First off, congratulations to Dave Villwock on the all time wins record. I realize that there is no more divisive figure in Unlimited Hydroplane Racing than Villwock, with fans seemingly seeing him as either the greatest person to ever walk into an Unlimited pits who only loses when he lets someone wins or an insufferable jerk who only got lucky and never gets a penalty called on him. I am by no means a Villwock fan, but there is no denying the fact that he belongs in the discussion of all time greats, and today's race solidifies that (even if it wasn't without controversy). I don't think this in any way settles the argument that Dave Villwock is now the greatest Unlimited driver ever, I doubt that it's fair to compare Villwock to Hanauer even though their careers overlapped let alone compare Villwock to Muncey. The truth that remains though is that for the first time in over forty years there is someone not named Bill Muncey atop the all time Unlimited wins list.
Aside from Villwock capturing the record, the 2011 Gold Cup will be rememberred for some exciting deck to deck races in heat action as well as some of the most exciting starts that have been seen in quite some time. The new starting procedures have made for a lot of excitement already this season. The six Saturday heats saw six different winners and no shortage of storylines. I'm not going to go over every result of every heat (if you're reading this you probably already know, if you don't go to H1 Unlimited's website) but we saw everything from a classic deck to deck battle between two exciting young drivers with great new sponsors to a heat that saw only one boat finish the heat (I can't remember the last time that happened, it would happen from time to time in the piston era but rarely if ever in the turbine era). The first section of heats also saw the Qatar team lose a gearbox and record a DNS for their heats, and just for getting out there in the next heat the Ellstrom team deserves a lot of credit. Losing a gearbox often means that a team is done for the weekend, but the Ellstrom team has shown that they are willing to put the time, effort, and yes the money into putting a winner on the water and has seen that bear fruit. The second set of heats saw more great racing as Villwock drove to an easy victory with his replacement gearbox. In heat 2B Jeff Bernard made a great start and out ran the 88, U-11, and U-1. The U-1 was running third but was forced to run an extra lap after hitting a buoy. In heat 2C Brian Perkins and the U-21 jumped the gun and it looked like Scott Liddycoat and the U-7 appeared to be on his way to his first Unlimited heat win, but was penalized one lap for bearing out along with a 150 point penalty (I hate 150 point penalties) and the heat went to Greg Hopp and the U-100.
The historic Sunday of racing becan with Cal Phipps getting his second heat win of the weekend in heat 3A, followed by the U-88, U-7, U-57, and the U-21 who was penalized a lap along with a 150 point penalty (by the way, I hate 150 point penalties). Villwock won heat 3B followed by the U-5, the U-100, the U-1, and the U-11. In heat 4At the U-88 and the U-7had another great deck to deck duel, but this time Scott Liddycoat and the Valken came out on top. I must say that it is an exciting site to see these two boats with sponsors who are getting involved in Unlimited racing in a big way. Once the U-88 gets dialed in, it could be at the front of the pack. Villwock won heat 4B but not without controversy. During the score up period the U-96 cut a corner and missed a buoy. While teams have always been allowed to cut the course in the warm up period before heats, the area near the turns is always off limits but the U-96 went into this DMZ. The infraction resulted in a monetary fine as the U-96 scored the victory, followed by the U-5, the U-100, and the U-1 which lost power during the warm up period and made a late start.
The Final Heat featured the U-17, the U-88, the U-96, the U-5, and the U-100 as a trailer. This lineup is notable in who it was missing: The Oh Boy! Oberto-Miss Madison. I had to break out Jim Sharkey's book, and this is the first time this has happened in quite a while. If there had been a Final Heat at the 2006 Madison race than the Oberto hull wouldn't be there due to its accident but of course the Final Heat that year was cancelled. In the 2005 Gold Cup the Oberto was in the first running of the Final Heat but was disqualified and missed the rerun. Oberto wasn't in the 2004 Final Heat at Evansville but that's because they skipped that year's unsanctioned race. Finally at San Diego in 2003 we find a race where the Oh Boy! Oberto was there, the race had a Final Heat, and the Oh Boy! Oberto-Miss Madison didn't qualify for the Final Heat. The score up period saw the U-88, U-96, and U-7 all go slowly to the first turn but then the U-17 tried to go wide for an old-style flying start and Jeff Bernard in the U-5 tried something even more daring where he sped around the field and then cut in front of the boats on the backstretch. I have never seen anything like this tried in Unlimited Hydroplane racing, and the only other form of racing I've ever seen such a move is in track bike racing when a boat tries to "break away" from the draft to win the race. As the boats turned for the starting line the U-88 was in lane one, the U-5 in lane two, the U-96 in lane three, the U-7 in lane four and the U-17 on the far outside. The race was a good three boat race for a couple laps until an incident coming out of the roostertail turn when the U-5 ran out of room and got into the U-96 roostertail. The officials deemed the U-88 guilty and gave Kelly a one lap penalty and docked him 150 points (have I meantioned that I hate 150 point penalties). The U-96 coasted to victory from there on out, followed by the U-7, the U-5, the U-17, and the U-88. The U-100 didn't finish.
The Gold Cup will be remembered undoubtedly for Villwock passing Muncey's long standing all time record. Dave Villwock is one of those people that everyone involved with hydroplane racing seems to have a strong opinion on, and I'll be the first to admit that many times I've criticized his actions and rooted for "anybody but Villwock" to win a particular race. I've also rolled my eyes when Villwock has been anything but approachable in the past, but I must say that he gives some of the best educational interviews to media who are not overly familiar with Unlimited Racing. Also, while he will probably never be one like Steve Reynolds, Ron Snyder, or Steve David who is happy to have extended conversations with fans, despite his reputation as a jerk I have found him pleasant the few times I have talked with him. I am not going to try to say who is better between Villwock, Muncey, and Hanauer. As I said before it isn't fair to try to rank these drivers from different eras and different circumstances. Although it was broken by a driver whom I have rooted against for much of his career, it is nice to see someone new atop the alltime Unlimited wins list. An old adage in baseball is that for a record to mean something it has to be challenged or broken once a generation. Baseball fans all care and know about the alltime leaders in Home Runs, Hits, stolen bases, and consecutive games played because those records have all been broken over the last few decades. On the other hand, who cares or can even name the all time leader in triples? Villwock breaking Muncey's record means that racers now have a newer and higher goal to shoot for, and hopefully in the next couple decades or so we will all be watching another Driver pursue whatever Villwock's final win total might be. In short, what Villwock accomplished today in Detroit quite literally rose the bar in Unlimited Hydroplane racing.