OK, so he isn't perfect. But despite losing a qualifying heat for the first time this year, Dave Villwock still drove Miss Budweiser to a record 10th straight victory Sunday, winning the Chrysler Jeep Gold Cup unlimited hydroplane race and breaking a mark set 21 years ago by the late and legendary Bill Muncey. "Doing something better than Bill Muncey ...well, that's really something," a happy Villwock, 44, said after completing a weather-delayed event on a rough Detroit River course at a slow average speed of 139.416 m.p.h. "We had a lot of delays today, and that gave us a lot of time to change things. The (crew) just kept making adjustments to suit the conditions, and that made all the difference in the world," Villwock said. Second place went to Mark Weber in Miss DYC. But the guy who was happiest to be there and still in one piece was rookie George Stratton, who dodged a bullet and finished third in Appian Jeronimo. N. Mark Evans' Miss E-Lam Plus had stopped dead in the water just before the start when his jet turbine engine was hosed down by the roostertail of another boat. He managed to get a restart, but a lap later the boat lost its gearbox and shut down again on the front straight inches from a seawall just as Weber and Stratton were coming up to lap him. Stratton said all he could see ahead was spray and had drifted wide to stay clear of Weber "when all of a sudden there was (Evans) stopped dead in front of me. I figured that if I tried to come off the throttle I'd run right into him at about 150, so I just stood on the gas, held my breath and went through between him and Mark. "I don't think I had two inches on either side." The buzz on the docks was as much about Miss Budweiser finally losing a qualifier after winning 15 straight heats as it was about Villwock winning the Gold Cup. But even that sole loss wasn't without controversy. Miss Bud appeared to cross the finish line first by 300 yards in the final qualifying heat, but the referees said Villwock had caused a minor collision and assessed him a penalty lap that placed him last. While he wasn't happy about the penalty, a big gash in the bow of Mark Tate's Miss Chrysler Jeep made it tough for Villwock to argue that he had not moved into Tate's lane while jockeying for position seconds before the start. However, it all came out in the wash for Villwock and his 30-foot, scarlet jet-turbine boat as he finished the rough, five-lap, 12.5-mile event 250 yards ahead but 44 m.p.h. slower than the fast qualifying lap he posted Friday. After the penalty, Villwock admitted to being leery about trying to start the Gold Cup in lane 2, and when Weber managed to take the favored inside lane, Villwock opted to move out to lane 3. "I got messed up in lane 2 in the earlier heat, and I had trouble there in a heat yesterday. But we had the boat set up to start in an outside lane, and once I got around clear I had the acceleration and it was good-bye," he said. The Budweiser team has three turbine boats, and Villwock chose to run the Gold Cup in T-5, a 1998 hull that has been rebuilt extensively. A new boat launched last winter ran nearly as fast in testing at Detroit, but Villwock said the older hull seemed to handle the rough water a bit better. In the only accident of the day, Charley Wiggins drove Miss Madison to fourth place in an unlimited qualifying heat, then was knocked out of the Gold Cup when he flipped a smaller hydroplane in a race between unlimited heats. He was not injured seriously. Villwock's record 10 victories in a row gave Miss Budweiser owner Bernie Little his 13th Gold Cup and 126th unlimited win. Villwock won the last six races of 1999 and the first four of 2000. Muncey won the last two races in 1978 and the first seven in 1979.

Order/speed of FINAL HEAT

1. Budweiser 139.416
2. York 136.693
3. Appian 132.073
4. U-2 Chrysler Jeep 131.365
5. Miss Madison 121.755


U1 Dave Villwock, Miss Budweiser (T-5) 162.850
U10 Mark Weber, York DYC 156.724
U9 Mike Hanson, Carpenter Communications 154.558
U16 N. Mark Evans, Miss E-Lam Plus 153.643
U2 Mark Tate, Miss Chrysler Jeep 152.014
U6 Charley Wiggins, Miss Madison 149.900
U5 George Stratton, Appian Jeronimo 146.835
U8 Jimmy King, Llumar Window Film 145.668
U25 Ken Muscatel, Miss Freei 138.501
U3 Mitch Evans, 132.413