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A hot, muggy weekend of racing on the Ohio River was dampened by two serious accidents on the water during the Madison Regatta Sunday.
In the final outcome, Miss Madison’s Oh Boy! Oberto was declared the 2011 Lucas Oil Indiana Governor’s Cup champion. It was a bittersweet victory. The winning hydroplane was a broken battler and winning driver Steve David, a bruised warrior, learned of his victory in a hospital emergency room.
While David was released from the hospital later in the evening, three race course rescue workers were not so fortunate after a horrifying mishap involving their patrol boat and one of the competing hydros.
Spectators lining the Milton and Madison shorelines were treated to two flawless preliminary rounds of competition by the lightning-quick Unlimited hydroplanes. Following heats 1-A, 1-B and 1-C, and heats 2-A. 2-B and 2-C, three boats—Madison’s U-1 Oh Boy! Oberto, U-96 Spirit of Qatar and U-17 Miss Red Dot—were tied in points with two heat wins each. Point totals after heats 3-A, 3-B and 3-C would determine which five of the 12 boats in the pits would qualify for the championship heat later in the day.
Heat 3-A was underway when the third-place boat, U-21 Miss Lakeridge Paving driven by Brian Perkins, spun and went inside a turn buoy on the west end of the race course. By race rules Perkins was required to cut through the infield of the course and re-do the turn. In doing so Perkins, blinded by a huge shower of water after the spin, ran over a 16-ft rescue craft positioned in its proper place inside the turn buoys.
The three occupants were thrown skyward, their aluminum craft a tangled mess. The three were recovered from the water by another rescue craft and rushed to shore. Chris Cutshall, 31, of Madison, and Angela Greenwell, 34, of Louisville, were airlifted to University of Louisville Hospital for treatment, Cutshall with head injuries, Greenwell with a broken femur. The third individual, Michael Brand, 46, of Ohio, was treated and released by the emergency staff at King’s Daughters’ Hospital in Madison.
Perkins was unhurt. His hydroplane sustained minor damage.
Following the delay created by the rescue effort and cleanup of debris from the race course, H1 Unlimited officials elected to cancel the third set of preliminary heats and proceeded to prepare for the final.
In the final, David grabbed the inside lane forcing Dave Villwock in the U-96 Spirit of Qatar, Kip Brown in the U-17 Miss red Dot and rookie Scott Liddycoat in the U-7 Valken Sports outside of him on the race course. Jeff Bernard in the U-5 Graham Trucking trailed the field a roostertail back at the start.
David led the field through the first turn before Villwock’s craft showed greater straightaway speed on the backstretch. David running second kept the pressure on the leader through three laps followed by Brown, Liddycoat and Bernard in that order.
Charging through the first turn of the fourth lap, “we had them pretty much covered and we were just trying to be nice to them instead of coming over a little quicker,” Villwock said. “I just fell in a hole and came around and then (David) ran over us.”
David said there was no time to react.
“We went into that turn and he was outside—maybe in lane two-and-a-half—and I’m in lane one and (Crew Chief) Mike (Hanson) on the radio said, ‘Dave hooked,’ and the next thing boom we’re right on top of him because he went right in front and we went over,” David said. “There was just nothing you could do, and it was all up to the Lord at that point.”
After three laps by five boats on the shortened, 1-2/3 mile race course the wakes of the boats going through the lower turn were not dissipating quickly.
“The water down the river was just too rough to get through,” Villwock said. “I took a flyer the lap before. I hit a big hole and flew out a lane or so and that time I just hit one and went left.”
The Oberto ramped over the Qatar, barrel-rolled in the air and landed rightside up. The race was immediately red-flagged as rescue personnel rushed to the scene.
The two drivers were returned to shore and checked out by medical crews before David was transported to KDH for further observation. Villwock remained at the race pits.
“Fortunately, he’s okay,” Miss Madison, Inc. President Bob Hughes said. “He got out of the ambulance, I guess, and didn’t go to the hospital. He looked good. I’m glad that we didn’t go over his cockpit and damage him, that’s for sure.”
After a lengthy period to review the accident and available video footage from several viewpoints, H1 Unlimited officials announced that the Spirit of Qatar was disqualified for changing lanes and causing the accident. David and the Oberto were declared the winners of the race.
H1 Unlimited Chief Referee Mike Noonan, who watched the accident from overhead in a helicopter, said “the decision was based on the fact that the (Qatar) hooked and changed lanes directly in front of the (Oberto). The (Oberto) had no place to go and by changing lanes into his lane (Villwock) caused Steve to collide with him. They both caused the stoppage but if Dave hadn’t hooked and driven in front of Steve then Steve would not have hit him. So the (boat) responsible is the U-96. It was just a bad racing accident but there was an infraction and we called it as a lane change on the 96.”
Hughes said the fact that Villwock was disqualified and scored no points in the final was “well deserving. He made a dumb mistake and really cost us a lot of work and himself a lot of work and we’re going to be lucky to have a boat ready for Detroit, as I’m sure he’s going to have the same problem. It was simply too much zeal on his half, I think, trying too hard to beat us and made a big mistake and came into our lane.
“I hope he learns from it,” Hughes said. “He’s made several mistakes over the last three years that we’ve benefited from. I hope he can learn from this one and maybe not make the same mistake again.”
The Madison-based Oberto team will lease a replacement hull for this weekend’s American Power Boat Association Gold Cup race in Detroit. The team will compete with the former U-9 owned by Mike and Lorie Jones of Seattle and will race the boat as the U-1 Oh Boy! Oberto. Current Oberto crew chief Mike Hanson drove the U-9 hull to a Gold Cup championship in 2001.
At press time David’s status as driver for this weekend’s Gold Cup was in doubt. Following his release from the hospital Sunday, David said he was “fine. I could go out in a boat right now and be okay. My ribs are bruised and that’s it. My black eyes are from the glasses, but I feel great. All the safety systems worked perfect, absolutely flawless.”
On Monday, David posted on Facebook that he had “some non-displaced radial fractures of the left lower ribs. I’ll be in great shape for TriCities and Seattle” later in the season. He said the team would be making an announcement later this week about the “driver that will race for us in Detroit.”
While the U-1 hydro is damaged too extensively to get ready for the upcoming weekend race, the Spirit of Qatar was transported to the Evansville, Ind., shop of longtime U-3 team owner Ed Cooper to undergo repairs. The U-21 Miss Lakeridge Paving is also at Cooper’s shop.
“Thank God Dave’s okay and I’m okay but our boat is trashed,” David said Sunday evening while looking over the extensive damage to his boat. “On the one hand you’re thankful that everyone’s okay and then on the other hand we were well set up for our fourth national championship. Although we won this race it’s a heck of a cost to win the race.”
Video of the final heat crash of the Spirit of Qatar and Oh Boy! Oberto may be viewed at www.h1unlimited.com.