HPROP: Pre-season opener press conference

Hydro-Prop Teleconference Transcript Guests: Dave Villwock, driver of U-1 Miss Budweiser Mitch Evans, driver of the U-3 Master Tire Mark Evans, driver of the U-8 Llumar Window Film Nate Brown, driver of the U-16 Miss Elam Plus Hydro-Prop, ...

Hydro-Prop Teleconference Transcript

Guests:
Dave Villwock, driver of U-1 Miss Budweiser
Mitch Evans, driver of the U-3 Master Tire
Mark Evans, driver of the U-8 Llumar Window Film
Nate Brown, driver of the U-16 Miss Elam Plus
Hydro-Prop, Teleconference moderator

Q: Mitch and the U-3, which is based in Evansville, introduced their new piston powered boat last year and they put everyone on edge with a 160 mph qualifying run at San Diego. Mitch, please tell us little bit about that and how it feels coming back to Evansville as one of the favorites for the race?

Mitch Evans: It's going to be pretty interesting. Like a lot of people, it caught up to us by surprise. We've been working on this deal for a couple of years and we have had a tremendous amount of help. It was getting out there and getting it to finally run. We made an attempt in Pasco and had some problems and then went to Seattle and had similar problems. Then we went to San Diego and to come out of the box like we did was certainly a lot of fun. I am definitely looking forward to getting on with this season.

Q: Why is the boat so much faster?

Mitch Evans: It's just a combination of everything. We always knew the engines made great horsepower. Ed Cooper has made them more reliable over the years and combining them with the new technology helped make this thing go. Another new thing was the propellers that Ellstrom helped us with. It all just came together. We actually started testing and qualifying with the same exact setup and same basic combination that we ran the 148's mph with in the old boat. It was kind of fun to go out and basically warm-up by going 150 mph. Then we increased our speed to 152, then 155 and we went on from there. It was the whole combination - the boat, the engine running well and the set up.

Q: Coming Back to Evansville for the start of the season, do your expect a lot of excitement?

Mitch Evans: From what I've heard in the last couple of months talking to Ed, and getting the rest of the work done on the boat, it's been pretty exciting. We've got some good help with sponsorship from Master Tire. We're hoping to really come out, run strong and do well. We hope to start the season with some good results, and hopefully the weather and river will cooperate.

Q: You are back in the series this year after a couple of years off. This season you are driving for Bill Wurster and the U-8 team. You've also acquired the old Budweiser two-wing Unlimited Hydroplane. That is a pretty exciting boat, and in fact, you are the only one that has ever driven that boat.

Mark Evans: At the time, I was driving for Miss Budweiser and Chip (Hanauer) was not too thrilled about running it. The two-wing configuration is a little scary to hang onto; they tend to float a little bit. The Llumar guys decided they did not want to mess with that design so they filled in the center section and put a nice wing up front and basically came out with a whole new boat. We are pretty excited about it, especially since I have some history with the boat, yet it's a whole new situation. We're hoping it goes real fast.

Q: Did you race that boat at Madison?

Mark Evans: Yes, I raced the boat at Madison, Ind. We were the fastest qualifier and won all three heats. But the boat started coming apart after the first heat, and we kept knocking the wings off. The boat just wasn't holding together in the rough water, but it ran very well and it is a good hull. I'm anxious to see what it does now.

Q: How do you feel about coming back after being out of the sport for a couple of years?

Mark Evans: I feel real good about coming back. I thought I might take a few years off, but last year I was twitching all over the place. It was hard to go to a race and watch everyone run from the beach. I still have that fire in my belly, and I have been wanting to go back out and run. Bill Wurster was one of the owners that I haven't driven for yet, and with the new hull, and the enthusiastic crew, I thought this was a good time to come back and run with the guys.

Q: You won a couple of the races last year. You were second in the championship. You ran pretty strong all year. Do you think this is going to be your season?

Nate Brown: Well I hope so. Obviously that is what we are all out here to do. I know a couple of things. Mitch will run well this year, and there are a few other boats out there that are going to try to keep him pinched down. One of the happy things I have about Mark Evans is that since he is coming back into the series, he has to run as a rookie in the first race of the year. I already have an advantage on him. At least he will be behind me for one heat. I'm looking forward to a lot of great competition this year. There are a lot of great drivers in the sport and there are a lot of teams that have stepped up to the plate, like Mitch and Mark. I know Harvey's team, with Terry Troxell, will also be a boat that will contend, as well as the Miss Budweiser. I'm hoping that the Ellstrom Manufacturing boat with the new motors we built will be ready for all challenges. Last year, Erick Ellstrom decided to build propellers on his machine, and this year he decided to build engine-case-houses, which is an amazing undertaking. They are just beautiful pieces of art, and they run really good too. We're looking forward to running good this year, as well as looking for national sponsorship.

Q: Dave Villwock and the Miss Budweiser are the defending series Champions. Dave, you have won an unprecedented seven consecutive Evansville races, but the big news this off-season was the passing of Bernie Little. Bernie Little was such an integral part of the sport for so many years. Can you talk a little bit about Bernie, and how the team will respond, and what it will be like without Bernie roaming the pits?

Dave Villwock: Well, Bernie was a great leader; he spent most of his life putting this all together for the Budweiser team. We can't replace Bernie, but we can go into the future and conduct ourselves as Bernie would. We will never replace his character, emotion, exuberance and his anger. Joe Little will be his own guy and will be a little different but hopefully the future will be an extension and part of Bernie's immortality. We plan to do things as Bernie would do. Bernie never taught us how to play defense. We plan on playing offense. We will go into the season with that attitude. The team and sponsorship are both intact. We'll be as we were for a couple races last year with Joe at the helm and racing in that configuration.

Q: Every year you set a goal to win the first race of the season, and over the past few years, you have achieved that goal. What do you think is the reason behind your success?

Dave Villwock: Well, we never know. With all the things that have happened and positions we've been placed, its' been difficult to do that. Odds are really starting to work against us. We've won Evansville so many times and we have been so successful. I love the town, I love the people and I love the race course, and it almost seems like we can't lose there. Sooner or later that streak has to end. We will go to Evansville like we do every race and try as hard as we can and hopefully, we can do well.

Q: Mitch, talk about now legitimately having a chance to win. What is it like to realistically have an opportunity to win when a lot of time before you did not really have a chance to compete with the turbine boats? Now you have won a heat and been the fastest qualifier. What is it like to run up-front and maybe have a chance to win?

Mitch Evans: It's definitely going to be a lot of fun. We have an all-volunteer crew and when you have to step up to race out front, it adds a lot of pressure, but I am really looking forward to it. Ed worked really hard this winter. We have more equipment than we have ever had. We obviously have a great boat. I have to do my job in the cockpit. I think we are going to go out and put on a really great race. It's going to be a blast to go out there and run with the boat we have. It's going to be a tough road with the quality of field that we have, especially with Dave, Nate and my brother Mark. We're really going to have to buckle down and tend to business. It's no longer a hope that we can survive, but its going to be going for the win and running hard every lap, every heat all day long. I hope the guys can hang in there, which I know they will, because everyone is prepared. We're looking forward to the season.

Q: This new boat is a lot faster due to its lighter weight. Can you talk a little bit more about the boat?

Mitch Evans: No question. It was the whole package. We always knew that the engines made good horsepower. In the past they have pushed around boats that were enormously heavy, big and inefficient. To finally have the opportunity to put together a good engine program, which has been pretty reliable, propellers, then you have to factor in the weight of the boat, and the design. That's what it is, a whole combination and once you have all those things in a row like that, it's going to go fast. We just want to know how fast it is going to run in competition. Can it hang together and handle the rough waters? We are going to find that out. I think it's going to be a great boat, and we are going to have some great runs.

Q: Was there ever any danger of the Miss Budweiser team folding after the death of Bernie Little? Or was it established that once Bernie was gone, that the team would continue?

Dave Villwock: Bernie had really set the players and the position in the eventuality of his passing. He had placed his son and myself in VP positions so that the corporation and business was set to go on as of a couple of years ago.

Q: Are you going to run the same two boats as you did last year, or is there a new Budweiser in the future?

Dave Villwock: No, we do not have any new boats. We have a T-3 boat, which is just as competitive as the T-5, which is as competitive as the T-6 as well. We have a good bench and lead players, and think we are positioned for the foreseeable future.

Q: Talk about what you have to do in this first race. How important is it for you to get a good start?

Mitch Evans: It is one of the most important things you can do period. From a driver's standpoint, no matter how good a boat you have, you have to be there, so it's going to be interesting and fun. I don't have a lot of time in the boat but I plan on running as much in the boat during testing as I can. At each race site, as we go through the season, is like starting over. I am going to have to really pay attention to what is going on and make sure that I'm at the start every time. One neat thing about this boat is that it accelerates very quickly and once I get out there and start racing I'm going to have the hang of it and will be a tough contender.

Q: In other forms of motorsports, drivers know what their surface is going to be. You guys from hour to hour do not know what the race surface will be due to winds, currents or other weather-related obstacles. How difficult is that mentally?

Mark Evans: Well it's something we've contended with for years. It's just practicing looking at your surroundings, watching the weather and seeing where it is coming from is a big part of the trick. That is an interesting scenario. I have offered some car racers a ride in my boat for a ride in their car, and they typically say, you can have a ride in my car, but I'm not going out in your boat because the surface changes too much. I don't see how you guys do that. That makes our sport unique in the sense that that's a challenge to be able to read the water and the weather.

Q: Last season you raced at Tri-Cities, Seattle and San Diego. Then you put the boat in the shop for the off-season. What big changes do you make before the start of the season, or do you make none at all?

Mitch Evans: Like all racing, it really never ends. This is a new beginning for us. There are so many things we want to try and will try throughout the season. Ed's been busy this off-season with his engine programs. The boat was in good shape after San Diego. There's just a lot of little things that we want to try and as we learn throughout the season, and get in the heat of battle, we'll discover things, we'll be making changes all the time. I just don't think that that is something that ever ends. Obviously help the performance and the speed of the boat. We've got a lot of things we want to try from gears to propellers to boat set-ups. So, we have a short season ahead of us, but we are really going to spend as much time on the water as we can, and make small steps and try to learn about this new machine.

Q: HYDRO-PROP recently announced two new rule changes. They will add a lap to the preliminary heats, making them each four laps. They also announced that the winner of the provisional heat would be given a front row position in the final. Can everyone comment on these new rule changes?

Nate Brown: To be honest, I don't like it. What's going to happen is that the teams who don't have a lot of resources to run the preliminary heats, but have the speed to put a bullet in for one race will win the provisional and get into the front row of the final. It will take a while for all the competitors to realize that that is what will happen. The fourth lap is ok, and I think most of us are used to that, though I do think you will see some attrition. I do think in the long run, it will take some boats out. Unfortunately, I don't know if Gary Garbrecht thought of that when making the new rule. It will allow for more racing, but in the end, it could mean less racing for some teams.

Mark Evans: I'll concur with Nate on that. It's just going to wear the props out, run the fuel out, and make more of a parade. On the other side of it, maybe a guy can lay back a little bit early, and go after it in the last lap, which is really hard to do in boat racing. It will be interesting to see how this plays out, but we will give it a whirl and see what happens.

Nate Brown: Yes, there have been many times where I wished I had one more lap to catch somebody, and there are many times where I am sure glad there wasn't another lap because the prop was about to fall off. You never know what is going to happen, but I'll support Gary in whatever rules he makes along the way.

Q: How is the new U-3 going to handle the turns on the Madison race course?

Mitch Evans: I'll tell you what. As fast as it goes around the turns I've been in, in Madison and Seattle, it is going to be pretty awesome. Because of the versatility in the setup of the boat, there are many things we can do now that we could not do in the past. Its always challenging, but I think we are going to do pretty well. The engines make good power, and if we can come up with the right combination, we'll be in great shape. We're going to have to be right on top from the beginning and make sure that every lap counts.

Q: Can you comment on Madison, going back there as the defending champion?

Nate Brown: Looking forward to going back to Madison. I won it last year, and I would sure like to repeat. Though I sure hope that I don't repeat every heat as last year since I jumped the gun so badly in one heat. The Ellstrom team will be great this year and we are going to be fighting everyone out there. I have already struck a deal with Mitch and Mark to knock off the big red beer wagon. With any luck, it will be great racing this year. I know Dave and I will hook some sponsons and have some great heats ourselves. I am looking forward to some of the races this year. Last year, we had some great races, especially at Tri-Cities where we got hooked up, and ran all out. This year, the biggest difference is that there will be a couple of other boats right alongside of us, and Mitch and Mark are two of them.

Q: Returning to Madison, is there anything about this venue that makes it different or challenging to you especially considering that you were the Champion last year?

Nate Brown: Thank you. What I like about Madison is the fireworks show - its awesome. There are great fireworks and it's a great town. It's a great place to go as a fan. Its one of the best venues we have for a spectator. I love walking down the beach and watching the boats run in-between my heats. As far as being defending champion, I think there will be a little bit of pressure to try to repeat there. I have not been able to repeat anything yet. I am still new at this winning thing, and with any luck will try to continue a few of these. I know there is one race I have not won yet, and it is Evansville. That is the first one I am going to concentrate on for two reasons: I think I could have won it last year, Dave was very consistent and I was not, so if we can be consistent and do a good job in Evansville, that will allow us to start the season off on a high note. In Madison, I have to be consistent - everyone needs to be consistent because there are only four boats on the front line, and in my book there are five boats that can win that race. All the heats in Madison will be a dog-fight.

Q: How do you feel about the current situation surrounding the Detroit Gold cup race?

Mark Evans: That was kind of a shocker, that's a race that I haven't won yet and I was anxious to get out there and run the thing. Hopefully things will work out, and we can run for the Gold Cup at the end of August. It is just not right to have a season without the Gold Cup. Hopefully things will be solved, and we can all go for it.

Nate Brown: I hope the Gold Cup comes off, because I have scheduled a trip immediately following the August date to Disneyland.

Q: Is the proposed August 21-24 Detroit Gold Cup date the only available scheduled time for the event?

HYDRO-PROP: It has been scheduled for that date because the weekend before, there is a NASCAR race at MIS, and the weekend after is Labor Day weekend. So at this point, all the discussion has been centered around that particular date.

Q: What is so special about Evansville, and to what can you attribute your success?

Dave Villwock: I've had a lot of success there. As Nate said, we haven't had the fastest boat there in a while. I have just managed to find a way to win somehow, and been in the right place at the right time. We will just try to do that again. There is nothing much more we can do. We've gone there the last couple of years with a boat that was several miles per hour off the pace.

Nate Brown: I can answer that too for you Dave. I think being a team that has 6 full-time professional paid guys; you are probably one of the most prepared boats. Evansville is usually one of the first races of the season, and it is truly a testament to your team in how prepared they are all winter long. It is a good job on the whole team.

Q: Why did you and Miss Elam Plus pass on coming to the St. Clair exhibition?

Nate Brown: Basically, we don't have a national sponsor to promote anything. Ellstrom Manufacturing is Erick's company, and we do not have a backup boat that has a trailer under it. So if anything were to happen to that boat, we would not be prepared for the start of the season. Without a national sponsor to help out with exposure, we just felt it was better to let other racing teams participate and expose their sponsors. I wanted to go to test the boat. One thing we all lack, except for Dave is seat time in the boat, and that would have allowed us another opportunity to run the boat before the start of the season.

Q: Mitch, I saw some comments from Chip Hanauer on how he is a proponent of having an all piston field again. What are your comments on that?

Mitch Evans: I don't know. We've got a long ways to go. There is no question that at this point we can show that the boat can run fast, but we have to go out there and do battle. As far as necessarily having an all piston field, you are talking about having an insurmountable change in the sport. We would like to see more boats period, and if there were more piston boats, that would be fine. Maybe by us going out, running well and being successful, maybe that will allow other people to think if they can do it, why can't we. If this brings in more boats, whether it be turbines, pistons or whatever, we just need all the help we can get here. It would be interesting to see someone come in and make a serious attempt with an automotive powered boat.

Q: Do you prefer to drive a turbine or piston powered boat?

Mark Evans: After driving the older piston boats and getting into a turbine it was like, wow! that's cool. The piston-powered thing would be great, especially if it was automotive power, especially if we had everyone from Ford, Chevy, Chrysler, etc. participating. After some research, an automotive engine costs almost as much as a turbine, but will it last? It is a great idea, but the cost, in many people's opinions, is way, way more expensive than running turbines. Until someone steps up with a major amount of money, it's almost not even feasible, even if they went down to a 26-foot boat. And if we have a 26-foot boat, are we going to get those huge rooster tails that we get now and are we going to reach 200 miles per hour ... No, I don't think so. It would be great for it to happen, but without a lot of money, it's not going to.

Nate Brown: There actually is a class out there that has piston engines, the Unlimited Lights. You can watch ten of those run and it is very impressive, but it is still not as impressive as watching one Unlimited run. If we did not have the Unlimiteds out there at all, I think the Unlimited Lights would be competitive. But Mark is right, the cost of those engines is more than the cost of the turbine. You can run a turbine with the technology we have learned over the years for less than you can run an automotive powered Unlimited. It would be a great way to go, but it would take a lot.

Q: Are you happy with Hydro-Prop as a governing group and the decisions they have made over the last couple of years?

Dave Villwock: I don't have an opinion. I think that is a question for the race sites and the people that interact with that organization.

Q: The question has asked about the different engines... what do you think needs to be done to have more race sites and sponsors?

Dave Villwock: I think we need to be credible no matter what we do. We have to be consistent. Our fans have to perceive that we are doing business on an equal basis for all the competitors. I think we have to do that in order to sell the sport and go forward and expand. If it takes piston power to do that, I guess that's fine. No matter what it takes, we have to be a fair and a credible group to make our history credible.

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Series Boat
Drivers Mitch Evans