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The Unlimiteds - 2008 in Review

By Fred Farley - Unlimited Hydroplane Historian

Competition was the key word to describe ABRA Unlimited hydroplane action in 2008. There was plenty of it. And no one team won a majority of races.

When the roostertails subsided after the last race of the season on San Diego’s Mission Bay, OH BOY! OBERTO/MISS MADISON (U-6) from southern Indiana had first-place in National High Points for the first time in its 48-year history. This entitled the U-6 to carry the coveted U-1 designation in 2009.

The community-owned craft and driver Steve David had 4764 accumulated points, compared to 4146 for FORMULABOATS.COM (U-5) and Jeff Bernard, 3934 for MISS BEACON PLUMBING (U-37) and Jean Theoret, 3090 for AHERN RENTALS (U-10) and David Bryant, 2951 for SPIRIT OF THE NAVY (U-50) and Brian Perkins, and 2590 for FORMULABOATS.COM II (U-7) and co-drivers Mike Allen and Jimmy Shane.

OH BOY! OBERTO achieved 100 percent reliability in 2008 and finished every heat that it entered. The U-6 qualified fastest at four of the six events and won the Columbia Cup at the Tri-Cities, Washington. She finished second in her hometown Indiana Governor's Cup at Madison.

Driver David started in 21 heats of competition, finished first in 10 of them, was second eight times, third once and fourth twice with OH BOY! OBERTO.

Although six races were announced for the 2008 American Boat Racing Association tour, one of these--the Gold Cup at Detroit--had to be declared "No Contest" on account of high wind. This was most unfortunate. A real donnybrook was shaping between FORMULABOATS.COM (U-5), which had two first-places in preliminary heats, and OH BOY! OBERTO, which had a second and a first.

The U-5 team at least had the satisfaction of winning more races in 2008 than anyone else: the Indiana Governor's Cup at Madison and the Bill Muncey Cup at San Diego.

The defending National High Point Championship team of MISS E-LAM PLUS (U-1) and driver Dave Villwock followed a reduced schedule in 2008 and appeared at only two events. They did manage a victory at their hometown Chevrolet Cup on Seattle's Lake Washington.

MISS BEACON PLUMBING and driver Jean Theoret experienced disappointment on several occasions in 2008 but finished first in the season-opening "Thunder On The Ohio" at Evansville and second in the season-concluding Bill Muncey Cup at San Diego.

The hard luck team of the year had to be Ed Cooper's MASTER TIRE (U-3), the only non-turbine entry in the fleet. Mechanical difficulties plagued the Allison-powered U-3 and driver Jimmy King at race after race.

The sport bade a sad farewell to U-10 owner Kim Gregory who passed away in 2008. Gregory's team had been a major player in Unlimited racing since 1998 and won the Gold Cup in 2004.

Veteran crew chief Roger Newton was likewise lost to death in 2008. Newton directed the 205 mile an hour straightaway record attempt by MISS FREEI in 2000 and the restoration of the vintage HURRICANE IV in 2008.


Evansville, IN
Thunder On The Ohio
(1) U-37 MISS BEACON PLUMBING, Jean Theoret

MISS BEACON PLUMBING led out of the first turn of the Final Heat at Evansville, Indiana. At the end of lap-one, BEACON, OH BOY! OBERTO, and FORMULABOATS.COM II were three boat lengths apart.

BEACON pulled to a one-roostertail length lead on lap-two. FORMULA II settled into a steady but distant third on lap-three. OBERTO continued to make BEACON work for it for four and a quarter laps.

BEACON pulled to a two-roostertail length lead on the fifth and concluding lap.


Madison, IN
Indiana Governor’s Cup
(1) U-5 FORMULABOATS.COM, Jeff Bernard

The FORMULABOATS.COM team--the U-5 and the U-7--grabbed the two inside lanes before the start. OH BOY! OBERTO had lane-three. The U-5, the U-7, and the U-6 ran one-two-three down the first backstretch.

FORMULA II finished lap-one in first-place but was passed by FORMULA I and OBERTO.

FORMULA I's lead over OBERTO varied from one to one and a half roostertails. The winning speed by FORMULA I was 140.129 miles per hour to OBERTO's 139.299.

The victory was the first ever in the Unlimited Class by FORMULA I pilot Bernard.


Detroit, MI
APBA Gold Cup
Declared "No Contest" on account of inclement weather

Seldom has a more evenly matched field showed up for a Gold Cup race. Six boats out of nine qualified at between 155 and 159 miles per hour. Fastest was OH BOY! OBERTO at 159.888, followed by MISS BEACON PLUMBING at 159.150.

Preliminary heat action saw BEACON take section 1-A and FORMULABOATS.COM (U-5) win section 1-B.

OBERTO triumphed in Heat 2-A, while FORMULA (U-5) finished first in Heat 2-B.

Course conditions were marginal when the starting gun sounded for Heat 3-A. MISS BEACON PLUMBING led out of the first turn and onto the first backstretch. FORMULABOATS.COM II (U-7) flipped upside-down in the closely bunched first turn, stopping the heat.

Mike Allen, the U-7 driver, suffered injuries and the boat sustained extensive damage.

High winds continued to churn the Detroit River into an unraceable froth for the rest of the day.

The Gold Cup rules specify that all sections of the first three heats must be completed before a winner can be determined. For the first time since 1960, a "No Contest" result had to be announced.


Tri-Cities, WA
Columbia Cup
(3) U-5 FORMULABOATS.COM, Jeff Bernard

MISS BEACON PLUMBING battled OH BOY! OBERTO throughout lap-one of the Final Heat at the Tri-Cities, Washington. BEACON and Jean Theoret pulled away on lap-two but lost a propeller after three and three-quarter laps.

OH BOY! OBERTO held off a persistent challenge from David Bryant and HOSS MORTGAGE INVESTORS (U-10), which was physically second but had been penalized a lap for jumping the gun.

OBERTO and Steve David finished far ahead of second-place Brian Perkins in ALBERT LEE/SPIRIT OF THE NAVY (U-50) and third-place Jeff Bernard in FORMULABOATS.COM (U-5).

Checking in fourth was the FORMULABOATS.COM II (U-7) back-up hull that stood in for the Detroit-damaged U-7. Relief driver Jimmy Shane handled the substitute U-7 as a replacement for the injured Mike Allen.


Seattle, WA
Chevrolet Cup
(1) U-1 MISS E-LAM PLUS, Dave Villwock
(3) U-5 FORMULABOATS.COM, Jeff Bernard

Dave Villwock and MISS E-Lam PLUS, after being penalized for a lane encroachment in the Tri-Cities finale, did everything according to Hoyle at Seattle and won all four heats, fair and square.

The Final Heat of the Chevrolet Cup was nevertheless controversial. Chief Referee Mike Noonan assessed apparent winners Jean Theoret and MISS BEACON PLUMBING a one-minute penalty for twice falling "off-plane" during the one-minute warm-up period.

BEACON owner Billy Schumacher filed a written protest but the official result was allowed to stand.

OH BOY! OBERTO came close to clinching the National High Point Championship at Seattle with a strong second-place finish. OBERTO passed FORMULABOATS.COM (U-5) on lap-two of the Final Heat and was making up ground on MISS E-LAM PLUS at the finish line.


San Diego, CA
Bill Muncey Cup
(1) U-5 FORMULABOATS.COM, Jeff Bernard
(2) U-37 MISS BEACON PLUMBING, Jean Theoret

OH BOY! OBERTO physically led from the first turn onward in the Final Heat at San Diego but was officially one lap down for having jumped the gun.

FORMULABOATS.COM (U-5) trailed OBERTO by approximately six seconds at the end of lap-five but was officially the winner, ahead of second-place MISS BEACON PLUMBING.

The BEACON team protested that the U-5 should have been penalized for encroaching on the OBERTO prior to the start. But the official result was allowed to stand.

Mike Allen, back in the FORMULABOATS.COM II (U-7) cockpit for the first time since Detroit, placed third. OBERTO was officially fourth in the San Diego finale but had already clinched the National Championship in an earlier heat.


In the words of OH BOY! OBERTO/MISS MADISON driver Steve David, "More than one boat can win a race during the year. But at the end of the season, there can be only one U-1. We dedicate this championship to all of the people of Madison."

Seven times in its history, the MISS MADISON team has finished second in National High Points. The first occurred in 1964 with George "Buddy" Byers as driver and later in 1971 with Jim McCormick, in 1981 with Milner Irvin, in 1993 with Mike Hanson, and in 2005, 2006, and 2007 with Steve David.

The U-6--now the U-1--is the oldest active Unlimited hydroplane team with more seasons of participation than any other team in history. The City of Madison has had a boat in competition every year since 1961. By comparison, the late Bernie Little's MISS BUDWEISER team started in 1963 and retired in 2004.

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