

PHOENIX AZ -- In his first outing as Miss Budweiser driver, Dave Villwock won the 1997 UHRA invitational exhibition in Phoenix, Ariz., in commanding style. Villwock claimed victory in the final round over Mark Evans in the PICO American Dream.

"Dave is certainly living up to our expectations," said Miss Budweiser team owner Bernie Little. "He did a great job this weekend and we hope it is a sign of what is to come for the rest of the season. We love to win!"

Villwock earned top qualifier honors on Saturday of race weekend with an approximate speed of 140 mph. The honor gave Villwock lane choice for the first round of competition.

"Phoenix is unique," said Villwock afterwards. "The course is exceptionally tight and there is a definite advantage to choosing the inside lane. We had good runs on Saturday and we were able to excercise that advantage. The double-elimination format is also quite different from the rest of our races. It changes the way we approach each round."

Villwock continued: "Our performance this weekend is a great way to start the season. We've had two successful test sessions earlier in the year and, although there are tough competitors on the UHRA circuit, we are ready for whatever they have to throw at us. We'll go back to the shop and prepare for the new race in Norfolk."

New on the UHRA schedule is the Virginia Is For Lovers Cup, May 24-26, in Norfolk, Va.

"It's been years since we have competed on the east coast so we are eager to get back to the area," said Little. "We won the President's Cup at Washington D.C. in 1975 and look forward to building upon that record."

Little's Miss Budweiser team is the most successful in the history of unlimited racing. Together they have won 103 races and 16 world championships in their 35-year history. The Miss Budweiser won an unprecedented five st raight world championships between 1991-1995.

(Budweiser News Release, Monday, April 7, 1997)


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Leslie Field, 1998