Saturday, January 2, 2010

Books on Air Racing

During the off-season, when there isn’t enough news to keep the fans interested, I say we take a look at our book shelves and see how Air Racing has been covered in Literature, Biographies and Nonfiction.

Did you know there are two novels written about Air Racing?

The first was written by William Faulkner and is called Pylon. It isn’t exactly fun and easy reading, but it is a classic. Faulkner participated in Air Shows during the early 30’s and many of the stories in the book are based on his real life experiences. The characters are based on real people he met along the way. But, very little of this book resemble the characters and events of the National Championship Air Races or any other form of Air Racing.

The plot follows a reporter sent to cover the activities of barnstormer pilots in a dusty forgotten town. Drunkenness, embezzlement and relationship issues ensue and make for a dark novel.

If you want to introduce your friends to Air Racing, this isn’t the novel to get them excited about it. I would recommend it to Faulkner fans and to others who enjoy a challenge and would like to see how Racing was depicted in the 30’s.

A better choice would be Gods of the Pylon by Jim Tausworthe. A well done dramatic story of a Reno Race Pilot banned for five years because of “aggressive” flying on the race course. He vows to return and does, in a hot new racer. Pilots admire him, fear him and the fans are drawn to him. Of course, there is a love story, but you can quickly skim those pages and get back to the racing action.

While not “literature”, Gods of the Pylon is a worthwhile and entertaining read. The author, Tausworthe, has written several novels mostly centered on aviation. He served in the US Army Air Corps where he flew the B-25 and A-26. He was also a Flight Instructor and is now retired in the Ozarks. His novel feels authentic and you will be able to pick out personality traits of some famous racers both old and new.


The most recent work about Air Racing released last year is Dell Rourk’s Racing for the Gold: The Story of Lyle Shelton and the Rare Bear. This is a great addition to the collection for any Race Fan. Dell follows the journey of Lyle Shelton from finding The Bear through his rollercoaster career of highs and lows.
Dell is a pilot and a historian. She and her husband, Hersh, were part of the Rare Bear Air Racing Team for many years and her memory and access make this a realistic and fact-based journey. Rare Bear has won Reno 10 times and set the speed record for piston-driven aircraft of 528.33 mph. Yet, this machine started out life sitting in the weeds behind a hangar in Valpariso, Indiana.

You will never look at the success Lyle had over the years the same way after knowing how hard he worked to keep The Bear in the air all those years. Every dollar, every minute, every acquaintance worked toward the ultimate goal, the National Championship.

Many of the newer fans won’t know of Shelton’s leadership in the world of Air Racing. He is a legend and the sport is better for having him be part of our history.

Lyle sold Rare Bear to Rod Lewis after the 2006 Season. Since then, she has continued her success with a win and a 2nd place. Her history is still in the making. And her incredibly loyal fans are thrilled.

This is another book I recommend highly for all Air Racing fans.

Fly Low, Fly Fast

The most popular book about Air Racing is probably Robert Gandt’s Fly Low, Fly Fast: Inside the Reno Air Races.

Gandt has written numerous fiction and non-fiction aviation themed books. He was a Naval Aviator, Flight Instructor, Air Show Performer and Airline Captain. His fascination with high adrenalin flying and Warbirds brought him to Reno and to writing this insider account of Air Racing.

Taking the reader inside the pits and deeper into the “Room with Hard Benches” also known as the Pilot Briefing Room, he delivers a riveting account of the races. When I first considered racing, I read this book. And each year before I go back, I pick it up again to remind myself of the romance and energy that is Reno.

Another must read for any Racing Fan – and probably for any Aviation Fan.

Gentlemen, you have a Race…

This book covers the history of the Reno National Championship Air Races from 1964-1983 by John Tegler. If you are a historian, this is a must read. The pictures are a treasure, as is the story of how Bill Stead went from the idea to the realization.

He doesn’t just cover the Unlimiteds, he covers all of the classes and really knows his stuff. You will be the envy of all your friends after reading this book and showing off your incredible knowledge at the Air Races in 2010. For me, it put the names into context. Sadly, this book is out of print, but still available at used book stores and online.

Other important works

Philip Handleman has authored several books on Air Racing including Air Racing Today: Heavy Iron at Reno, Air Racing Over Reno: the World’s Fastest Motor Sport and Speedsters: Today’s Air Racers in Action. His books are well received by fans and include interesting tidbits as well as wonderful photography. Again, mixing great photography and interesting information make these books another must-have for your bookshelf.

Michael O’Leary’s Reno Air Racing is another fine book which includes unbelievable photography. He also gives technical information and makes it an interesting read.
Birch Matthews is the author of Race with the Wind: How Air Racing Advanced Aviation. He covers the decades leading up to World War II and how aviation principles and designs were proven and tested by Air Racers. Tremendous strides were made with new technologies, from aerodynamics to powerplants.

If you enjoy the history, this is a good place to start. There are many others in this genre, but this was my favorite.


Two books I would recommend for their photography alone include Full Throttle ~ Reno Air Races Today by Gerhard Schmid. This book is written in English, German and Spanish and includes some amazing shots of the races and the people involved. You can find this book on the RARA website and it was for sale at the races last year, as it will probably be again next year.

Tyson Rininger is a top-notch aviation photographer and has been to the races many times. His photos have graced the pages of Air and Space Magazine, World Airshow News, and Aviation Week to name just a few. He has several books out include Art of Flight which is not specifically about air racing, but contains several pictures of our sport. This book should be on your bookshelf just for the incredible photographs. It’s available on his TVR Photography website.

What’s coming up…

Two new books covering Air Racing are coming our way.

Nick Veronico, a seasoned aviation historian and author is teaming with others including the former In Flight Columnist, Scott Germain to bring us an informative book on Racing Mustangs. While they have had difficulties finding a publisher in a difficult economy, word is they are back on track. I will try to keep you posted on the publication and availability of this new Air Racing tome.

The other new book is still being written, but I wanted to give the fans a heads-up. Highly acclaimed aviator and author, Richard Bach’s daughter Kristelle Sim is writing a behind the scenes account which I believe will be more focused on the teams and the people associated with Air Racing and less on the machines. Steve Hinton will be lending a hand with special commentary.

She has an eye for what makes Air Racing such a passion for so many of us. From the Volunteers who work at the races to the crews to the pilots and the fans, this will be a completely different view of Reno than has been written before. Again, I will keep you posted on the future of her work, when it will be available.

Reno Notes

NCAR 2010 welcomes back our northern neighbors, the Canadian Snowbirds. They are a fan favorite and I know I’m very excited to have them back. Also, look for some rather famous pilots to join the ranks of Reno Racers. PRS should be amazing this year. As always, we will keep you posted of any developments.

Until then, Fly Low, Fly Fast and Turn Left. Let’s have a great 2010.

Marilyn Dash
Ruby Red Racing