Friday, November 20, 2009

The Pylon Place - Off Season Updates

It’s always difficult to write about Air Racing after the Reno Recap is done. Most teams are so exhausted from the months of preparation and the nearly two weeks of Reno, we practically go into hibernation for a few weeks or even months. But, this is the perfect time for planning. So, what is going on prepping for the pylons?

Strega Victory Party

This is the second year I was lucky enough to be invited to the Strega Victory Party. And what a party it was. Tiger pranced around like a proud retired air racer now team owner. He was the Master of Ceremonies and the Host with the Most. His smile never left his face -- that is a happy man.

Credit: Victor Archer
Caption: This year’s champion, Strega

Only one person in that room was happier than Tiger, and that was our new Champion, Stevo Hinton. Yes, Stevo – I’ve been calling him Stevo for six years and I’m not going to stop now. Stevo is still the same Airport Kid, but now he has a title, a trophy, a gold jacket and a list of records as long as his arm. He is still smart, and charming and humble and terrific. I credit Steven and Karen for raising such a fabulous kid. Never change, Stevo – we love you just the way you are.

The third face in the crowd was LD Hughes. LD has been with Tiger for years. And is now the Crew Chief for Strega and also a good friend and mentor to Stevo. Their friendship seems more like a brotherhood, with the same daunting purpose. A great pilot in his own right, I wonder when LD will be turning the pylons instead of turning the wrenches. Only time will tell.

Another thing you notice about the Strega Team is the longevity of the ownership and the crew. Nearly everyone on that crew has been there a while. I believe that adds to their success. They work together like a well oiled machine. It’s inspiring to say the least.

Congrats again to Tiger, Stevo, LD and the rest of the Strega Crew. A special shout out to the wives who have made me feel like a member of the family from the beginning, especially Tracy, Kathleen, and Linda. Another big thanks to Al and Anita for babysitting. You guys rock!

Galloping Ghost

She has flown. In fact, she had her first flight in her current configuration on September 21st - the day after the Final Gold. If only a month earlier, we likely would have seen the Silver Ghost flying around the pylons. I’m still impressed by the effort of the team, including pilot/owner - Jimmy Leeward, engine builder - Rick Shanholtzer, crew chief - Erik Hokuf, and assorted and sundry wrenches and experts. The boil-off system we have heard so much about apparently works great. A scoopless Mustang with just a trail of vapor becomes a sleeker machine.
The plan for the team is to continue working on the racer and to be at PRS in June.

More information can be found at Leeward’s website and I believe t-shirts are also available. We wish Jimmy and the entire team much luck and we look forward to seeing them at PRS and again in September. Congratulations, Mr. Leeward.

Credit: Victor Archer
Caption: Jimmy and the Ghost will be there in 2010

Blue Skies

A good friend to Warbirds and Air Racing, Gary Austin, was lost to us in October. I met Gary at PRS in 2007 when he flew his tiny Cassutt, Maybee´s Baby, from Midland, TX to Reno, NV. The racer only carries 17 gallons of fuel, which gave him about a 3 hour range. It took him six legs to get there, but he arrived.

Photographer: Gary Austin
CAPTION: Maybee’s Baby last raced in Cleveland in 1971.

In his own words, from his recollection of the races that year:
Okay, so once at Stead, everything just fell into place. All of a sudden, I wasn't nervous or apprehensive about anything. It just felt right. It was as though I belonged there. Remember, this is something I've been wanting to do since I was six years old, at the 1976 Reno Air Races. I know my Grandfather, who would hold my hand while explaining the different airplanes to me, was watching me from above and was proud of me for finally making it.

He only raced in 2007. And he won the Rookie of the Year award in IF1. He deserved it, for his spunk and tenacity alone.

The Racer he was building to race in 2008 had a structural problem that was found prior to the first flight. But, he was there at the races lending a hand to everyone who had a question or a problem with their planes.

Gary wrote about everything. He gave a detailed account of the restoration of the Commemorative Air Force’s B24. He wrote about his trip to PRS and his trip to Reno in September. He wrote about an experience he had in a Pitts when the canopy collapsed on top of him and he was able to fly the damaged bird back to the airport and land it safely. He liked to say he wasn’t a very good typist or writer, but he was a heck of a story teller.

Credit: Tim Adams
Caption: Maybee’s Baby on the Pylons during Reno 2007

Caption: He was happiest when he was around airplanes.

Sorry to see you go, Gary.
Blue Skies and Tailwinds, forever…

And to the rest of the racing fans, Fly low, Fly fast and turn left.

Marilyn Dash
Ruby Red Racing
The Pylon Place