Steve David was taking cover from the rain in his trailer Friday at Seafair, looking out at Stan Sayres Pits when the question was posed.
Is the end of his successful hydroplane career near?
The context for the question is clear: David is 59 years old. The U-1 Oh Boy! Oberto driver has accomplished enough in a quarter-century to satisfy three or four drivers.
In May, the sport’s winningest driver, Dave Villwock, retired — the former rivals are the same age — which makes it a natural question for David, a Realtor from Lighthouse Point, Fla.
But as for a satisfying answer …
“I still subscribe to Highlights magazine, so I’m still feeling young,” David joked, referring to the children’s magazine.
David said he would discuss his future with the rest of the team after the final race in San Diego next month.
So perhaps the end is near?
“I’m almost 60,” David said. “I’m probably limited to another 20 years or so.”
So perhaps the end isn’t near, but he can see it from here?
“I’m feeling great, and we’re winning races, and as long as I’m doing that, I’m going to continue to drive,” David said.
Hard to argue with that answer. David easily was the top qualifier Friday at 152.229 mph. He’s trying to set himself up for a historic weekend. A victory in Sunday afternoon’s Albert Lee Cup final would be his fourth in a row, tying him with Bill Muncey for most consecutive Seafair wins.
“To most of us who are my age, which is north of a hundred, he’s somewhat of a legend to us,” said David, referring to the driver who is No. 2 on the sport’s win list.
David, the 2012 national high points champion, tops this year’s standings. He has won the national driver championship six of the past eight years.
“The Oberto is kind of having its own way with things,” said Villwock, who is working with the U-37 Miss Beacon Plumbing this season. “They’re the clear favorites. They’ve definitely got a clear advantage over the field.”
Since the Miss Budweiser team, which dominated the sport, broke up after the 2004 season, David has been the sport’s most successful driver. He won national titles in 2005 and 2006 despite having what he claimed was the oldest and heaviest boat on the circuit.
“That’s a pretty amazing thing, to be a national champion when you clearly don’t have as much speed as some of the people you’re racing,” hydroplane historian David Williams said.
The new hull was launched in 2007, and after that first year, David’s team has won four of the past five national titles.
So has he earned a place on hydroplane racing’s Mount Rushmore alongside Villwock, Muncey and Chip Hanauer (third on the win list)? His 18 career victories are sixth on the win list. His six national titles are fourth.
The one hole in his résumé is the lack of a Gold Cup win on the Detroit River. The Gold Cup is hydroplane racing’s version of the Daytona 500 — its signature event. David has finished second at the Gold Cup 12 times.
Gold Cup or no, David has long been lauded as the nicest guy in the pits. He’s known for his charity work, always making time for children and his quick smile.
“He has, by far, the most depth and width of any driver,” said Larry Oberto, the sponsor’s representative.
“His amazing ability to connect with people, it’s a sponsor’s dream,” he added.
The U-37 Miss Beacon Plumbing was unable to qualify. The boat flipped last weekend in the Tri-Cities. It was ready Friday morning, but some of the repairs didn’t hold during a testing session. ... The award for the longest boat name at this year’s Seafair goes to the Fox Plumbing & Heating presents Team Red Dot powered by Les Schwab Tires. … Former Kitsap BlueJackets baseball player Jamie Nilsen qualified for his first race in the U-48 Snoqualmie Casino at 137.184 mph. He had to do it twice after his first mark was wiped out because his boat didn’t pass the post-qualifying inspection. The 57 FEDCO also was given an N2 penalty and didn’t record a qualifying speed. … Heats 1A and 1B are Saturday starting at 12:50 p.m.