Thursday, August 25, 2011

Reno Racing Prep

For several months before the Reno Air Races, Race Teams are working diligently to get ready. There are hundreds of things to manage and prepare. I wanted to share with you some of the things we need to think about and give you my picks for this year’s races.


For each racing class, the deadline to have your entry in is the end of June. That’s just your “Here’s my intent to race, and my check”. We get another month to complete all of the paperwork, and there are volumes of it. Items on your list include the request to sell merchandise in your pit, the safety systems on your racer for Crash and Rescue and mountains of other official documentation.

For each class, you need to figure out where your pit will be, who your crew members will be, do you want a golf cart, how about a bicycle, RV parking? Oh, and race insurance – don’t forget that!


Of course, the most important thing is the Race Plane. But, that is not an easy task. Several Racers fly during the year in a different configuration from the race configuration. Some rarely fly at all during the off season – either way, there are very few who believe in the phrase “Run Whatcha Brung”.

Tom Aberle in Phantom with Norm Way hot on his tail
Credit: Anthony Taylor

Last minute engine changes are normal. New racing propellers, different systems and anything else that has changed since last year requires a level of testing. It’s nearly impossible to set up something similar to the race course, but we do try to test at a similar altitude to what we will experience at Reno, but that is not always possible. We do what we can.

It is customary to have at least 5 hours on the new racing configuration before you get to Reno. If you plan on changing propellers while up there, you need to test each propeller separately for the required period and mark it in the log books. This is basically what we’re doing each weekend prior to the races.

You also need to worry about Parachutes, Helmets, Flight Suits, Radios, Batteries, and Cameras.


For newer teams, finding the right mix of crewmembers is critical to your success. After a few years of working together, you get into a rhythm and things go much more smoothly. You always have to consider who will be on the crew. Then, of course – you need to start making hotel reservations, where are you staying? Oh, half the team wants to stay in an RV in the back lot. That’s fine – just I needed to know two months ago. Don’t worry, we’ll make it work.

Formula Crews getting ready on a cold desert morning
Credit: Tim Adams

Who is bringing the toolbox, who has the battery charger, who has the tables and chairs, what else do we need for the Pit? For the “outside” teams, they have to worry about trailer, shade and dealing with much larger crews.

And what will the crew wear? I know that sounds like minutia, but the Warlock Crew wore identical shirts every day – and each day they were different. Each night, the Crew Mom (Anita) would hand each of them a bag with tomorrow’s shirt in it. It’s is just another thing to add to that To-Do list.


Speaking of shirts, many crews sell enormous amounts of merchandise at the races. Someone has to develop the logo, decide what to order, what sizes and colors, etc. Then you need to order it and figure out how to get it delivered to the field in time for the first day. There are fans out there that buy 2 or more shirts from each of their favorite teams and wear them out during the year. They are first in line come opening day to refill their closets.

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Final Checklists

For years, I would pack all of my things and hand them out to several of the other racers and crew members who were headed up around the same time. My Pitts is so small, I couldn’t fit three days of luggage, never mind ten days – plus tools, etc. So, I would farm out my luggage, tools, chairs, etc., to several of the other teams. And usually, by the time I arrived, most of my stash was there. I had to do the same on the way back. It worked – and I was very appreciative of my helpers.

You are always wondering – should we do something different this year? What can we do better?

So, when you see the production each team goes through during Race Week to field a competitive product – remember, this activity started no later than June, and probably around November. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.


This year is going to be great. Most classes have a full field and even with all the end of the summer wrangling – I still believe we are going to have some great racing and most of your favorites will be in attendance.

Biplanes and Sport Class are fielding a full line up. Both of these classes do quite a bit of Marketing in the off –season to keep their rosters full.

Unfortunately, T6 and F1 are down in attendance this year. But, I’m hoping this is just a momentary lull and they will be filling the ramps and hangars again soon. Jets should also be full this year.

My Picks

Tom Aberle is the man to beat in Biplanes. He has been consistently improving his Phantom and if he’s still running on Sunday, he’ll have another Gold Jacket to wear. Although, Norm Way will be right there if he has a misstep. Formula 1 also has a clear favorite and that would be Endeavor and Steve Senegal.

The Sport Class is getting faster every year
Credit: Anthony Taylor

Sport Class should be interesting. My guess is that Mike Dacey will repeat. His Questair Venture is wickedly fast and seems to get faster every year. Kevin Eldredge will have a normally aspirated NXT this year and John Parker’s Thunder Mustang will also be in the hunt. Daryl Greenamyer is sitting out this year and John Sharp has officially retired from air racing.

Dennis Buehn and Nick Macy will duke it out again for the T6 Gold. They are both veterans and know what it takes to win. For the Jets, it will likely be Curt Brown or Mike Mangold. I’d love to see Mike take it this year. He’s patiently finished second for years, which I know isn’t a comfortable place for him.

Also, sad to report, it doesn’t look like Heather Penney’s jet will be ready in time. They had an incident during PRS and there seems to be more work that needs to be done than days available to do it. That is not unusual for this time of year. So many teams say – if I only had a few more weeks…. I’d be ready. It’s never a good idea to rush it.

Looks like we will be missing Heather Penney's Raju Grace this year

Now, Unlimited… Strega is back with Stevo. They are going for the tenth win overall, Tiger had seven and Stevo has two… now, can they bring it home again? Voodoo and Rare Bear are poised to take the lead if Strega falters -- even for a second.

Strega Pilot Stevo Hinton and Crew Chief LD Hughes working together
Credit: Tim Adams

Dreadnought, Furias, 232 and Galloping Ghost could do it also. Czech is on the list – but I'm not sure they will be there. And knowing how they have been working on her for the last two years, I know she’ll be fast.

When it comes to the Unlimited Gold, I have no idea who will win – my only hope is that everyone is running at the end of the day on Sunday and all of the pilots can fly their racers home come Monday morning.

See you at the Races!

Marilyn Dash
Ruby Red Racing

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