Reno 2010 – The Reno Race that Almost Wasn’t…

The Reno Race that Almost Wasn’t…


Mark Hrutkay

The National Championship Air Races at Reno in 2010 did something they never did in the past and that was to cancel the final races in several classes.  There always seems to be some wind at Reno and on Sunday, there was a lot.  The winds were hitting 30kts at Stead Field.

The problem showed up as the Silver Unlimited Heat racers were landing.  They landed on a crosswind runway, instead of landing in front of the crowd.  That was formerly a strip used for emergencies and had finally gotten the center repaved in the past year.

The jet race flew and was won by Curt Brown (yes, the Space Shuttle Pilot with six missions under his belt) in the L-29 Viper with a speed of 515.582 MPH.  The next race was the T-6 Gold and it was cancelled because of the high winds.  Dennis Buehn who was the winner on Saturday was declared the Champion with a speed of 241.247MPH.

The decision was made based on the limited number of runways available and if one was closed because of a crash, then there would be real problems.  There was a perpendicular crosswind on 26 which was enough to close it since the crosswind was high enough to exceed the capability of most of the planes.  That left two other runways and if one was closed due to an accident, they would rapidly run out of options.  The racers carry a very limited amount of fuel and diverting to another airport could well have been hazardous.

They still held the Super Sport race, which was won by Mike Dacy in his Questair Venture at 374.052 MPH.  The Super Sport Class was the most interesting this year.  Jon Sharp stayed home with the Nemesis NXT which had previously dominated the class.  Last year Jon was fast enough to have taken second place in the Silver Unlimited race with the Nemesis NXT.   Initially it looked as though Kevin Eldredge had a lock on the class with his #42 Nemesis NXT “Relentless”, until disaster struck.  He lost the engine and the prop (and the prop actually came off the airplane), though his superior flying skills, Kevin was able to get Relentless back on the ground.  The engine was a total loss with some airframe damage and he was out of the race.

This race also made photographic news all over the web when the Thunder Mustang flown by George Giboney lost an engine and had to make an emergency landing.  He overshot or touched down near the far end of the runway and the wind caught him.  The Thunder Mustang cartwheeled and came apart right in front of the crowd.   Things looked grim for George and most people thought he was a goner.   He wasn’t and he did survive a spectacular crash (if you can really call any crash spectacular) with the total loss of the plane.  That particular Mustang had the canopy replaced with a turtledeck and it had wingtips that looked like the full sized P-51 racers used.  To say it was one of the more interesting planes at the race was an understatement.  It was really spectacular and its loss was a real shame.

That accident pretty much made the final decision to cancel the Unlimited Gold Race.  The racers had all been towed out in front of the grandstands and they were ready to go when the Mustang crashed.  The race was cancelled and that was the end of the week.

The Unlimited winner was based on Saturday’s results and it was Steve Hinton, Jr. in Strega at 473.437 MPH.  Strega was flying well and Steve managed to turn several laps over 500 MPH.

For the Rare Bear fans, they had some problems with the landing gear (right side up locks not fully engaging to keep the doors closed) and they didn’t perform as well as they might have in the qualifying races.   Unfortunately this year winning everything was VERY important.   But then, who would have known.  Team owner Rod Lewis will be back next year with the Bear for a better performance.   Speaking of Rod, he flew his rookie races in the TigerCat this year.  Another rookie this year was Chuck Greenhill who brought in two of his P-51s to race.

The Frasca family allowed their replica FW-190 to attend the races and this was its public debut after being plagued with cooling problems.  It was a very popular “racer” although it ended up spending a lot of time in the pits on jacks with a wheel off  and what looked like brake problems.  The pit next to it was occupied by another old warbird family, the Pauls from Idaho.   Last year they brought both of the P-40s which made for some really interesting photo ops.  I got to speak to John Paul Jr. about it and he told me that the amount of work that goes into bringing both P-40s and keeping them flying was huge, so they left one at home.   John flew the “ParrotHead” as its known and did very well beating out P-51s and a Corsair.   That is a great performance from a stock P-40.  John did hint that there may be a different racer in their future for next year.   Trust me on this one; it will be interesting to say the least.

The Biplane Championship was won by Tom Aberle in the Phantom.  The Phantom is a really slick composite biplane that turned 250.808 MPH in the Championship Race.  That plane did laps in excess of 260 MPH in other heats.  When we out taking pictures at the pylons, it was actually scary to see Tom in this plane.  He was SO MUCH FASTER than everyone else, that I really thought there was a legitimate risk of him running another plane over.   In one heat, I watched and I think he lapped everyone except the plane in second place, and that is in a 6 lap race.   Now that is fast.

The Formula One Championship was won by Steve Senegal in “Endeavor” at 248.022 MPH.

Along with the races is an airshow and the military jet team was the Canadian Snowbirds, who put on a fantastic show.   If you have never seen them, their show is something that is very different than the Thunderbirds or Blue Angels.  They fly with more airplanes in formation and do some maneuvers that are simply different.   They were a nice change of pace.  Of course we had Kent Pietsch in the Jelly Belly Interstate Cadet flying another superb show.  Kent has won quite a few awards for being a master showman as well as a master pilot and it always shows when he performs.

The Rolls-Royce Aviation Heritage Trophy is another event which is unique to Reno.  It’s an invitation only event which gathers NICE and I mean NICE airplanes together to be judged, not only on condition but on historical significance.  I believe it also takes into consideration if an airplane is restored to its “original” condition.   Such as an airplane restored to the real colors and condition it was in at a specific point in time will be more valuable than one that was restored to “represent” an airplane (IE a fighter that was actually flown by an ace is given more weight than one that is painted like the ace’s plane).  The difficult part for me to understand is how they manage to juggle the historical significance along with the variety of aircraft entered.  They ranged from a Corsair to a DC-2 to a TA-4 Skyhawk to a Grumman Widgeon and a Chipmunk, and no two even close to alike in size and complexity.

The 2009 overall winner was an SNJ-5C restored by Chuck Wahl of Cameron Park, CA.  Chuck did the work himself and this has to be the finest SNJ in the world; if they were only that beautiful when they made them during WWII.  This airplane was on display as a returning champion.

This year’s overall winner was an interesting airplane, it was NACA 127, a P-51D Mustang owned by Bill Allmon of Las Vegas.  I first saw that airplane in 1974 in Pittsburgh at the ANG base on a pole.  Bill acquired it and John Muszala restored it back in 1998, when it was Grand Champion at the EAA Convention at Oshkosh.  It still looks as nice as it did back then and won the Heritage Trophy this year.  This airplane is something special.  Bill could have restored it as another P-51, but he didn’t.  NACA 127 was a flying wind tunnel for all practical purposes and gathered data on airfoils and transonic flight.  It’s outfitted with drum recorders in the gunbays, probes sticking out of the wings and special instruments.  There are even plates on the top of the wings that allow the airflow to go supersonic during pullouts from high speed dives.  There were four of these airplanes and this one is the last one left.  If it wasn’t for Bill Allmon, well, it would be simply another Mustang and its role in history would be lost forever.

This is old news in a way, but Al Goss died on March 17, 2010 in a tragic accident in his T-6 “Warlock” which also took the life of Steve Ballard.  The Warlock Team raced for many years and was very successful.  This tragedy was not race related but Al was a much loved member of the Reno Family and will be missed.

Another tragedy happened that was just as significant.  There are a LOT and I mean a lot of volunteers who make the races happen.  The Pylon Judges keep track of the planes and their positions for scoring.  Dave Brown was a Judge who was working his 20th year at the Reno Races and he collapsed.  Despite efforts to revive him, he was lost.  Our condolences go out to the families of Al Goss, Steve Ballard, and David Brown, and we wish them Godspeed.

With the ups and downs, the races this year were very interesting.  Next year will probably be better.  This is the time to mark the calendar for September 14-18 2011 and plan on being there.  You can contact the author at TNMark@Me.Com.

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Mark Hrutkay

Mark has been a member of the International Association of Aviation Photographers (ISAP) for several years and attends all their events and seminars. He has won several awards for his work and has been published in several aviation magazines, domestic and foreign. You can contact Mark Hrutkay at TNMark@Me.Com.

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