Monday, November 30, 2015

Reno Air Races 2015 Recap – Part 3

Sport Class

A cast of thousands brought their brightly colored Sport Class Racers to Stead this year – or so it seemed. There were enough aircraft to produce 4 Races – Gold, Silver, Bronze and Medallion. And each Heat produced great racing – which really helped keep the fans engaged.

Over 40 racers registered, 37 showed up and 36 actually qualified.  Bob Mills had a Mayday during a practice flight in the Thunder Mustang – Clas Thunder – which ended his week early. At least in the Sport Class. But, as he is Sport Class President and was also racing in the Jet Class this year, he was quite busy all week. Go Bob!

Let’s review some of the highlights from the Sport Class week. The fastest RV or Rocket driver was Bill Beaton. A Canadian in his second year at Reno. He gained 10 mph over his Rookie year and flew a great line. He ended up fourth in the Silver. Nicely done, Bill!

One-off designs this year included the NXT Relentless flown by Kevin Eldredge. Not his fastest year, but a beautiful platform. Now they just need to figure out the right power plant and they will be back in the hunt. His top speed this year around 310 mph doesn’t come close to his best year – 2009 – at just over 393 mph.

Klaus Savier brought his Canard Savier EZ back this year - topping out at around 265 mph. It was the only “pusher” in the field and it definitely caught your attention. Klaus uses this aircraft as a test bed for his Light Speed Engineering Company. He has made so many changes to his Long-EZ, his speed has increased from 183 to that 265 mph he saw this year. Bravo, Klaus!

Dave Morss in Bill Hudgens’ Beautiful Doll Credit: Anthony Taylor

And another crowd favorite this year was Beautiful Doll flown by Air Racing veteran, Dave Morss. Doll is a Stewart S-51 using a 454 big block geared down Chevy engine. Approximately 70% all metal replica of the iconic P-51 Mustang.  This one is painted in the same scheme as Big Beautiful Doll.

While she was slow… she was adorable and had an awesome sound. I hope the owner, Bill Hudgens, enjoyed himself enough to bring her back – and maybe even race her himself. Or, let Dave Morss fly her again! Either way – win/win for the fans!

Now for the winner

John Parker WON!

John is a Racer, through and through, with a long history at the Reno Air Races. After being placed on reserve status from the Air Force in 1965, he began helping friends build their F1 racing engines and quickly developed a passion for the sport of Air Racing.

The Winners! John Parker and Blue Thunder II
Credit: Anthony Taylor

 He started American Air Racing in 1967 to further progress that passion.  John is an Aeronautical Engineer, a retired Airline Captain, a test pilot, air race pilot, experimental aircraft builder, A&P and IA.

He won the F1 class in 1977, 1978 and 1980 with his custom built racer, American Air Racing Special. This aircraft currently lives in Oshkosh at the EAA Museum.

In 1988, he became the third person to enter a custom built racer in the Unlimited Class.

In 2007, he saw his beautiful, Blue Thunder, engulfed in flames after a brake fire. This happened only a week or so before the races that year. Most people would have thrown in the towel. But not John. He started building Blue Thunder II immediately.

He is a fixture at Stead Field and hosts the annual Thunder Mustang fly-in at his hangar during race week. On the exterior, you’d think he was a bit of a curmudgeon – but John is a sweetheart. He is always available to help another racer out. Congrats, John!

I should also mention that the racing was unbelievably competitive this year in the Sport Gold. Behind John Parker, there were a host of talented and fast racers taking aim at the prize. Lynn Farnsworth, David Sterling, Gary Mead, Andrew Findley, and Vince Walker were all so competitive. The final sequence was John, Lynn, Andrew and then Gary, Kevin Eldredge (who found power over the week) and Vince taking the top 6 slots with Vicky Benzing and Colleen Keller placing 7th and 8th in a tight race. David Sterling DNF’d the flight – but I’ll bet he’ll be back.

Speaking of fast..

The Jets

The fastest racing aircraft on the field are the Jets. The class still consists of mostly L-39 Albatros, but throw in a few L-29 Delfins, one TS-11 Iskra, a one of a kind L-139 and a super-fast DH-115 Vampire and you have one heck of a group of racers.

Several years ago, the Jets were moved down to the far side of the ramp. At the time, we had limited room on the field and there was room on that side, so it made sense. The class could have taken this as a banishment. But, they didn’t. They ended up relishing in the extra room and really made a fun, competitive environment.

Seriously, if you haven’t been down there, you’re missing heaps of fun. The crews and the pilots all seem to get along great and have more fun than any other class – maybe.

This year, the fun in the pits was matched by the speed on the course. Rick Vandam in American Spirit, Sean Cushing in Fast Company and Pete Zaccagnino in the Vampire traded places at the top of the rankings, with Pete and that wild Vampire taking it all and going over 500 mph in the final race.

Pete is a well-known pilot and TV Star. A member of the Dangerous Flights cast from Discovery Channel, Pete has earned quite a fan club. He has flown over 240 different types of aircraft, and has crossed the North Atlantic over 600 times and the Pacific over 200 times – all in light aircraft. He is definitely hanging with a different crowd, being stopped in his hometown at the Sundance Film Festival for an autograph. 

Joe Gano added a 7th lap to the six lap race. The announcers and fans enjoyed it more than anyone else. They had a bit of fun with it – comments like “not a lot of wake turbulence on this lap” and “plenty of room to pass now” made it so much fun. He’s not the first to add a lap or two – and he likely won’t be the last.

And David “Killer” Culler was named Rookie of the Year. In Jets, the Rookie of the Year is honored with a scepter and a tiara -- and this year a tutu. Don’t ask me. However, “Killer” looked great.

Mark Pracy's crew was given the highly coveted Crew of the Year - which is celebrated with a paddle - as in up the creek without... Great job, you crazy Aussies! 

Close racing and a fun group of people!? What more could you ask for in a Race Class.

Congrats to the entire Jet Class; to Rick Vandam, the new Class President and to Pete for having another great year!

 Pete Zaccagnino in the Vampire
Credit: Anthony Taylor

Other news

The Reno Air Racing Association has had some difficult years, especially since the crash of 2011. The budget cuts this year were not popular with many people. But, they worked. RARA has made a profit for the first time in my memory. What does this mean? For one thing, it means there will be a 2016. 

And, 2016 brings the USN Blue Angels and their crowd pleasing, spectacular flying. This also means the crowds in 2016 will be larger than 2015.

Congrats to everyone at RARA, the internal team, the Board and the Volunteers for doing such a great job. Keeping your eye on the prize and doing what had to be done through much adversary.

Congrats to all the pilots and crews in all six classes. You/We are what people come from all over the world to see. Keep up the great work.

And to the fans, thanks for coming back and spending money and supporting your favorites.

Ruby Calendars

We have another great calendar available for our racing fans. Head on over to the website: to order yours. 

Get one for a favorite pilot, maybe one for the hangar, one for the office. Plenty to go around!

Gone West

Hep Porter was an integral part of the IF1 Class for many years. While he stopped racing a few years back, he was always there to help out the teams and to lend a hand. We lost Hep in November. We are grateful for your friendship and knowledge through the years.

In August, we lost John Parker’s wife, Jan after a long illness. She was a shining light in the American Air Racing hangar with a dazzling smile and a kind word for all who entered. John kept up his stoic exterior during the Races in 2015 – but we all know Jan was watching from the best seat in the house. I’m glad to have known you, Mrs. Parker.

Until next time,

Marilyn Dash
Ruby Red Racing
Pylon Place