NEW RIDE: Dave Villwock poses next to the Beacon Plumbing (above), the boat he will drive in his return at Tri-Cities next weekend. Villwock has served as team manager for the team over the past two years. Villwock celebrates after the last of his record 67 wins (below), the prestigious APBA Gold Cup in Detroit in 2012. (Courier file photo by David Campbell, below, and courtesy H1 Unlimited, above)
NEW RIDE: Dave Villwock poses next to the Beacon Plumbing (above), the boat he will drive in his return at Tri-Cities next weekend. Villwock has served as team manager for the team over the past two years. Villwock celebrates after the last of his record 67 wins (below), the prestigious APBA Gold Cup in Detroit in 2012. (Courier file photo by David Campbell, below, and courtesy H1 Unlimited, above)
Dave Villwock, the winningest driver in Unlimited hydroplane racing, is returning to the cockpit.

Villwock, who last raced in January 2013, will drive the Beacon Plumbing at the Columbia Cup in Tri-Cities next week. Scott Liddycoat was initially hired to drive that boat but will now serve as back-up driver.

"A lot of people have asked me how it made sense to have the best driver in the history of the sport as a backup driver. Why not put him in the boat?" Team owner Billy Schumacher said in a release. "One of those people was our sponsor, Bill Cahill of Beacon Plumbing. So we approached Dave with the idea of returning to driving and we are very happy that he is willing. We have made dramatic changes to the boat and having Dave experience the boat ride will speed up the tuning process."

Villwock won a record 67 races between 1992 and 2012 while driving the Coors' Dry, PICO American Dream, Miss Budweiser and Miss Elam Plus/Spirit of Qatar. His last win was nearly two years ago to the day when he steered the Spirit of Qatar to his 10th APBA Gold Cup win, the second-most in history.

His last Unlimited race as a driver in January 2013 was one he'd rather forget. He was disqualified in one heat at the UIM World Championship in Doha, Qatar when he intentionally took out seven course buoys in an attempt to get the race halted. Later, his boat took a big hop and severed its fuel lines causing a fire that destroyed the boat.

In May of last year Villwock officially announced his retirement from driving and joined Schumacher Racing as team manager. He spent this offseason rebuilding the team's four-year-old boat in order to correct design flaws.

"We will really be developing a new boat with all the changes we made and this should allow us to get it up to speed as quickly as possible," Villwock said. "We think we have it pretty close (to the boats he has driven previously). There are some differences and some things that will need tweaking once we have seen it on the water, but we think we are going the right direction with the boat."

Liddycoat, who has one career win in the Unlimiteds, was hired by Shumacher last November to replace J. Michael Kelly who had left to take the seat with the Graham Trucking. According to the team, Liddycoat will get a chance to drive the boat at Tri-Cities in order to keep his unlimited license.

Villwock's return may be only a two-race deal. Schumacher has been in talks with sponsor Cahill to sell the boat to him. Right now, Shumacher's plans do not extend beyond the Seattle race in the first weekend in August.

"It's no secret that Bill (Cahill) has wanted to become an owner in the sport and it's something we have talked about for a long time," Schumacher said. "He has loved Unlimited hydroplane racing all his life and it makes a lot of sense for him to become an owner. I think he'll make a great one. We are moving things in that direction and the time for the change is getting closer."