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Originally published Thursday, July 26, 2012 at 9:57 PM

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Dave Villwock, Spirit of Qatar looks for third win as series moves to Tri-Cities for Columbia Cup | Hydroplanes

The annual golf tournament that the Tri-City Water Follies puts together the day before the Lamb West Columbia Cup is one of the most popular...

Tri-City Herald

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KENNEWICK — The annual golf tournament that the Tri-City Water Follies puts together the day before the Lamb West Columbia Cup is one of the most popular events in H1 Unlimited hydroplanes series.

But while most spent Thursday golfing, eating, drinking and patting each other on the back at Kennewick's Canyon Lakes Golf Course, Erick Ellstrom spent the afternoon in Lampson Pits getting ready for this weekend's race.

"I don't like golf," said Ellstrom, whose family owns the U-1 Spirit of Qatar. "This is a serious year for us. Our whole mentality and goal is to throw everything but the kitchen sink at our opponents."

So far, that's worked for the defending national champions, as Dave Villwock drove the Qatar to victories in the season's first two races in Madison, Ind., and Detroit.

Twelve other race teams will take a crack at Qatar beginning today, with qualifying at 1:50 p.m.

There will be two heat races on Saturday. On Sunday, there will be four more preliminary heats, and the Columbia Cup final is set for 4 p.m.

H1 Chairman Sam Cole likes what he's seen in the circuit's first two races.

"I think we've put the driving back in the drivers' hands," said Cole, referring to drivers having to fight for lanes rather than driving assigned lanes.

That has played right into the hands of the two most veteran pilots on the circuit — Villwock and U-6 Oh Boy! Oberto driver Steve David. Both are 58 years old.

Villwock is the all-time leader in career victories at 67.

They rank 1 and 2 in the standings — Villwock and Qatar have 3,650 points. David and Oberto are at 3,135. Jimmy Shane and the U-5 Graham Trucking are a distant third at 2,073.

Still, Cole wouldn't be surprised if someone else comes away with a win here.

Ellstrom, who was standing in the shade in Columbia Park on Thursday afternoon, was looking up at the huge oak tree at the east end of the pits while everyone else was golfing.

This was always Bernie Little's tree, because the late Miss Budweiser owner spent the money to save it from disease years ago.

Nowadays, the winner of the previous year's Columbia Cup gets to park its boat under that tree the following season.

Ellstrom's team gets that coveted shade for the first time in four years — the previous three years it was Oberto's.

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