By Bill Center ... S.D. UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER ... September 18, 2006 ... Steve David departed Mission Bay last night with only a third of the hardware he was hoping to win. But the veteran Unlimited Hydroplane pilot saw his cup as being far more than half full. “The sport is back,” proclaimed the veteran driver. “What a great way to finish what I believe will be remembered as a turn-around season.” Indeed. The 40th running of the Unlimited Hydroplanes on Mission Bay produced three winners as well as some of the best racing in the event's history. The winners were Jean Theoret (race), David (national driver's championship) and the Mike Allen-piloted FormulaBoats.com II (national boat championship). But the biggest winner was the beleaguered sport of Unlimited Hydroplane racing, which had been shrinking in significance for the past decade. Many believed Unlimited Racing would sink when the late Bernie Little's dominant Miss Budweiser team departed two years ago. Instead, Unlimited Racing has grown stronger – although the megabucks Budweiser influence lives on. Four of the nine Thunderboats on Mission Bay this weekend began their lives as Miss Budweisers – including the newly crowned national champion. But the estimated 50,000 spectators lining the course couldn't mistake the fresh feel to the sport. Two rookie teams dominated yesterday's racing, which began with a record five boats and four drivers entering the ProBoat Models World Championship season finale with a shot at the national championship. The race went to Theoret's turbine-powered boat, owned by former driving champion Billy Schumacher. After pacing the fleet with two victories and two second-place finishes in the heats, the 44-year-old Canadian driver led yesterday afternoon's five-lap finale on the 2½ -mile Bill Muncey Memorial Course from start to finish, giving Schumacher's team its series-leading third win of the season. “We got the big three races, the Gold Cup (Detroit), Seattle and San Diego,” said Schumacher, whose 17th and final victory as a driver came on Mission Bay in his last race in 1976. Theoret credited a “good start” and his boat's strengths for the win. “The things my boat does best is what we needed to do best,” he said. “My boat is good in rough water and it is a good cornering boat.” Theoret averaged 148.066 mph while hugging the inside lane on the choppy water between Fiesta Island and East Vacation Isle. As Theoret finished safely ahead of the piston-powered Cooper Racing, the race inside the race was going on for third and fourth. Having already lost the lead in the national boat championship race, David was barely holding on to the driver's points lead going into the finale, with Allen having a shot at both titles. But David found just enough speed in the older Oh Boy! Oberto to keep Allen at bay. The third-place finish in the championship heat gave David his second straight driver's championship with Allen's driving safely to secure the boat title. “The driver's title wasn't on my mind,” Allen said. “Having the U-1 plate next season means a lot more to the team. We came here with a game plan and stuck to it. If we weren't in the boat title fight, I'd have made a run at David.” Ted Porter's Indiana-based FormulaBoats operation became the first first-year team to win the national boat championship since Muncey's team triumphed in 1976. It was another 20 years before that since another first-year team (Ole Bardahl) won. Dave Villwock came to Mission Bay yesterday with a chance to equal one of his event records and add to another. But the day ended with Villwock sitting helplessly in the middle of the Bill Muncey Memorial Course with a broken engine. “It was an off-balance day,” Villwock said. “Nothing seemed to be in sync.” Villwock had won a record seven of the first 39 Unlimited Hydroplane races in San Diego. And he took the water for the season finale looking to win here for a third straight year – for a second time. But the final wasn't the first thing to go wrong for Villwock and Ellstrom Racing's Miss Elam Plus. The team's hopes of successfully defending its national boat championship ended abruptly in the final preliminary heat when Villwock was disqualified from an apparent victory for a fuel-flow infraction to the boat's Lycoming T-55 engine. It was a different type of engine problem that ended Villwock's day. With a minute to go before the start of the championship heat, Villwock throttled down his boat because of fears that he would be early to the starting line. As the U-1 lost speed, it took saltwater into the turbine engine, causing the power-robbing sputter of compressor stall. Instead of being early to the line, Villwock wound up being late enough to be buried in the wall of water churned up by the other six finalists. Both the engine and Villwock were done for the day.

Hip Hopp ... Although his U-100 Unlimited Hydroplane had so many problems that it was withdrawn from competition yesterday morning, Greg Hopp dominated the Unlimited Lights support race. On Friday, Hopp's Mike's Hard Lemonade set a world qualifying mark for the class with a lap of 126.528 mph around the 1 2/3-mile course. On Saturday, Hopp won both of his heats. Yesterday, Hopp won the Unlimited Lights closer to the weekend of racing. After leading all five laps, Hopp waved to the fans along East Vacation Isle from the cockpit of his boat.

FINAL HEAT (WC) Official Results ...

(1) U-37 Beacon Plumbing, Jean Theoret ... 148.066
(2) U-3 Master Tire, Jimmy King ... 146.650
(3) U-6 Oh Boy! Oberto, Steven David ... 142.159
(4) U-7 FormulaBoats.com II, Mike Allen ... 141.199
(5) U-5 FormulaBoats.com, Jeff Bernard ... 133.628
(6) U-2 Superior Racing, Ken Muscatel ... 122.663
(7) U-1 Miss ELAM Plus, Dave Villwock ... DNF

HEAT 4A Official Results ...

U-3 Master Tire, Jimmy King ... 147.675
U-5 FormulaBoats.com, Jeff Bernard ... 131.729
U-37 Beacon Plumbing, Jean Theoret ... DNF
U-1 Miss ELAM Plus, Dave Villwock ... DSQ

HEAT 4B Official Results ...

U-7 FormulaBoats.com II, Mike Allen ... 147.869
U-6 Oh Boy! Oberto, Steven David ... 141.826
U-2 Superior Racing, Ken Muscatel ... 133.266
U-10 Glass & Shower, JW Meyers ... DNF

HEAT 3A Official Results ...

U-37 Beacon Plumbing, Jean Theoret ... 157.015
U-1 Miss ELAM Plus, Dave Villwock ... 155.737
U-10 Glass & Shower, JW Meyers ... 142.500
U-6 Oh Boy! Oberto, Steven David ... 137.683

HEAT 3B Official Results ...

U-7 FormulaBoats.com II, Mike Allen ... 147.562
U-5 FormulaBoats.com, Jeff Bernard ... 145.374
U-3 Master Tire, Jimmy King ... 139.118
U-2 Superior Racing, Ken Muscatel ... 128.865

HEAT 2A Official Results ...

U-5 FormulaBoats.com, Jeff Bernard ... 144.123
U-6 Oh Boy! Oberto, Steven David ... 142.117
U-10 Glass & Shower, JW Meyers ... 139.818
U-2 Superior Racing, Ken Muscatel ... 116.634

HEAT 2B Official Results ...

U-1 Miss ELAM Plus, Dave Villwock ... 155.583
U-7 FormulaBoats.com II, Mike Allen ... 155.386
U-37 Beacon Plumbing, Jean Theoret ... 154.957
U-3 Master Tire, Jimmy King ... 144.138

HEAT 1A Official Results ...

U-3 Master Tire, Jimmy King ... 149.407
U-5 FormulaBoats.com, Jeff Bernard ... 149.060
U-10 Glass & Shower, JW Meyers ... 126.181
U-2 Superior Racing, Ken Muscatel ... 126.163
U-100 American Dream, Greg Hopp ... DNF

HEAT 1B Official Results ...

U-8 Beacon Plumbing, Jean Theoret ... 157.456
U-7 FormulaBoats.com II, Mike Allen ... 155.791
U-1 Miss ELAM Plus, Dave Villwock ... 152.254
U-6 Oh Boy! Oberto, Steven David ... 139.320

Results from Qualifying ...

U- 1 Miss E-Lam Plus ... Dave Villwock ... 165.660
U- 7 FormulaBoats.com II ... Mike Allen ... 163.016
U- 3 Master Tire ... Jimmy King ... 162.751
U- 37 Beacon Plumbing ... Jean Theoret ... 162.223
U- 10 Designer Glass and Shower ... JW Myers ... 161.348
U- 6 Oh Boy! Oberto ... Steve David ... 158.111
U- 5 FormulaBoats.com ... Jeff Bernard ... 156.513
U- 2 Superior Racing ... Ken Muscatel ... 150.940
U- 100 Lakeridge Paving American Dream ... Greg Hopp ... 126.989

Sept 16 ... After nearly 20 years in his sport, Steve David is at the top of the Unlimited Hydroplane world. As soon as this afternoon, David could clinch a second straight driver's championship. And if things go well tomorrow on Mission Bay, he could direct his ride, Oh Boy Oberto, to the national boat championship. These should be giddy times for the 52-year-old Florida real estate magnate – a chance to cash in. But the Unlimited Hydroplane tour isn't exactly NASCAR's Nextel Cup. There is no million-dollar payday awaiting David. “Six hundred,” says David when asked how much he plans to pocket if he joins such legends as Bill Muncey, Chip Hanauer, Dean Chenoweth, Mickey Remund and Dave Villwock by winning a second straight driver's title. That's not $600,000, mind you. That's $600. “I get $100 for each heat I've won,” says David with a laugh. “The drivers in this sport are not in it for the money.” Which, given the demands and dangers of Unlimited racing, makes little sense. Few forms of racing demand more from the driver. Remember, the course beneath a Thunderboat is not a solid asphalt path. It is water – and it is moving with the wind and the wakes of other boats. And the boat is really a wing that wants to fly. The Unlimited Hydroplane driver is actually trying to fly the boat just above the surface with the prop and skid fin the only connection with the ever-changing water below. At the same time he's trying to steer clear of other boats and the towering walls of water churned up by props spinning at 10,000 rpm. David's contract? “Six figures,” jokes Charlie Grooms, who manages the community-owned Oberto hull out of Madison, Ind. “Make it seven figures.” You could make it eight or nine. “Whole numbers would mess up the symmetry,” says David. Because they're all zeros. Actually, there is no contract. David had one once – a four-year deal just over a decade ago that paid him more than $100,000 a year. But those were better times for the sport. Today, most of the nine boats here this weekend are fielded by teams of volunteers, including the drivers. David doesn't mind. “I never wanted to be a professional driver,” he says, which, given the circumstances, is an appropriate position. There will be no national headlines and visits to the talk shows for David if he wins his second straight title. Hanauer was the most recent Unlimited driver to get that type of attention – and that was two decades ago. David has his boat in the hunt for two titles although the hull has some disadvantages. It is the oldest (built in 1988), heaviest (by 600 pounds) and narrowest in the fleet. David hasn't won a finals race this year. As expected, David was only the sixth-fastest among the nine Unlimiteds that qualified yesterday for today's first two rounds of heat races on the 2.5-mile Bill Muncey Memorial Course between Fiesta Island and East Vacation Isle.