Wednesday, May 13, 2009

After Hours at the Races

One of the hidden secrets of racing at Reno is the things that happen after the races have ended or before the crowds arrive.

Racers are required to be there by the Sunday before Race Week. It’s always fun to get there a few days early and watch the “arrivals”. Low passes and fly-bys are the order of the day. You wouldn’t want to miss the arrival of some of the big iron, especial the old Ione Air Force.

My crew and I usually arrive either Friday or Saturday to begin the Tech Inspections. Each class has Technical Inspections that happen before any aircraft is allowed on the race course. The classes all have different criteria they look for, and the inspectors also check for FAA requirements. Some inspections take a few hours, some go on for days.

In the Biplane Class, we have two gentlemen who go through our airplanes with a fine toothed comb. They are not looking to nitpick. They are looking to keep the airplanes and the pilots safe. Our Lead Tech Inspector is JC Brandt and he is assisted by his brother, Bob. These two have found many little problems and sometimes a few large ones.

My first race year, they found a hair brush under my seat – which had fallen out when I was retrieving my purse – and had not been there during my flight, HONEST! Well, the next day I had a case of Aqua Net Hair Spray in my Pit. Did I mention a good amount of teasing is done (pun intended).

Two years ago, they found a more serious problem. This inspection uncovered a structural issue with my race plane that needed to be repaired before they plane could fly again. I was actually envisioning taking the wings off and trucking the airplane home where repairs would take place.

Randy Goss, the son of famed T6 Champion, Al Goss, laughed at me and told me to go find Lonnie over at the Rare Bear Crew. He was apparently an Artiste with a welding gun. Two hours later, we were ready to go. It cost me a case of beer and I found friends for life. A year later, George Giboney and John Parker of Thunder Mustang fame were kind enough to help with another large issue.

This is also the time where we all reconnect. Many of us have known each other for 10+ years, however – we only see each during that ten day period in September. There are lots of hugs and chit chat and catching up over a beer happening during these early days.

One of the other events that take place includes the T6 Salsa Party. Each T6 team makes their Masterpiece Salsa. Beer, Margaritas and jell-o shots are shared along with the large trays of salsa and chips. Because of the nature of these people, the competition is fierce. Everyone works hard to make their best possible salsa. Mango, pineapple, hot, medium and mild; it’s all there. And it’s all in good fun.

One of the past events, which have sadly gone dormant over the years, is the tug races. Each team would have their tugs out and raced them on the taxi ways. I’ve heard the stories, but have never seen them. They have been replaced to some degree by golf cart races – but it’s not nearly as much fun.

After sunset, you will sometimes see the Unlimiteds come out to do “night runs”. Last year, Voodoo and 232 were out nearly every night entertaining the crowds. 232 let’s out some unbelievable flames that are quite visible in the darkness, as seen in the picture. I don’t think I missed a night run last year. All of them were breathtaking and ear drum breaking.

Just after sunrise, you will sometimes see the “dawn patrol” – again after a day and night of wrenching, some of the aircraft are taken up at the crack of dawn to test whatever modifications were done. These are always fun to watch as well. Last year, Strega was up several mornings during the week. Dago Red and Voodoo were also out for early runs. Many fans would come out a little early to see them take to the air.

Provenance Fighter Sales would have Margarita parties nearly every night when they brought a contender to the show. They had a little Tiki Bar set up and always had a crowd. I cherish all of my PFS shot glasses, t-shirts, hats and visors. I hope they bring another racer, the bar and blender again soon!

But, the grandfather of all race events has got to be the Warlock Party. I have attended for several years and wouldn’t miss it for the world. Nearly every racer and crew member attends, some for a few minutes, some stay late, and others dance and sing the night away.

Yes, there is a band. We affectionately call it the Warlock Band. There is singing, by Al and Randy Goss, Anita and even Sandy Sanders has taken the microphone now and again. Randy Goss and I have threatened to do a duet one year. Maybe 2009 will be the year!?

Al Goss is the man behind Warlock. He has the most dedicated crew and fan following of any non-unlimited team. Al has been racing since 1981. He has been a contender every time. He is a class act and a good friend. When I do something stupid, he shakes his head, when I do something smart, he nods his head. It is nearly indecipherable to most, but I know what he’s saying. He’s not a man of many words.

Weddings have occurred at the Warlock Party. In fact, we may have another one this year. What better way to start your life together than to get married during the Reno Air Races at the Warlock Party!

As you can see in the pictures, everyone is wearing their Warlock hat, visor, shirt, or jacket. I even have a Warlock Thermometer on my deck. Wearing your Warlock Gear is the highway to COOL! So, if you want to be one of the insiders at Reno, hop on over the Warlock Pit and get yourself some Warlock Gear. Say Hello to Al, Randy, David, and Anita.

Other news…

This month, I was hoping to do a story about Furias’ return to Reno. However, it looks like the team has decided that there was too much work to do and to make sure they weren’t rushed, they decided to aim for 2010 instead of 2009. I take my hat off to the team for making a tough but probably wise decision.

Pylon Racing School, aka PRS or Rookie School will take place mid June. The number of rookies this year is pretty low, so if you are thinking about racing your wings, head over the RARA’s website ( to learn more about it.

May brings us several awesome airshows and events, including the Red Bull event in San Diego. Hannes Arch won the first race of the year in Abu Dhabi. Paul Bonhomme and Nicolai Ivanhoff joined him on the podium in second and third respectively.

The Chino Planes of Fame Airshow is always a favorite for anyone interested in Warbirds. This year they will be honoring Grumman Aircraft. The Horseman will be doing their amazing formation aerobatics in three Bearcats. This is an amazing show, folks!

Watsonville and Madera Airshows are also on the agenda for May. Both of these shows are worth the weekend away to see some beautiful and rare aircraft.

Check your local areas for shows near you. And don’t forget to make your reservations for Reno as soon as possible. The Blue Angels will be there this year, for the first time since 2000.

Fly low, Fly Fast, Turn Left

Marilyn Dash

Ruby Red Racing


Credit = Tim Adams

Caption = September Fury during a night run

Credit – Tim Adams

Caption = Strategies are worked out before and after the races

Al Goss

Credit = Dr. Fred

Caption = Everyone’s favorite racer, Al Goss.

Warlock Band

Credit – Dr. Fred

Caption = The Warlock Band rocks the pits.


Credit Tim Adams

Caption: After the engine change, Voodoo does their night run.

early morning with Strega

Credit Tim Adams


Strega takes to the air for her Dawn Patrol