|12/24/98 AAFO.COM UPDATE
It has been written elsewhere that the wonderful sport of Air Racing was dying. That the very effort to rebuild and race vintage warbirds would, in the end, be responsible for their demise. Well, we're here again to tell ya "it ain't so!"
Over the years race planes have come and gone, new entries added....old one's retired....In 1969, When Lyle Shelton discovered the airplane now known as Rare Bear lying abandoned where it had crash-landed years before, he found a relic likely destined for the scrap heap. With racing in mind, Shelton and others made this Phoenix rise from it's destiny as raw material for beverage containers. Creating one of the fastest propeller airplanes ever built from the ruins found in that Indiana corn field, they preserved for all to see this grand old veteren from another era.
Long a favorite on the Reno circuit, this always exciting Wright R3350 powered Bearcat was absent from the competition for the gold in '98. To say the growling sound of Lyle Shelton's Bearcat was missed this year would certainly be an understatement! The rivalry between this airplane and anything fast with a pointed nose is legendary at the annual high desert competition known as "Reno". Due to engine problems during the final laps at Reno '97, as well as further engine complications, Lyle Shelton's fast Cat has been lingering in a hanger located at Stead.... awaiting funding and a workable engine.... Some wondered if we would ever see the airplane in the air again at Reno.
Good news from Rare Bear! We've just heard from Shirlee Kurtz, spokesperson for Rare Bear Racing, an engine for the long time Reno favorite is in the works and plans are to have this airplane flying for Reno '99!
Shirlee tells us "Today [Dec 23] we are finishing up an engine so that after the first of the year, we can get it to Reno and get the plane flown back to Van Nuys. Once the plane is back from Reno, the engine, the wing tanks, the accessories, most all moving parts are coming off, being repaired, replaced, or modified. Some things are secret, but I can tell you that basic restoration is being done to the plane in preparation of racing in Reno in 99. Yes, the Bear is on the way to coming back!" This is great news.... Unless you are one of the teams that will have to contend with this beast next year!!!!!!!!!!!!
We've reported here of the damages from the '97 incident, or at least the obvious one. We asked Shirlee what all had gone wrong with the powerplant.....
"What happened in 97? According to Crew Chief, Greg Shaw, during the early stages of the Gold Race, a exhaust tube failed at a production weld seam. This failure was internal of the cowling. This failure caused the loss of a number of spark plug leads and coils. This in turn caused a large loss of horsepower and a rough running engine. It didn't take long for the hot exhaust gases to burn through the cowling near the induction air intake on the right wing...you all saw what damage that was. The second failure involved a bearing in the supercharger drive section. This had little, if any, effect on horsepower output but did cause the loss of the power plant due to metal being circulated through the oil system and then back into the power plant. Between these two failures, you can image what problems and complications it caused for the motor."
What else is going on with Rare Bear Racing? Shirlee tells us "The crew for 98 is changing, and slimming down. The team is being aggressive in getting back to Reno ready to do some serious flying, serious winning, and serious record backing speeds..........Sponsorships are still being explored.......Money, as well as volunteer crew, are just two very important concepts to the plane."
Hummn.... Reno '99... Strega is due back (more on this later), Dago will return for sure, Miss Ashley II is for sure going to be there and will likely be much faster..... As always the monster that fears nothing, Dreadnought, will be there.... Voodoo is an unknown, but likely will appear.... Critical Mass, absent this year due to uncompleted engine improvements (ones that will make this airplane way faster) is scheduled to race... Now then..... Add to this mix all the other possible contenders for the gold and the verrrry fast Lyle Shelton's Rare Bear and once again, the upcoming Reno Air Races promise to top all previous events in excitement and competition!....... It just doesn't get any better than this!
story by: Wayne Sagar
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