Going for Gold
Oh Boy! Oberto’s David
Team sets its sights on another title
has won all but a Gold Cup
that includes coveted Cup
(July 2013) – In his 25 years of Unlimited hydroplane racing, Steve David has accomplished every goal an Unlimited hydroplane driver could achieve, except one: a Gold Cup victory.
But with the 2013 H1 Unlimited season shaping up as the year of the Oh Boy! Oberto-Miss Madison, David’s chances of reaching that goal are looking very good. With longtime nemesis driver Dave Villwock having retired from the sport in May, David and his Madison, Ind.-based racing squad have quickly emerged as the team to beat. And with that has come the added pressure of winning.
Photo courtesy of Chris Denslow, H1 Unlimited
Oh Boy! Oberto-Miss Madison driver Steve David celebrates his victory at the 2012 Seafair race in Seattle.”
“This year is a lot different without Dave out there competing,” said David during a June 26 telephone interview from south Florida, where he lives and works in commercial real estate. “It used to be that if we went out and just placed in a heat, we would come back and celebrate with high fives. But now if we go out and don’t win, those high fives could easily become knuckle sandwiches.”
Villwock, 58, in 2011 became the sport’s winningest driver in history while guiding Erik Ellstrom’s U-96 Spirit of Qatar to the season High Point Championship. The former Miss Budweiser driver retired with 67 career wins, five more than the late Bill Muncey, who had 62, and Chip Hanauer, who retired in 1999 with 61.
David, 59, meanwhile, will turn 60 in January, and while he is focused on winning every race this season, the Gold Cup must be lurking in the back of his mind.
Crew Chief Mike Hanson, 52, a former Unlimited driver himself, knows this all too well. So he and his teammates are working hard to get the Oh Boy! Oberto-Miss Madison boat ready for the upcoming Madison Regatta on July 5-7, then turn around and head into Detroit on July 12-14 on a high to try and capture the team’s first Gold Cup since the storied 1971 Miss Madison victory by the late Jim McCormick. That Gold Cup race took place in Madison and in 2005 became the subject of the movie “Madison.”
Miss Madison Drivers
Through the Years
2001-present: Steve David
2000: Nate Brown
2000: Charley Wiggins
1999: Todd Yarling
1988-98: Mike Hanson
1988: Mitch Evans
1986, 2000: Jerry Hopp
1985-86: Andy Coker
1985-86: Jon Peddie
1986-88: Ron Snyder
1975: Jerry Bangs*
1974, 1978-81, 1984: Milner Irvin
1973, 1982: Tom Sheehy
1972-73: Charlie Dunn*
1967-68: Ed O’Halloran*
1966, 1969-71: Jim McCormick*
1963-65: Buddy Byers
1963: Morlan Visel*
1961-62: Marion Cooper*
(* = Deceased)
H1 Unlimited Historian Fred Farley said he is impressed with David’s longevity in one of the most grueling and dangerous professional sports, and that this could be the year David wins his first Gold Cup. “I have seen no signs of him slowing down,” Farley said. “He is a great competitor and a very successful driver, but the Gold Cup is the one trophy he has not won. It is the one trophy that every boat racer wants to win at least once during his career. It is the ultimate prize in the sport and the oldest active trophy in all of motorsports, having been established in 1904.”
Perhaps this year it will take him to the top podium in Detroit before he steps out of the sport for good.
Villwock has 10 Gold Cups to his credit. Hanauer has 11. Muncey has eight.
“I think we’ll have a great season this year that everyone will cherish in the end,” Hanson said. “We have a pretty good chance of winning the Gold Cup, but you still gotta go five laps at 4:10 on Sunday to make it happen.”
Hanson, a former Miss Madison driver of 11 years, lives in Seattle and commutes to Madison. He spoke from Seattle, where he has spent the past 2½ weeks working on the boat and engine at Hydroplanes Inc., the former boat shop for the Miss Budweiser team located in Tukwila, Wash. The boat was taken there following the team’s June 2 victory at the Sacramento Big Wake Weekend race, the second event on the 2013 H1 Unlimited schedule. The team finished third at the opener in Doha, Qatar. Hanson said the boat had left Tukwila on the morning of June 26 for its long journey to Madison.
Hanson says the team and David work well together. “We love him as our driver. We couldn’t have any better of a fit. He’s a great ambassador for the sport and for the city of Madison. He can be critical in a positive way, and it works both ways. We all have the same goal in mind.”
Hanson also agreed with David that being the favorite without Villwock in the picture has put a little more stress on the team.
“It’s completely different for us,” he said. “Villwock gave us something to shoot for because he was always a little faster. Now we are the fastest boat out there, and everyone else is hoping we make some kind of mistake. We used to be totally excited to win a boat race; now it’s almost like we’re relieved if we win one.”
While it may seem odd that both the driver and crew chief live far from Madison and only see each other on race weekends, the arrangement has been working, they said. “It’s like that movie, ‘Same Time Next Year,’ David joked, adding that, “it is a relationship of trust” that the boat will be ready and tuned in for racing when he arrives at a race site.
Hanson agrees, saying that the two days of testing and qualifying before the Sunday races are key to getting both boat and driver working in tandem.
“I always like to try at least one thing new each race weekend to try and gain more speed or more reliability and longevity of the equipment,” Hanson said. “You don’t go any faster if you don’t try something different. We try it in testing, and if we like it, we use it. If not, we don’t.”
Despite Villwock’s absence this year, David said the competition is tough because many teams have talented drivers and several new national sponsors providing much-need cash to fund their efforts. “Dave helped to raise the level of competition in the sport, and (U-5 Graham Trucking and current points leader) Jimmy Shane is a fine driver as well.”
Villwock is back as a consultant with the U-37 team, with J. Michael Kelly driving. Kip Brown of the U-95 Spirit of Qatar is also a proven competitor, David said.
“I think we will see a higher level of competitiveness and a little more ferocity out there. As a result, we have to be right on it at the start to win our heats and the final,” David said.
The Ohio River course has historically been one of the circuit’s most challenging and narrow courses, and last year it became even more so when the Milton-Madison Bridge construction project forced the moving west and shortening of the course from 2.5 to two miles. It will remain that way for this year’s race.
“You never know if you’re going to get strong currents or high wind on the turns, which can create some big wakes on that course,” David said. “You traditionally just want to get in and out of Madison without tearing up your equipment so you can go to Detroit to compete for the Gold Cup.”
In his real job, David resides in Lighthouse Point, Fla., and is chairman of a large real estate holding company, Florida Professional Companies, which is a conglomerate of eight companies and 400 employees from Melbourne, Fla., to Fort Lauderdale. He also is a national motivational speaker and teaches real estate law and real estate contracts. He and his wife, Sabrina, also own an asset management company that oversees 141 residential properties. Sabrina, meanwhile, works as worldwide payroll director for Jarden Corp., a large consumer products company in Boca Raton, Fla.
While real estate dominates his work life, hydroplane racing is his passion. “It’s my vacation,” he says.
That “vacation” enters its 13th season with the Madison team and 25th overall year of racing Unlimiteds. He made his Unlimited racing debut in 1988 with Jim McCormick’s Pocket Saver Plus team and earned Rookie of the Year. His career took off in 1991 when he signed with Harvey Motorsports to drive Miss T-Plus. He stayed with the team for nine years, setting records for fastest competition lap and final heat world speed time – both of which still stand today.
David joined the Madison squad in 2001 and happily stepped into the cockpit of a brand new boat in 2007 when the Oberto family bought the team a new ride. Just with the Oh Boy! Oberto-Miss Madison alone, he has garnered four National High Points Team Championships and six Bill Muncey Driver High Points titles.
His success in January earned him a place in the American Power Boat Association’s Hall of Champions for the sixth time. That is the highest racing honor that the APBA can bestow. David served as APBA president from 1996-98 and was subsequently inducted into the APBA Honor Squadron, the highest honor of service to the organization.
Hanson said that at 59 years old, David is among the strongest and fittest competitors out there, while competing against many guys half his age. “Frankly, I am surprised he is still racing. I retired at age 50 because I got tired of my body being beaten around.”
Whether or not retirement is near, David appears solely focused on the current race season and winning yet another set of National High Points team and driver titles. He says another season championship would put the City of Madison alone in second place in all-time Team Owner victories, behind the legendary Bernie Little.
Then, of course, there is that elusive Gold Cup, which David perhaps superstitiously avoids mentioning.
“It’s been an amazing run,” he says, “both for me and the City of Madison. You never know where something like this is going to take you.”
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