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MOTOR RACING

Everything Is Normal Again for Hydroplanes

September 20, 2002|SHAV GLICK

On the weekend after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States last year, sports in this country pretty much shut down. Major League Baseball, the NFL, most college football, auto racing and soccer canceled their scheduled events.

Unlimited hydroplane racing in San Diego's Mission Bay was among the exceptions.

Promoter Jim Kidrick, a 21-year Navy combat pilot, decided that people needed some relief from watching and talking about the events of the previous Tuesday.

Despite travel problems that prevented some racing personnel from reaching San Diego until Saturday, the races went on.

"It was a tough decision on his part and he got a little heat at the time, but it turned out great," said Gary Garbrecht, president of Hydro-Prop, operator of the Budweiser Unlimited Hydroplane Series.

On race day, more than 75,000 spectators lined Fiesta Island and Crown Point Shores. It was the largest crowd in several years.

"Somehow, I think Jim felt the public needed a break, and maybe a couple of hours of boat racing would be the right diversion," said hall-of-fame driver Chip Hanauer, executive director of this year's race. "It couldn't have worked out better."

The three-ton, 28-foot long unlimiteds will be back this week, churning up Mission Bay with their 220 mph trademark roostertails.

The San Diego Thunderboat Regatta, sponsored by Classmates.com, will have its 37th running Sunday with Nate Brown defending his Bill Muncey Cup championship in U-16 Miss Elam Plus and Dave Villwock seeking his sixth series crown in U-1 Miss Budweiser.

In five races this year, Villwock has won three and Brown two, giving the Miss Budweiser pilot a 772-630 lead in points.

Other possible winners include Mike Hanson, U-9 Sun Harbor Mortgage; Mark Tate, U-2 Miss Trendwest; and Terry Troxell, U-99 Miss Troxilla.

"It's a mathematical scenario, and anything can happen," said Villwock of his championship hopes. "The entire field will be letting it all hang out because it is the last race of the season."

Villwock, team manager of Circus Circus when Hanauer won the drivers' championship in 1989, has won five times in San Diego, 1992 in Coors Light, and '94, '98, '99 and 2000 in Miss Budweiser.

Bernie Little, 76, owner of Miss Budweiser, was hospitalized this season because of pneumonia and missed three races, but his team is on the brink of winning its 22nd championship.

"We've met every goal this year but one, and we're close," said Little. "At the start of the year, I told the team we had three goals. Our first goal was to win the first race of the season [at Evansville, Ind.], which we did. Second, I told them I wanted a 14th Gold Cup, which the team delivered [in Detroit]. And our final goal was a 22nd championship. I hope to celebrate three for three on Sunday."

Little, co-owner of Hydro-Prop last year, sold his 50% interest to Garbrecht during the off-season.

"Gary is the premier businessman in powerboating today," Little said after bowing out. "He has done a great job in helping get the sport turned around. Now that he has his management team in place, I think that it is best that I concentrate on running my team and let Gary have total ownership of the sport."

Proceeds from the weekend will benefit Children's Hospital and Health Center in San Diego.

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Sports Cars

If the CART/IRL split has made a mess of open-wheel racing, the American LeMans Series and the Grand American Rolex Series have done much the same in sports cars. Two powerful groups, American LeMans, led by Don Panoz, and Grand American, under Bill France family management, have gone their separate ways, splitting an already thin following.

The American LeMans series, featuring factory competition among Audi, Cadillac and Panoz prototypes and between Corvette and Porsche production cars, will be at Laguna Seca's Mazda Raceway this weekend for the eighth race of a 10-race schedule.

The Grand American series, which ran last March at California Speedway, will close its season Nov. 10 at Daytona International Speedway, with a six-hour enduro on its home track.

"The way we see it is that the Grand American, by its own admission, focuses primarily on gentleman-type racers and is not intended specifically for manufacturers and professional drivers," said Scott Atherton, American LeMans president and former California Speedway president. "We are at the other end of the spectrum, embracing manufacturers and incorporating the 24 Hours of LeMans rules and trademark into our series."

Audi will have two cars at Laguna Seca in the 38-car lineup Sunday. Emanuele Pierro, defending American LeMans champion, and Frank Biela will co-drive the Audi that won in France two months ago. Tom Kristensen will co-drive the Audi that finished second at LeMans. Biela and Pierro won last year's Laguna Seca event.

Drivers often compete in both series. Bill Auberlen, who will co-drive a Panoz with former CART driver Bryan Herta at Laguna Seca, shares a Ferrari with Cort Wagner in the Grand American series.

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