The mellow Jimmy Buffett and Elton John tunes floating through a Ballard workshop Wednesday afternoon don’t exactly reflect the helter-skelter mood inside.
Dave Villwock, the all-time leader in H1 Unlimited wins, and his team are in a race against the clock to make repairs to the Beacon Plumbing boat before Albert Lee Cup competition starts this weekend at Seafair. The boat suffered damage in last week’s Tri-Cities Columbia Cup after a collision with the Oberto boat driven by Jimmy Shane.
Racing to get a boat finished, only to participate in an even more intense race on the water — it’s quite the high-pressure situation for a guy who’s theoretically supposed to be reclined in an armchair.
In May of last year, Villwock announced his retirement from hydroplane racing, leaving as the all-time winner in the sport. His 67 wins were five more than the previous all-time leader, Bill Muncey.
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“I’d won 10 championships and 10 Gold Cups,” Villwock said. “What else was there to do?”
Help out some friends, as it turned out. As a favor to Billy and Jane Schumacher, the owners of the Beacon Plumbing boat, Villwock came out of retirement to drive for at least two races: the Columbia Cup and then the Albert Lee Cup in Seattle.
Villwock originally signed on to the Beacon Plumbing team as a consultant last year, but when changes were made to the boat over the winter, the Schumachers wanted somebody behind the wheel who “knew what was going on,” according to the now 60-year-old driver.
That knowledge doesn’t just come from driving experience. It comes from hours spent in dark and grimy warehouses, working on the back end of hydroplane racing. Villwock enjoys doing physical labor on the boats, not just getting them in open water and opening up the throttle.
“I started like everybody did — you work on your own boat, or most people did back in those days,” he said. “You built your own engine. You built your own boat. You built everything. … So I learned that early on and continue doing that.”
From losing two of his fingers in a 1997 hydroplane accident, to coming out of retirement this year, Villwock has shown that his relationship with the sport is closer to a marriage than a fling.
Part of his longevity stems from circumstance. Like he said, Villwock is just “helping out” as a driver this summer.
But the longevity also comes from a sense of competition that has not dulled with age. Villwock made waves last week at the Columbia Cup with his collision with the Oberto boat in one heat, and then in a separate heat, the 17 Fox Plumbing and Heating boat hit the skid fin wake of Villwock’s boat.
The collision, Villwock says, was because of a shoe that broke off his own boat, hit the rudder and caused him to jerk into the pathway of the Oberto. And in the other accident, Villwock said he had left enough room for driver Jeff Bernard — “but Bernard just didn’t get through there.”
And according to Villwock, referees scrutinize him more because of his style of driving. But that scrutiny, the collisions, the missing fingers and the sense of “what more can be done?” hasn’t stopped him from getting back behind the wheel.
Even if it’s only for one more last ride, Villwock is here to win.
“People say, ‘Dave, you’re a nice guy, but you get to the race and you’re different,’” he said. “Well, this ain’t no popularity contest, you know? I’m here to race, and people are paying me to do that. I’m trying to do that legally and fairly, certainly, but I’m racing as hard as I can.”