-Thursday, September 16, 1999-
Here we are again... it's zero dark thirty and this AAFO.COM "Inside Air Racing" correspondent is at it again....
As always, there is more to report than we could hope to bring you in one or two daily updates... but, we'll give it our best shot at 2:00 AM. This reporter took part of yesterday and today off for a quick trip home and all hell breaks loose here at Reno Stead Airport. As reported by aafo.com correspondent and photographer, Birgitta Nurmi, long time Reno Air Race veteran, Ray Cote has broken Jon Sharp's very long 44 race winning streak! Long a "who's gonna win second" racing class, this win by Cote is a welcome breath of competitive fresh air here at the Reno National Championship Air Races.
We reported earlier this week, the problems plaguing the Levitz-Rogers racing team and their exotic entry, Miss Ashley II. Addition of the high tech NACA Duct, cooling scoop to the, already, very slick "Learstang", has not been without difficulty for this energetic team. First bitten by a nagging prop seal failure (and subsequent "re-failures" in the same area... one seal at a time) the team has been chasing an extremely frustrating overheating problem. Thought to be caused by the radical new scoop design and need for more spray bar water than had been calculated necessary, the team was literally pulling hair in their effort to come up with the proper combination of spray bar positioning and water volume. Late yesterday, it was discovered the problem lay within the radiator itself. An inspection of the interior of the coolant radiator, showed it to be nearly completely choked with aluminum oxide particles (presumably from the engine coolant passages). After a very nervous period of chasing this gremlin, MA2 pilot, Gary Levitz managed to get the airplane qualified Wednesday, at 430.717 MPH, despite the still undiscovered radiator clog. Today (Thurs) was an entirely different story for Levitz-Rogers Racing. Number 7 on the Unlimited qualifying time list, MA2 had to race in the Silver group's Heat 1A race. A very anxious team watched as their pilot took the airplane around the pylons. A picture perfect start by Levitz put him firmly in the first place position from the beginning of this heat race. As pace plane pilot, Steve Hinton, released the aircraft for their run at the start pylon, Gary Levitz shot by everyone with a very noticeable speed differential. Positioned in the number one slot from the beginning of lap one, Levitz lapped Rheinschild, flying Risky Business, in short order. Still in "test mode" with the, now solved, cooling system problems, Gary managed to cut outer Pylon 3 twice during the course of the race. Despite being penalized 24 seconds for these infractions, Levitz's lead was sufficient to win the race with an adjusted time of 7:38:94, nearly 4 seconds ahead of second place, Dennis Sanders, flying the Hawker Sea Fury, Argonaut. Up very late Wednesday with the radiator problem, tonight's late evening "pit-walk" found the Levitz-Rogers pit devoid of any activity..... Today's win was done with limited power settings and no nitrous use... This team is firmly back on the "to watch" list.
Our "pit-walk" found the lights in the Dago Red pit lights burning brightly. Problem: One of the two magnetos supplying power to the 12 cylinders of the Rolls Royce-Merlin engine, in the beautifully painted 1998 race winner, was not working properly. We watched as crew chief, Bill Kerchenfaut, and several members of the Dago Red team attempted to rectify the problem. Several hours spent in an attempt to get the "sick" mag to work properly with no success bring about the decision to dig in and replace it. Team member Mike "Mikey" Wilton appears with a new mag muttering something about there being two reasons for this part being a good one... "it's the right brand and it belongs to Bill Kerchenfaut". Not one to mince words, his reply when asked if the mag would be replaced.... "I'm not going to waste time, trying to time a piece of shi*, it's like pinning a corsage on a hog".
Wednesday also saw engine work in the Strega pit. Apparently chasing problems with the valves, fairly deep disassembly of the engine and heads, indicated a problem a bit more serious than Dago's errant mag... The airplane was "buttoned" up during our late evening visit on Thursday.... Is the problem solved? Stay Tuned!
I can not leave this story tonight (errr this morning, it's now 3:09 AM on Friday) without mention of the extreme level of sportsmanship in air racing. With the help of many different individuals, Voodoo managed to get in the show Wednesday after "borrowing" an engine from the Dago team and a prop from the "Mormon Mustang". Teams that want nothing more than to beat their competition will stop at nothing to make sure their competition is there in the race. It's been said that air racing is about the people... the airplanes are just an excuse for the people who race to get together... There is much more to this sport than a bunch of airplanes and pilots battling it out on the high desert pylons... Much more!
I leave you till tomorrow! Stay with us as we continue our On-Site Coverage of the 1999 Reno National Championship Air Races.... The Worlds Fastest Motorsport!
Special thanks to the security team guarding the airplanes, airport and reporters, stupid enough to be up at 3:00 AM filing stories. Without their helping this reporter, keeping him supplied with coffee and my other bad habit.... (kids, do as I say... Not as I do!) cigarettes... I'd have been in the "Inside Air Racing" On-Site HQ, sound asleep long ago!zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
ed's note: This story will be updated with photographs as soon as they are processed and can be added
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