Monday, October 1, 2012

The Return to the Races

We expected it to feel different, and it did. We expected it to be more difficult, and it was. But, we never expected it to be so cathartic.  At least I didn't.

The week started out earlier than usual. Racers were to be on the field by the noon on the Saturday before the races. This is by far the earliest we were told to be there. But we were there and we were together.

It was good to see some of the new aircraft, new paint jobs, new owners, etc.  And, of course, it was good to see all the new rookies and our old friends. Lots of hugs were exchanged and stories were shared about the off-season and how most of us were absolutely certain we wouldn’t be standing there – but we were.

Before I review the races, I wanted to share a quote from Tim Cone, Rookie Sport Class Racer: What do they call the pilot who places LAST in the Bronze heat of a Reno Air Race? An Air Racer! – And he’s right! Congrats to all the racers and especially the rookies.

International Formula 1

The race in IF1 was for 2nd place. Endeavour and Steve Senegal wrapped up the Gold with ease qualifying over 10 mph faster than Vito Wypraechtiger of Switzerland – his closest competitor. Steve flew the best he’s ever flown and had a great week. He had three aircraft competing, including Miss Demeanor in the IF1 Silver and his RV8 in the Sport Class.

Steve Senegal and Endeavour with Crew Chief, Cash Copeland 

Brian Reberry raced his new design September Fate in the Gold and Tony the Tiger, a stock Cassutt III-M in the Silver – bringing up the rear. September Fate was fast, but has much more potential. We look forward to whatever tweaks the Reberry team decides to bring in the future.

Little gremlins plagued many of the other competitors including Stephen Partridge Hicks who had all sorts of problems; Rookie Justin Phillipson had problems but was able to work them out and ended up finishing second in the Gold. Kevin Anderson another fine Rookie also had gremlins – which prevented him from completing his week. He put up a nice qualifying time and hopefully, we’ll see him again next year.

An influx of young blood was honored with Kevin Broughall winning Crew Chief of the year and Justin Phillipson earning second place in the Gold and Rookie of the Year. Congrats to you both and to all the IF1 racers and crews for making it such a great and safe year.

Justin Phillipson our IF1 Rookie of the Year 


The Biplane Gold was won from the back row by Tom Aberle flying Phantom. Tom was disqualified in the final heat race for low flying (something that happened quite frequently this year in all the classes) which placed him in the back of the pack for the final Gold Race. This meant that Tom had to pass everyone to win, and this time he only lapped six of the competitors. Karl Grove in Drag Racer started on pole and was the only biplane not lapped. Tom continues to amaze with his purpose built racer.

The Biplane Silver was won in fine style by Chris Schaich in his second year of racing. I ended up third in the Silver – at one point listed as second due to a low flight call for Casey Erickson. This penalty did not withstand the test of time and was somehow overturned, which put me back into third. Still, this was the best I have ever finished and my team is happy with our results.

Ruby with 232 watching over her shoulder

We are hoping for new competitors to join us at PRS in September, if you’re interested in racing, in any of the classes, drop me a line and I’ll help you.


The T6 class was competitive as usual. Nick Macy won the Gold with a new record of just over 247 mph. Dennis Buehn was in second place and John Lohmar came in third. John Zayak toasted his engine (technical aviation term) and was unable to finish out his week.

Gordo Sanders won the Silver with an amazing race against Gene McNeeley earlier in the week to take the pole position. Gene cut a pylon and Gordo was able to keep his position and was thrilled with the results. This was the first time Gordo has won. Congrats!

 Close racing between Gordo Sanders and Gene McNeeley in the T6 Class

Sport Class

The Sport Class has had their ups and downs over the years, and I believe they are really hitting their stride. In the beginning, it was Glasairs and Lancairs with a smattering of the Metal Mafia (RV-4, 6, 8, Rockets, etc.). Then, we had the Super Sport which was meant to increase the competition for larger engines and elevated designs. Now we have a mix of both.

Jeff LaVelle qualified at 395 mph in his highly modified, incredible Glasair III. If you took a quick glance at it, you’d think it was a perfectly normal Glasair, but alas, you would be wrong. We will cover more information about Jeff in future columns, but let’s just say, that is not your normal Glasair. Jeff qualified first, and ran all four races in the front without a flaw. He had a great week and we’re happy to see him do so well.

John Parker in his Thunder Mustang, Blue Thunder II, finished second, but was over 16 mph behind our leader. Lynn Farnsworth finished out the top three with Lee Behel in his beautiful GP-5 coming in a very respectable fourth place.

Jet Class

Rick Vandam owned the Jet Gold from beginning to end. He qualified fastest and won each heat race and the final Gold in American Spirit the super slick L39. Rick and Phil Fogg were the only aircraft the entire week to put up 500mph + times – and that was only in Qualifying.

Rick Vandam and American Spirit - Jet Class Gold

The 250 foot maximum altitude, which I’ve written about in earlier articles, was quite significant in the Jet Class (and Unlimiteds). Several of the racers were called for “High Flying” and were disqualified for their sessions. 

I would say that flying was watched more carefully this year and the Contest Committee, the final voice in penalties and disqualifications, were kept busy all week.


Steven Hinton and Strega provided the fans with a decisive win on Sunday in the Unlimited Breitling Gold Race. After winning in 2009, “Stevo” was named the winner in 2010, the Year of the Wind and in 2011, when racing was cancelled due to the tragedy. This year, he wanted to win it in the sky, the way you’re meant to win an Air Race.

232 and Dreadnaught battling for second place during final Gold Race

232 flown by former Astronaut, Hoot Gibson finished second with the Sander’s Dreadnaught coming in third. But, the final finish doesn't tell even half the story of 2012.

The Qualifying Sessions ended with Strega having a slight lead over Rare Bear, being flown by veteran racer, Stewart Dawson. Furias, the beautifully restored Super Sea Fury, qualified a distant third, however, on landing, Matt Jackson had a landing gear issue and Furias ended up in a dust cloud in the desert. Matt was okay and by the time he got back to the Pits he was already telling stories about how it all came to be. Sadly, Furias was not okay and is going home on a truck.

Our fourth highest qualifier was Precious Metal with Thom Richard as the pilot. Their speed of 463mph was the fastest that airframe has ever gone. Unfortunately, their gear door disappeared coming down the Chute on Sunday and he was the first mayday of the race.

Dennis Sanders flying the families Super Sea Fury, Dreadnaught qualified fifth and as always, flew perfectly awaiting the series of maydays that were sure to come. 

Some of the best racing during the week included watching Dennis Sanders in Dreadnaught trying to overtake Thom Richard in Precious Metal. Watching “The Buick” struggled to keep upright while flying closely on Thom’s wing reminded so many of us of watching Czech Mate and other racers struggled to stay behind Dreadnaught. The wake created by Dread really knocks the air around, and this time Dreadnaught was eating some of her own medicine.

Precious Metal tossing nasty wake at Dreadnaught

During the final race, Rare Bear pulled off the course after the penultimate lap, presumably with overheating problems, which plagued them all week. This left the door open for Rare Bear’s little sister 232 to jump into second place.

232 had a dismal qualifying time, but had been nursing early issues during the week. Electrical problems were the rumored cause of their gremlins. Fixed by Wednesday, each day they refined their racer and started to go faster. The second place finish was the best for Hoot and he had a great time working with the 232 Crew. 

Sawbones, flown by Curt Brown and Miss America, flown by Brent Hisey finished fourth and fifth in the final Gold Race. Both putting up very respectable times and both flying beautifully all week.

Miss America, Rare Bear and Sawbones in close racing on Sunday

This was Strega’s 11th win, Stevo’s fourth, and this will be their last as a team. Tiger Destefani, Strega’s owner, has confirmed that he will no longer campaign Strega at the races in the future. 

What does this mean? Will Strega end up in someone else’s hands and continue to race? Will Strega end up in a museum – or maybe become a flying museum?

What does this mean for our young champion? Will he end up racing another aircraft? Will he leave air racing? Continue racing in another venue?

The Strega Team worked as a well-oiled machine all week. It is sad to see them disperse. But, I would like to take this chance to thank Tiger for being Tiger and bringing Strega to the races for our entertainment. And, for giving us Stevo Hinton.

Tiger Destefani and Steven Hinton proved to be unbeatable - again

Final Thoughts

The crowds were not at pre-2011 levels, but the fans came back. The racing wasn’t edge-of-your-seat-action all week, but it was good and it was safe. There was a smattering of maydays, but only a few aircraft unable to fly home. All in all, I believe this was a successful comeback for NCAR. 

Congrats to all competitors and to RARA for putting on a great event.

Next month, we’ll get into more detail about the races and discuss some of the more interesting competitions happening on the course. We will take a closer look at some of the teams and what makes a team work well together. And, we’ll talk about the tragedy, the ceremony, the survivors and the future of the Reno Air Races.

Until then…


All photos used with permission from Bruce Croft -