Reno Air Racing: Thunder mustang Update!

RENO '98
Sunday's Highlights and Race Recap


The 35th Reno National Championship Air Races may well go down in air race history as one of the most unpredictable and exciting events of the 90s. The weather was near perfect, we saw the expansion of 2 new classes of racers (the T-28 Class and Sport Class), and we were also treated to some spectacular military demonstrations of jet fighters. Some of the best air show performances that we’ve seen in years were also on tap at this year's event. You could really "feel the heat" from the F-18 Hornet demo Wall of Fire. Those of us able to attend Reno '98 definitely got their moneys worth and more! However, for those that couldn’t make it out to Stead airport this year, we’ll recap the highlights of all the racing action as well as share what we have been attempting to keep "under our hats".

Click for larger imageIn the Sport Class, winner of the Gold event was Dave Morss flying his Lancair IV followed by the Questair Ventures of Lee Behel and Rittner Will, with John Parker’s Glasair III following up in fourth place. Dave Morss took command of the race from the start. His highly prepared Lancair IV never missed a beat and was dominant throughout the event. Lapping the course at 300mph+ with a kit built aircraft was a remarkable achievement in the first ever event of it’s kind. Our congratulations goes out to Team Lancair for their win.

After a marathon effort by many dedicated people, the Thunder Mustang was present in the pits, but sadly never raced. (completed, but not ready to fly it was trucked in from Nampa Idaho) The carbon fiberClick here for larger image"wonderplane" is arguably the most exotic piston kitplane ever brought to the marketplace. With a weight of a V-tail Bonanza, powered by the 640 hp+ Ryan Falconer V12 engine and the wing loading of a Lear Jet - this aircraft’s performance is nothing short of spectacular. So far, Papa 51 has sold more than 20 kits for the Thunder Mustang. Did someone say "The future of air racing?" <g>. Realistically, it will be so dominant [in the sport class] that Reno Officials have mentioned the possibility of a "bracket racing" division. The future of Sport Class racing is a main focus for the RARA. If this year was any indication of things to come - the future does indeed look very promising.

Click here for larger imageThe Biplane Class Gold race was a great one. Lots of close competition made for a really good show for the crowd. Winning the event this year was Jim Smith Jr. in his Red/White Mong Glass Slipper, repeating his 1992 effort. Rounding out the field in 7th and 8th place was Jeffrey Lo in Flyin Lo and Guy Panuin in Buzz Job, both finishing within just over a 1/2 second of each other. As I said, some really good racing from this class.

The Formula One Class had some real heartbreaks as well as some achievements of note. Our most sincere thoughts and condolences goes out to Dick Roberts' family and friends for their tragic loss on Thursday. This unfortunately is a part of air racing. It does somewhat help to know that Wife Sally Roberts stated that "I know he died with a smile on his face". He went doing what he loved the most - flying. Another near tragedy was averted in Sunday’s Silver Formula One Class final. Holbrook Maslen knew his aircraft Judy was loosing oil pressure and then suddenly - the engine let go, filling the cockpit with smoke. He could hardly see as he took the checkered flag (finishing in second place). It was a great relief to all when they saw Holbrook land his aircraft safely.

The uncontested king of the Formula One Class Nemesis and pilot Jon Sharp (who has won every Reno Formula One race since 1991) set yet another record at this years event.Click here for larger image Qualifying at 260.069 mph - the "fastest four cylinders in the world" will be retired with with this record added to their already impressive lists of firsts. After Reno, the record assaults will continue in Mojave, where Team Nemesis will attempt to break their existing 3 km record - as well as the 15 km record of 247.52 mph, set by Kirk Hanna in 1986. All this aside for the moment, Jon did not have an easy go of things during the Gold Race as pilot Ray Cote in Alley Cat put up one heck of a fight. Yes, this was the last year for Nemesis as she will be retired. The *new* Nemesis NXT will be introduced next year.

The T-28 races were a grand display of tactics and close air racing as the top three finishers were separated by a mere 1 mph. Rick Reanz in Monster took the win, followed by John Sledge in Trojan and then Boyce Thelen in Megabucks taking home third place. Again, just as in July during the Pilots Seminar, the organization and talent shown within this class of air racers was phenomenal. They put on one heck of a show for the spectators. Given that there were more lead changes in this race than any other, one can only hope that the T-28 class is here to stay.

Click here for larger imageIt was good to see Jack Frost in Frostbite take home his first Gold win in the AT-6 Racing Class. His work on this aircraft during the off season definitely paid off handsomely for this future Unlimited Class competitor (Jack is the owner of the old racer Mr. Awesome and work should be completed by next year’s event). Let us not forget that this was only Jack’s second Reno event (finishing 4th in the AT-6 Gold race last year) - and that getting to the winner’s circle so soon plays testament to the hard work and dedication of Team Frostbite. Rounding out the top four was Nick Macy in Six Cat, AllClick here for larger image Goss in Warlock and Mary Dilda in Race #22 Two of Hearts. Mary was the only female pilot in this years competition - but this wasn’t her first race. Two years ago, she took fifth in the AT-6 Silver Class and last year stepping into the pilot's seat for Mystical Power, she took home the first place trophy for the AT-6 Gold event. "It’s a blast, the greatest thing I’ve done with my life" said Mary commenting on air racing, "This is the week that we live for". Mary and her husband Steve Dilda, take turns racing their AT-6 Two of Hearts and last year Steve finished 5th in the AT-6 Gold event.

Now on to the heavy metal warbirds of the Unlimited Class. In the Bronze Class event we were treated to a trio of rare F8F Bearcats taking to the pylons - finishing one, two and three. In first place was veteran racer, Howard Pardue, in Bearcat, followed by Bill Anders in Wampus Cat and Alan Preston in the Museum of Flying’s entry. Probably the best racing within the Bronze Class was between Tom Camp’s Maniyak and Preston’s Bearcat. Tom kept gaining on Alan throughout the race and the last few laps, Tom was right on Alan’s six. When all was said and done, Tom finished less than 1/2 a second behind Alan. What a great race!

In the Silver Class event we saw 3 Hawker Sea Furies and 5 P-51D Mustangs battle it out. The biggest surprise (and a most pleasant one in fact) was when we saw Miss America and pilot Brent Hisey dominate the race from start to finish. All week she was posting speeds in the high 390s...... then all of a sudden, WHAM - a 423mph lap speed! To say that this was a shocker is putting it mildly. This was Brent’s third outing in as many years at Reno and each year, he has been getting better and better. This was nothing less than a stupendous achievement by Team Miss America. Our hats are off to ‘em!

Team Riff Raff and pilot Robert "Hoot" Gibson were finally able to conquer the gremlins that kept popping up throughout the week. Carrying the AAFO.COM logo - Hoot was able to post a very respectable 5th place finish in a hotly contested battle among the 4th place finisher John Bagley in Southern Cross.

Finally, we did say that we would let you know what was Dan Martin’s entry Ridge Runner Click here for larger image"secret weapon" <g>. We found out about two weeks before the event that Dan had placed a Dwight Thorn prepared, full race Merlin under the cowling! In this configuration, she would have been capable of 440mph+ lap speeds. But, as the saying goes - some things just weren’t meant to be. Plagued by problems after posting her great qualifying effort, she just never was able to come up to her potential. This fine and dedicated crew worked long and hard trying to determine the problems and correct them. First suspicions turned to a blown magneto, then to sticky valves - but the same results followed. Push the pressure above 105 inches of manifold pressure and power lose soon followed. We would have loved to seen her "healthy". That’s racing I suppose......

Last but certainly *not* least was the Unlimited Gold event. Right from the start it was to be something that we would have never anticipated. Shortly after takeoff, Howard Pardue’s Fury R3350 engine sputtered and stopped [click here for Real Streaming Video Clip click here for a video clip of this engine problem/landing]- then almost immediately started up again. Pardue made a hasty 360 turn and landed safely. Was the unexplained temporary engine failure an omen of things to come? Well, it was the first of many things that did occur that were out of the ordinary. Another as yet unexplained [click here for update] problem cropped up on Gary Levitz in Miss Ashley II on or about the second lap of the race when, all of a sudden, the engine temp gauges were pegged! This along with the first lap cut pylon (outer pylon 4) relegated Miss Ashley II to her forth place finish. One of the brighter sides of the Unlimited Gold Class event was seeing race #105 Stewart Dawson’s Spirit of Texas Hawker Sea Fury among the combatants. This team really worked hard to get there - and get there they did! Another entry in the long list of outstanding achievements among the competitors at Reno '98.

The race for the Gold was far from a cakewalk for winner and new champion Bruce Click here for larger imageLockwood and Dago Red. Remember what I have been saying about Dennis Sanders and his mount Dreadnought? She was right on his heels at the start of the race and when Bruce slowed down a bit too much for an upcoming turn... Dreadnought not only passed him, but passed him with authority! In actuality - Dreadnought posted her best lap speeds ever by blistering the course at over 460 mph! At first, we thought that Dago Red had a problem and was going to exit the race course. But we soon realized that this wasn’t the case. Soon afterwards Bruce Lockwood shook off the amazement, reattached his bottom jaw, and then prepared to reel in the fleeting Dreadnought. When he was aboutClick here for larger image to pass him at pylon #1 - Bruce ran into some rough air behind the big Sea Fury (propwash and/or wake turbulence) - which almost sent Dago on her back and caused Bruce’s helmet to hit the canopy "rather hard". A scary moment at best, Bruce’s reactions and keen piloting skills served him well, as he almost instantaneously regained control of the floundering aircraft. Soon afterwards, he managed to pass Dreadnought and took command of the race till the finish. A very close battle until the end - Bruce commented that "It was a great race. I’m sure the fans liked it".

Well, that just about sums it up. *BUT* for this race fan - I’m already counting the days until next year <g>! Be sure to come back to AAFO.COM for the www’s soon-to-be largest photo gallery of Reno 98, more streaming video and audio, as well as some interesting post race interviews from various participants and updates on various racing projects. We also have future plans to start highlighting some of "yesterday’s racers" of the past..... a history of air racing and the people that made it happen. It may be the "off season" but for AAFO.COM...... air racing lives all year round.

Story, Photography & Graphics By Mark Kallio


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