Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Rare Bear Creator, World Record Holder and Motor Sports Hall of Famer

Lyle Shelton has Gone West

The Reno Air Races community is mourning the loss of yet another legend. Lyle Shelton died last month after a long illness.

You could say that Lyle Shelton became an air-racing champion because of a missed flight. Shelton was a Naval Aviator in 1964 when he took a month's leave intending to travel around the world via space available military transportation. But, while in California after missing his flight to Hawaii, he came across an article in a magazine saying there was going to be an Inaugural Air Race in Reno. The idea of air racing intrigued him enough to abandon his journey and hop a ride to Nevada. He must have liked what he saw, because less than a year later he flew in his first air race.


After racing both a P-51 Mustang and a Hawker Sea Fury for other owners, another air racer told Shelton of a wrecked F8F at an airport at Valparaiso, IN. Shelton found it upside down in a cornfield, missing its engine and other vital parts. He bought this wreck for about $2500 and trucked it to California. This started his long time love affair with what we came to know as the Rare Bear.

In 1969 the "Abel Cat" appeared in competition for the first time at Reno, where Shelton finished fifth in the championship race.

His first win at Reno was in 1973, after several years of troubles in the way of canopies coming off and blown tires on landing. He continued his winning ways in 1975 and again from 1988 until 1991. His final race at Reno was in 1997 when he finished third. At that time, he was a six-time gold champion.

But honestly, that was just the black and white of it all. Lyle was much more than that to the sport of Air Racing. He managed Air Races, he was the President of the Pilot’s Association and he was an icon to so many of us.

No other team has done as much with mostly volunteers. He worked with sponsors and lived everyday for the goal of going fast and turning left. His personal style, professional enthusiasm and success made him a fan favorite for years.

Shelton set the Unlimited Class speed record at Reno three times. He also set a "Time to Climb" record in 1972 which stands today. This record took him from a standing start to 10,000 feet in 91.9 seconds. On Aug. 21, 1989 he set the world's absolute propeller-driven speed record over a 3-kilometer course at Las Vegas at 528.329 mph, which is going to be difficult for anyone to beat.

In 1999, he became a member of the Motorsports Hall of Fame.

"Lyle will be remembered always and we will miss him greatly."

Marilyn Dash
Ruby Red Racing