Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Day in the Life: August 5, 2007

                As Seafair approaches, it is time for the second installment of the series that looks back on one particular memorable race weekend.  For this post the topic will be the 2007 Seattle Seafair race, which was the first race win for the Miss Madison VI “Shark Boat.”  I invite any reader to share their memories of the 2007 Seafair race.

                Few race weekends can be pointed to as a definitive turning point in Unlimited Hydroplane racing, but the 2007 Seafair race is one of them.  It was here that the highly touted Miss Madison VI, still in its first year of competition, performed as everyone expected and was a reward for years of hard work by the Miss Madison team.  As it would turn out, however, this would not be a pinnacle for the Miss Madison team but a springboard, as the team would find themselves on top of the sport in the years following the 2007 Seafair race.

Buildup: It can be said that people began anticipating the 2007 Seafair race before the boats even left the Seattle pits in 2006.  Jean Theoret had won the race for the second year in a row, while the Oh Boy! Oberto-Miss Madison team was a strong second place.  During a post-race interview, Steve David made mention, intentionally or not, that the Miss Madison team would be building a new hull for the upcoming season.  The Miss Madison team, with the arrival of Oh Boy! Oberto as a sponsor in the middle of the 2000 season, Steve David as driver at the start of 2001, and Mike Hanson as crew chief at the start of 2004, had made the transition from a highly respected also ran to one of the best and most consistent team in the sport, but they were still having to make do with an outdated eighteen year old hull.  A new boat had long been rumored or talked about for a couple years, but this was the first and closest thing to any kind of official announcement of a new hull being built.  Oh Boy! Oberto has long been a sponsor of Seafair and multiple entries in Unlimited Hydroplane racing, but this gave them a chance to sponsor a state of the art hull and the Seattle based Oberto Sausage Company looked forward to the opportunity to show off the new boat at their hometown race in 2007.
                As the 2007 season came closer, attention in the hydroplane world and especially in Madison was in anticipation of the new Miss Madison hull.  With promises that new innovations would make this hull a contender out of the box, some were thinking that the Miss Madison team, runners up in the 2005 and 2006 High Point race, could finally win that elusive title in the upcoming season.  Just a few days before the season opener in Evansville, the public unveiling and christening of the new Miss Madison took place at the Madison boat ramp, and the fans got their first peak at the outrageous new “Shark Boat” paint scheme.  The fans loved it.  A couple people mentioned it made the boat look like a World War II fighter plane.  Others were reminded of the more colorful Unlimited Hydroplane paint schemes of the past, including the Miss Madison “Tiger Boat” when Kellogg’s was a sponsor.  After seeing the new paint scheme, anticipation was at a fever pitch for what was already one of the most highly anticipated boats in Unlimited Hydroplane history.
                At the onset of the 2007 season, however, attention quickly turned elsewhere.  The Ellstrom E-Lam Plus team won the High Point title in 2005, but in 2006 Dave Villwock lost a rudder and crashed into the shore at Valleyfield and the team was forced to use a backup boat driven by Nate Brown in Detroit and was left in the middle of the pack of the High Point standings.  In 2007, the team took the tour by storm, winning the first four races.  After striking a buoy in the Final Heat in Evansville, the Oh Boy! Oberto-Miss Madison boat finished second in Madison, Detroit, and Tri-Cities.  At Madison, the Oberto boat beat the Ellstrom boat in a preliminary heat and was able to get on the inside of the U-16 prior to the start of the Final Heat, but Villwock took the lead on the second lap and went on to victory.  At Tri-Cities Villwock won his three preliminary heats and the final going away, with the Steve David back in second.  As Seattle approached, people were openly wondering if Dave Villwock and the Ellstrom E-Lam Plus could sweep the season’s races.

The Race: The Ellstrom E-Lam Plus was once again top qualifier in Seattle, with the Oh Boy! Oberto qualifying fourth.  In the first section of heats, the Ellstrom and Oberto boats were drawn apart and won their respective heats.  In the second section of heats they were once again drawn apart.  Steve David finished second in its heat to David Bryant in the U-10 Hoss Mortgage Investments, but then Villwock finished second in his heat to Jean Theoret in the Miss Beacon Plumbing.   Theoret, David, and Villwock were all drawn into heat 3B and Theoret came up on top with Villwock finishing second and David third. 
                As the Final Heat approached, the attention was on Jean Theoret, who had won the last two Seattle races and, after not finishing their first heat, had won the second and third heat going away, and Dave Villwock, who had won all the races so far in 2007.  In short, a two boat race for the Chevrolet Cup was expected.  Just as everyone was watching the Miss Beacon Plumbing and the Ellstrom E-Lam Plus, they were watching each other.  Villwock’s U-16 Ellstrom boat and Theoret’s U-37 Beacon Plumbing boat went into the second turn well before the starting gun fired and had to slow way down to the point that both boats lost power.  Then Theoret encroached on Villwock and lost power again.  As the field thundered by, Villwock and Theoret were scrambling to get their respective boats back up to speed.  Steve David and the Oh Boy! Oberto, a boat that had been all but forgotten in the discussion of who could win the final, wired a perfect start and jumped out to an early lead.  David Bryant briefly chased David in the very fast U-10 boat but it wasn’t to be.  The day belonged to Steve David and the Oh Boy! Oberto-Miss Madison.   The new boat had delivered and reached its promise.   Longtime Miss Madison fans were immediately reminded of the 1983 Missouri Governors Cup race, when the Miss Budweiser and Atlas Van Lines boats were so concerned with each other they got off to horrible starts and allowed Ron Snyder, who wired the start in the Miss Madison (running that year as the Rich Plan Food Service) to take the victory. It was time to celebrate.

A personal recollection: I religiously followed updates on the new Miss Madison boat throughout the 2006-2007 off season.  There were updates regularly throughout the Winter and Spring in the Madison Courier as well as online.  I was there on the day of the public christening of the boat and shared in the excitement when the crowd saw the shark paint scheme.  At Madison I honestly thought the Oberto had a shot to win the hometown race for the first time since 2001.  As the Final Heat progressed and it was clear that the Ellstrom boat was going to win, a deft silence fell over the crowd.  I’ve never heard a Madison Regatta crowd so quiet.  The disappointment was clearly shared.  By the time Seattle rolled around, I had begun to think that 2007 would function as a “shakeout year” for the new boat and we would have to wait until 2008 for the new boat to win a race.  This was especially true as I listened to the updates on WORX and heard as the results seemed to indicate that the Oberto boat would have to figure out a way to get around boats that had finished ahead of it in the preliminary heats that day.  After the crazy Final and I went through my usual Miss Madison victory routine (having a few beers and calling everyone I know who’s also a Miss Madison fan) I just got to thinking about how great it was for the town and how this could be a turning point for the Miss Madison team.  I wanted to read all about it so I went to get on the ABRA’s (remember this was before the name change) website, the only problem was I couldn’t.  The excitement of the Oberto-Madison victory lead to so many people logging on to the ABRA website that the site crashed, a silent testimony to how exciting a day this was in Unlimited Hydroplane racing.

The Aftermath: Simply put, Seattle put the Miss Madison team on a roll.  Although the Ellstrom team would clinch the High Point total during the preliminary heats in San Diego, Steve David and the Oh Boy! Oberto-Miss Madison boat would win a classic deck to deck duel with Jeff Bernard and the Formula Boats hull to win the Final (and once again cause the ABRA website to crash).  The following year, the Oh Boy! Oberto-Miss Madison team would win their first of three straight championships.  Before Seafair 2007, the Miss Madison team had won seven races and no championships in its 46+ year history.  Since Seafair 2007, the Miss Madison team has won eight races and three championships in a little more than four years.  It was clearly a turning point, although it goes without saying that the Ellstrom team still has the fastest boat on the water.  Although the Oberto-Madison team has hit a bit of a rough spot this season and is heading into the 2011 installment of Seafair fifth in points, that doesn’t take away from what the team has accomplished in recent year.  Seafair 2007 was the springboard for the most successful era of the long and illustrious history of the Miss Madison team.


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