The Very Best In Aviation and Air Race News and Photography

Air Racing History
Story Date: Summer-1998
Graphics by: Mark Kallio

Bill "Kerch" Kerchenfaut
Interview by: Wayne Sagar
and Mark Kallio
The "Crew Chief's - Crew Chief" Bill "Kerch" Kerchenfaut
Few people involved in Air Racing carry better credentials than Team Strega Crew Chief, Bill "Kerch" Kerchenfaut. Beginning his involvement during the early "re-birth" days of the sport, he has worked with the best players in the business. Serving his "apprenticeship" with aviation legend, Darryl Greenamyer, on his 1968 speed record attempt at Mojave, he went on to crew with the Greenamyer team that same year at The Reno National Championship Air Races (they won). Over the years Bill honed his skills working with several race teams, not missing a race in his thirty year involvement in the sport. Signing on as Crew Chief with Team Strega in 1985, he has led this team to one of the best records in the history of Air Racing. Six successful runs for the Gold over the last 11 years makes for a very impressive record indeed. Unfortunately, the past year was not a good one for Team Strega. Team owner and pilot, Bill "Tiger" Destefani, flew her to a first place finish in the very windy Sunday final Gold Class race at Reno '97, but the airplane was damaged on landing and had to be trucked back to its base in California. As the events of the last year unfolded, it finally became apparent: There will be no Team Strega entry in 1998.

Over the past few months we've had the opportunity to speak at length with the seasoned veteran of thirty years of Air Racing. Bill is warm and outgoing, you find yourself talking to an immediate friend. Bill Kerchenfaut is a cordial and enthusiastic spokesman for Air Racing. He is also a man with a vision of what the future might hold for this fastest of all motorsports, a vision based on years of experience .... Some of his views, particularly on the fate of Unlimited Racing, might surprise you [they did us!] ..........

aafo: your behind the scenes involvement in this sport goes back almost to the beginning of the current series, in 1968 you crewed for Darryl Greenamyer, that had to be a great experience.

Kerch: I'm kind of a dinosaur I guess <laughing> It was Darryl and Bruce Boland and Pete Law, Ray Poe, Ron Weglesher, those guys all got me into this deal.

aafo: were you already an aircraft mechanic at that point?

Kerch: No, I was actually in the Air Force. I met Darryl out at Edwards in 1968, he was going to attempt a world speed record in '68. I was so enamored with the whole thing, got to be friends with him, became involved with air racing and I've just continued since then. Those are the guys that got me going ....there's nothing like starting with a winner! I've been real fortunate, I went back in '69 for the speed run with Darryl and just met the right people. Contacts are a big part of everything in life, it was just a real fortunate situation that I got the good contacts. Through Darryl & air racing I met Bud Fountain and "Sherm" Cooper it just went on and on, I met so many great people. Actually my feeling about air racing is, it's the people that are the neat part of it! The airplanes are just an excuse for everybody to get together. There are some of the greatest people and talent involved in air racing. Guys like Pete Law, he works in the "skunk works" at Lockheed, Bruce Boland worked there. Darryl was a test pilot on SR-71's, you start looking at the background of some of these people, they are some really interesting folks!

aafo: we've been a fan of Darryl Greenamyer. for many years, here is an amazing fellow!

Kerch: He does things that other people don't even dream about!

aafo: he set the low altitude speed record in an F-104 many years ago....doesn't that record still stand?

Kerch: Yes, to my knowledge it still does

aafo: The fact that he did this as a civilian effort and beat even the military speeds is even more amazing.

Kerch: Exactly! He's an excellent mechanic, pilot, engineer..... the guy is really smart. It was amazing to me when I started working on his Bearcat....I was stationed at Edwards and he'd attempted the speed record with that plane and the engine had seized up. He called me on the phone and asked if I could help change a cylinder, we changed, I think, three or four cylinders on this engine. I met him out there at South Base Edwards and he and I we're just working away, he's sitting up there working without a shirt on, greasy just like I was, just changing the cylinder. He's a hands on guy, he's not just stand off and call me when the airplane's ready.... He is totally involved in every aspect of that machine, he's a superb mechanic. He was involved in drag racing also and as a result of that he was building a supercharger. He built a two lobe supercharger for drag racers, which is more efficient than a three lobe roots blower. He's just done a lot of really neat things. He's just a super human being, I can't say enough good about him!

aafo: He has a little project in the works for Reno doesn't he? ["Shock Wave]

Kerch: Yes he does.

aafo: we've heard it's currently on hold....

Kerch: I just don't know about the financial end of it, that's the problem [usually] with these projects.

aafo: many of us are holding our breath to see what becomes of this one! ....... It's great getting to talk to someone so deeply involved with the details of the airplanes, so often we just see them flying and never think of all the effort that goes into getting them up there. continue>>


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