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

A Loving Tribute to a Dear Friend…

The Warbird and Air Racing Communities lost a great friend on March 17, 2010. Al Goss was flying his beloved T-6, Warlock, with his crew chief, Steve Ballard, when tragedy struck.


Alfred Fredrick Goss Jr., or “Papa Goss” or “Al”to all that knew him, was born December 16, 1941 in Shenandoah, Iowa to Alfred and Lucille Goss.

At 18, Al started flying and soon found employment as a crop duster flying for Pat Tomlinson of M & W Flying in Porterville, CA. After several years he migrated to Northern California and flew for several different organizations. Twenty-two years ago, he took a job in the Bakersfield, CA area with Old River Crop Dusting, owned by dear friend and fellow air racer, Eddie Van Fossen.

A crop duster by day, his real passion was Warlock and the people who surrounded him and supported him while he raced the pylons at Reno. He had two sons, Randy and David and a daughter, Sandra; but he adopted the rest of us and made everyone feel like family.

His Racing Story started in 1981, when Al decided to make the trek over the hills to the National Championship Air Races. Twenty-nine years later, he was the favorite of both fans and racers alike.

He finished 2nd in the Gold six times, or as he would say, “the first loser”. But, he won it all in 2004. Walking away with the title of National Champion after all those years meant so much to him. Regardless of win or lose, however, his devoted fans loved him.

The Warlock Crew would show up every year and work from dawn to dusk. They polished that airplane, mingled with the crowds and watched with great interest all of the races over the many days. Photographers were welcomed, and could always be found huddled on top of the Warlock trailer with their camera equipment trying to get the best pictures. (I always wondered how he managed to assemble such an amazing array of people. He was magnetic in that way.) Still, he always seemed to give much more than he received, although I’m sure he would disagree.

The big bash every year was the Warlock Party. It happened on Wednesday night as a way to celebrate the beginning of the races. There was always a band, dancing, singing and friendship being passed around the ramp. Everyone was there and Al knew all of them.


From a pilot’s standpoint, he did it all. He flew for a living, and lived for his flying. When an Airshow needed him, he was there. When a friend was in need, they knew they could call him anytime. He was the hardest working and the kindest man I have ever known.

I met Al in 2004, my first year racing in the Biplane Class. He was a mentor and a friend to me. After every race, I would get debriefed by him. If I did well, it was a big hug and if I made mistakes, he would shake his head and share with me his insight. I felt as though I was the luckiest pilot in the world to have this great man take such a personal interest in me and my flying. But, he did that to so many of us.

From the phone calls I have received since the news went out, everyone was touched by him. Every interaction made people feel special. He remembered wives’ and childrens' names, details of everyone’s life, and showed deep concern and compassion towards all of us.

In addition to his children and grandchildren, Al had a special friend in Anita. They were inseparable and just about the most adorable couple you’d ever meet. They would dance together at the Warlock Party and everyone would stop and watch them. As loving and amiable as Al was, Anita just multiplied the affection.


His passenger on that day was Steven Ballard, a long time friend, Fed-ex pilot and flight instructor. Steve was also a fixture at the Air Races as part of the Warlock Crew each year.

This year was to be Al’s 30th Anniversary racing at Reno. I know Team Ruby will put together a special memorial to our mentor this year and it’s likely that other teams will too.

But for many of us, without Al, Warlock, and the team, the races will simply never be the same.

A public memorial was held at Shafter Minter Field on April 10th at noon in Eddie's Hangar. The crowd was amazing and the fly-bys were a fitting tribute to a great man. Special thanks to Tiger, Eddie and Sandy Sanders for their efforts that day.


Please keep the Goss, Warlock and Reno families in your hearts. For we have all suffered a great loss.

RIP Papa Goss. I loved you and will miss you always.

Marilyn Dash
Ruby Red Racing