Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Are you ready for some Reno?

As I write this, we have just a few weeks to go before the racers, crews, friends, family and fans migrate to the desert to watch the 47th National Championship Air Races at Reno, NV. Since we covered the entries in detail last month, I wanted to share with you a few points of interest for this year, some guesses and a bit of trivia for the long time fans.

What to look for in 2010 - Galloping Ghost

This historic racer has been racing off and on since 1946 when Bruce Raymond and Steve Beville bought her from Army Surplus. The aircraft was named The Galloping Ghost in honor of the University of Illinois and Chicago Bears football star Harold "Red" Grange.

She has raced under several names since then including Miss Candace Jeannie, Spectre and Leeward Air Ranch Special. This year, she will be back as the Galloping Ghost with long time racer, Jimmy Leeward in the pilot seat. Her long awaited return has the fans chomping at the bit. She should be fast, she should be sleek and she should be beautiful! Good luck to Jimmy!

How many names/aircraft has Jimmy flown at Reno? (Trivia Answers at the end of the article)


How many pilots have raced Voodoo (or Voodoo Chile) at the Reno Air Races? And, can you name them?

This year, we will see Will Whiteside back in the driver’s seat. Last year’s late arrival of veteran warbird guru, Bill Kerchenfaut had some success, but a last minute engine issue caused Voodoo to pull out of the Gold Race on Sunday. This year Kerch has had more time to go over the air frame and to use his magic wand, er wrench – to make magic happen. Let’s see what they can do this year.

What was the best finish for Voodoo over the years – at Reno – in the Gold Sunday Final? And, who was the pilot?

Rare Bear

Caption: Rare Bear has her new racing engine – is that enough to be Strega?
Credit: Rob “Phred” Miller

The long awaited Cornell Racing Engine has arrived and the new crew is getting Rare Bear ready for action. This year, John Penney will share flying duties with Stu Dawson.

This is the first year Rod Lewis will have his engine program, his pilot program and his crew program all working together on the Rare Bear. Does this mean it’s Rare Bear’s year? Time will tell.

How many pilots have raced Rare Bear and can you name them?

Super Sport -- GP-5

The rules were changed last year to create a larger differentiation between Sport and Super Sport. Super Sport is no longer limited to production kit airplanes and anything that has been properly tested and signed off is eligible as long as the engine is less than 1000 CID. While no new designs made it last year, this year we have an amazing new racer, the GP-5.

George Pereira, of Osprey Aircraft designed this all wood aircraft starting around 1987. This is the only one in existence. A single place retractable gear speedster, it looks very slick indeed.

Caption: The GP-5 will make her debut at Reno this year in Super Sport
Credit: Lee Behel

The prototype was sold to and completed by George Backovich who with the help of the designer George Pereira. It was finished in 2007. The aircraft was specifically built to race at the Reno Air Races in the Unlimited Division – however, the weight limitation pushed it off the radar for the Unlimiteds and the recent rule change pushed it right into the Super sport Class.

The engine is an aluminum racing version of a small block Chevy estimated to be about 600 hp.

Projected speeds are in the 350 – 375 mph range. She’s a beauty and looks fast sitting on the ground.

Lee Behel works incredibly hard to keep the Sport Class interesting and innovative. It makes sense that he would revive the GP-5 and take the pilot seat. Good luck, Lee. We can’t wait to see your new ride.

Unlimited Division

What can I say, it’s Strega’s race to win or lose. If the last two years are any indication, the reliability of the Merlin Engines has been solved. If the team falters slightly, Rare Bear and Voodoo are ready to take the Gold.

Caption: Voodoo is ready for anything this year
Credit: Rob “Phred” Miller

T6 Class

This one is another toss-up. I see Dennis Buehn as the favorite, with Nick Macy and John Zayac making his life miserable. These aircraft are so closely matched; it’s really anyone’s game.

Caption: John Zayac will be one to beat in the T-6 Class
Credit: Rob “Phred” Miller

Super Sport

While the GP-5 is an interesting story, I believe this race is between the two Thunder Mustangs, Kevin Eldredge in Relentless and Mike Dacey in Bad Intentions. I see qualifying speeds hovering around the 400 mph mark. This will be one to watch.

Sport Class

This year, I think it’s time for Lee Behel to shake his demons and win the Sport Gold in Breathless. Dave Sterling and Jeff LeVelle will make it interesting and keep him honest.


This year, more new jets will be there. The return of the Vampire and the Iskra and Provost from PRS will add color. But, they will not be in the winner’s circle. This year, I’m picking Mike Mangold to beat his nemesis Curt Brown to get his first Gold win.


This year, it’s all Invictus. Last year’s winner will be back with a new pilot, but is still the favorite to take the win.

Caption: My pick to win the IF1 Gold this year, Invictus
Credit: Rob “Phred” Miller


Tom Aberle and Jeff Lo will battle it out for the Gold in the Biplane Class. These two great competitors will make it interesting.

Reno Racing Trivia

How many names/aircraft has Jimmy Leeward flown at Reno?

Jimmy Leeward has flown Miss Florida, Cloud Dancer, Lou IV, Spectre, Precious Bear, Air Ranch Special and #24 Corsair in the Unlimiteds, as well as Speed Dancer and Fire Cat in the Jets.

How many pilots have raced Voodoo (Chile) at the Reno Air Races? And, can you name them?

Five different pilots have raced Voodoo (Chile) - they include Curt Brown, Bob Button, Matt Jackson, Bob Hannah and Sherman Smoot. In 1997 Bob Hannah qualified Voodoo Chile but was unable to continue racing her that week. Sherman Smoot stepped in and finished third in the Bronze.

What was the best finish for Voodoo over the years – at Reno – in the Gold Sunday Final? And, who was the pilot?

The best finish was in 2002 when Matt Jackson finished 3rd in the Gold on Sunday.

How many pilots have raced Rare Bear and can you name them?

Lyle Shelton and John Penney, of course. Also Ron Buccarelli and Matt Jackson raced Rare Bear. Matt Jackson was in the back of the Pace Plane a few years ago when John Penney couldn't get the gear down and many feel Matt's experience in the Bear made the difference in getting her down safely.

Special Thanks

Thanks to Rob “Phred” Miller again for the use of his photos. And thanks to Gary Williams for his research and passion for the Air Races. And thanks to Team Ruby and the friends from the World Famous Cantina for helping me make it to Reno every year. And a very special THANKS to my sponsors this year. You have all made my life easier, to say the least.

Please make an effort to stop by Ruby’s Pitts Pit to say hello.

Final Thoughts

Before he passed in 2000 Steve Beville reflected on The Galloping Ghost's accomplishments during the Cleveland racing era. "We raced in every race we could and finished every race we started. We came to the party to dance and danced with what we brung. We finished no worse than fourth and even won a couple of races along the way. Not too bad for two farm boys from Indiana."

We should all be so lucky!

See you in Reno!

Marilyn Dash
Ruby Red Racing