Troxell
Troxell
Heavy wind and rough water forced cancellation of Sunday’s Final Heat of the Budweiser Bluewater International Hydrofest, bringing an end to arguably the worst season in the history of Unlimited hydroplane racing.

Terry Troxell and the U-16 Miss Elam Plus were awarded the win based on points scored over the remainder of the inaugural race in St. Clair, Mich. Troxell accumulated 106 points to beat out rookie J. Michael Kelly and the U-2 Miss Graham Trucking by 12 points.

Dave Villwock and the U-1 Miss Budweiser wrapped up its 24th National Championship earlier in the day, the eighth for Villwock while driving the Bud and his ninth overall. Steve David and the hometown U-6 Oh Boy! Oberto/Miss Madison had a rough day overall despite scoring a preliminary heat win and finished fifth in the race and third in the final national point standings.

“When we started out this year, our goal was to go out on top and win one last championship,” said Villwock. “We didn’t need to win every race, or every heat, just do well enough in the points to deliver a final world championship to Anheuser-Busch for its 42 years of support.”

It was a rough weekend as the official ending to the 2004 Budweiser Unlimited Hydroplane Series came with one unsanctioned event remaining at San Deigo Sept. 18-19.

With the huge lake freighters tearing up the water and wind that came in from the south harder and harder as the day wore on, the course gradually became unraceable.

In fact, Villwock set a Hydro-Prop qualifying record of 163.788 mph during Saturday’s time trials session but by Sunday’s third and final heat, Troxell could manage no faster lap than 89.843 mph.

“I’ve ran through some rough water before, but I’ve never had my view obscured with water coming over the windscreen constantly like I had with the conditions in Heat 3B,” said Villwock. “It was by far the worst water I’ve experienced in my career.”

The water was so rough that it actually took the Bud out of commission. After pulling off wins in Heat 1A and 2B to clinch the national championship, Villwock hit a rough patch in Heat 3A and went high in the air. After coming down hard, the boat tore a huge gaping hole in the bottom of the left sponson to end its day.

Hydro-Prop officials made a controversial decision to allow the team to race its back-up in the final. Although the final was never run, owner Joe Little said the team wouldn’t have run anyway.

“We considered it, for the sake of the fans, but the water conditions were far too severe for me to risk Dave’s life and another boat,” Little said. “We have a commitment to our sponsor, Anheuser-Busch, for next week and we need at least one of our boats in one piece for the Lake of the Ozarks shootout.”

Canceling the final was also a controversial decision. While most drivers, most notably Villwock and eventual winner Troxell, were all for ending the day early, at least one driver wanted to race.

“We’re here to race, we’re here to put on a show for the fans,” U-8 Llumar Window Film driver J.W. Myers told the Detroit Free-Press. “Let’s just go do it. I want to race.”

Entering the race in second place in the season points standings, David and the Oh Boy! Oberto had a rough day.

David jumped the gun in Heat 1A, all but ruining his slim chances at unseating the Miss Bud as the National Champion and ripped off its V-strut on the rear stabilizer while taking a Did Not Finish in Heat 2A. Borrowing parts from the Llumar team, the Miss M took first place in Heat 3A which ended up being a one-boat race due to damage to the Bud.

Myers pulled off wins in Heats 1B and 2A while Troxell won Heat 3B. Troxell also had a pair of second places and his consistent effort paid off in the win.

The National Championship was the 24th and last for the Miss Budweiser team, which has announced that this season will be its last. Villwock has won a title every year he has driven the boat since 1997 and claimed the national title as pilot of the PICO American Dream in 1996.

“Dad would never have wanted to give up boat racing, but if he would have been the one to have to retire the team after 42 years, there is no other way that he, or I, would have wanted to do it than with a world championship,” said Little, who took over the team after the death of his father, Bernie, last year. “Although the team won’t be back next year, the Miss Budweiser will be an icon for Anheuser-Busch and part of its history in a similar way that the Clydesdales are quickly identified with the Budweiser brand. The Miss Budweiser is a boat that people can easily identify, and whether fans have loved to root for us or loved to hate us, we know we’ll be missed and we’ll miss the fans.”

The St. Clair race is the final official race of the 2004 season, but not the last time boats will hit the water in this disjointed season. The Bud team will race at the annual lake of the Ozarks Shootout in Missouri next weekend and much of the fleet will head to San Diego Sept. 17-19 for the Bill Muncey Cup. That race, like Evansville and Tri-Cities, has gone independent and is not sanctioned by Hydro-Prop or the APBA.