1998 JN Automotive Hydrofest
Pearl Harbor, Honolulu HI, October 18, 1998

98_hawaii_wild_fire_thumbnail.jpg (4883 bytes)HONOLULU, HAWAII (October 18) - The final race of the 1998 Ralphs Unlimited Hydroplane Thunder Tour presented by Las Vegas was full of surprises. Most everyone probably thought the Miss Budweiser would walk away with a victory at this weekend's JN Automotive Hydrofest. That was not to be.

As seven of the world's fastest race boats headed for the start/finish line, the capacity crowd roared with approval. Unfortunately for Dave Villwock in the U-1 Miss Budweiser and Mitch Evans in the U-20 Appian Jeronimo, victory would escape them this afternoon.

The return of the clock start in 1998 has showcased the driver and his ability to time the start. Dave Villwock has been a master of timing the start all year long but today it was a different story. Each driver raced to the start trying to get a jump on the field, however Evans and Villwock jumped the start and were penalized one lap for the violation.

Timing the start perfectly however, was Mark Weber in KG Racing's, U-10 Wild Fire. Weber managed to hold off the field and capture his second win, and the first for Kim and Debbie Gregory of Las Vegas, Nevada. Kim and Debbie recently purchased the U-10 unlimited hydroplane from the estate of the late Steve Woomer. In fact it was this very boat which won last year's JN Automotive Hydrofest. A fitting way to end the season.

(reprinted from UHRA.com)

Some Thoughts on Honolulu
By Fred Farley - APBA Unlimited Historian

The final curtain has been drawn on Ralph's UHRA Thunder Tour '98, presented by Las Vegas. In a season dominated by Bernie Little's Miss Budweiser, which won a record eight out of ten championship trophies, the last race of the year went to the sport's newest Thunderboat team.

Kim Gregory's Las Vegas-based Wild Fire took first-place on October 18 at the J.N. Automotive Hydrofest on Pearl Harbor with Mark Weber driving. This was the team that purchased the former Close Call hydroplane in mid-season from the estate of the late Steve Woomer. The Honolulu Hydrofest was only their third race appearance, after finishing fourth at both San Diego and Las Vegas.

For pilot Weber, it was a case of the right man being in the right place at the right time, when the favored Miss Budweiser and Appian Jeronimo both jumped the gun in the Final Heat. Budweiser's Dave Villwock and Appian's Mitch Evans had to run an extra lap to be scored. And Mark was there to grab all of the marbles.

Weber chose not to run head-to-head with Budweiser and Appian. "I hit that start line right on time. I knew that Villwock and Evans were going to be early. So, I just let the race come to me."

To Mark's credit, he dedicated the victory to his good friend Jim Kropfeld, recently diagnosed with terminal cancer, "who has won more races than I probably ever will."

Wild Fire's triumph was the first by an unsponsored boat in the Unlimited Class since Cooper's Express, which took top honors at the Tri-Cities Columbia Cup in 1989, and My Gypsy, which won the San Diego Cup in 1968.

The 1998 Honolulu race fans saw plenty of side-by-side competitive action. In the words of URN co-announcer John Nicholson, "There was great racing in every single heat."

As a bonus for spectators, UHRA Commissioner Ken Muscatel made numerous runs around the 2-mile course with his 1957 vintage Hawaii Kai III, a famous name from Thunderboating's classic past. The Kai's appearance added a nostalgic touch to a memorable boat racing weekend.

The Budweiser/O'Doul's High Point Championship final standings had the Miss Budweiser (U-1) in first-place with 15,923 points. Then came Harvey Motorsports (U-2) with 8524, Appian Jeronimo (U-20) with 7263, PICO American Dream (U-100) with 7024, and Llumar Window Film (U-8) with 5941.

From a competitive standpoint, the 1998 season ended on a positive note at Honolulu. Call me an optimist, but this old sport of ours still has a lot of life left in it. Unlimited racing is certainly in a lot better shape than it was in 1978 or 1962, which to me were the "Dark Ages." With the enlightened new leadership, the U-boats will be around for many years to come.

Fred Farley. For reprint rights to this article, please contact the author at <fredf@hotmail.com>

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