Reno Air Racing: Thunder mustang Update!


Matt Jackson To Fly VOODOO AT R2k!

Dec 18 1999- AAFO.COM -Inside Air Racing- Update:

When Bob Hannah announced his retirement from Air Racing, it opened up one of the "hottest seats" in the sport! Message boards and emails buzzed with speculation by Air Race pundits .... "WHO" would take Bob Button's lavishly prepared "Voodoo" into the fray at R2k?

Earlier this week a snippet appeared on, that had Reno '99 Rare Bear Pilot, Matt Jackson, strapping into the Voodoo cockpit next year. Could this be true? Details were sketchy and contacts at Team Rare Bear were surprised by the question when asked for confirmation.... Jackson is certainly qualified. Matt owns a restoration and mantenence business, Classic Air Works, of Van Nuys, CA.(moving at month's end, to California City) He has been involved in the preparation and piloting duties for several different race airplanes over the years. Jackson's "resume" includes: construction duties on Joe Kasparoff's "Mr. Awesome" (Yak-11/1988), pilot for Bill Rheinschild's "Miss Fit" (Mustang/1991), fourth place finish in The Museum of Flying's "Stiletto" (1992). Matt has also piloted Rheinschild's Risky Business and Bad Attitude at various times over the years... And, of course, he flew "Lyle Shelton's Rare Bear" at Reno '99.

We decided that Matt, himself, was the best man to ask for details... When we first talked to him early this week, Jackson was not completely sure of exactly how this would all work out.... Telling us "you have it -a definite maybe-....... Would I ? you bet? Will I? Ask Mr.. Button". Matt contacted us again, later in the week and made the announcement official.... Jackson: "I met with Mr. Button today. [12/15] The deal is done. I am officially his new pilot."

Matt spoke with us at length about his move to Voodoo and what it meant to him, flying the "Rare Bear" for his long time friend, Lyle Shelton. What follows is a compilation of conversations held with Matt throughout last week.....

********* Matt, you had a "rare" ride this year.... we were happy to see the "Bear" back in action again!

Jackson: "Lyle has been a fabulous friend to allow me the opportunity to operate the worlds fastest propeller aircraft. I can assure you that if the engine holds together, it wins. It currently holds all the records that really mean anything. It holds the race record average, qualifying record as well as the 3k. It goes faster then anything I have flown in the warbirds and I have flown a few." You have raced quite a few impressive airplanes... To many, "The Bear" is THE air race airplane.... How was it, racing "Lyle Shelton's Rare Bear"?

Jackson: "I've known him [Lyle] since I was 11 years old, I'm 41 years old now.... When I first met him was in 1969..... I think it was the first year he raced Rare Bear. I walked up to him and gave him a picture that I'd colored of the airplane there, as an 11 year old kid at the air races. Of course, he signed it for me and gave it back, I still have the picture by the way. He patted me on my head and said... "what do you want to do when you grow up?" I said: I want to race your airplane. And here, exactly 30 years to the day, give or take a few, I was racing his airplane. So it meant a lot to me... and emotionally about the whole deal, I would have really liked to have that airplane perform to its capability and I'd have liked to have been the one driving it [to a win]. The reality is, it didn't work out.... It was an unfortunate deal, but it's racing. If it was easy, they'd call it winning." That's a really great story! It's hard to imagine just how it would feel... racing the airplane of your boyhood hero, especially someone like Lyle Shelton.

Jackson: "Oh exactly, I've known Lyle since I was 11 years old, and he's always been a very gracious, a fine air racer. He is the epitome of an air racer. If you say air racer, he's an air racer! He's a perfect example of what an air racer is. Guys like him, and Darryl Greenamyer. Darryl is another dear friend of mine who has really helped me out and got behind me as far as coaching and giving me wisdom. Guys like him... there's not many people like that around... I've had the privilege of dealing with them...." There was considerable surprise when we heard of your move, most of us keeping an eye on the sport had figured you for another run at the Gold in Rare Bear.

Jackson: "I had made a decision at the beginning of last year that I would only make one attempt at running Rare Bear. This was a financial decision based on the fact that I could not withstand two years of personal financial support of the team. I promised my wife Cheryl, that I would only fly on someone else's nickel next year, if given a chance. After the engine failed this year, on Sunday morning on a test flight, I knew my days were numbered in regards to running Rare Bear next year. With this all in mind, I figured that John Penny would be returning next year to operate the plane for Lyle. I can only say good luck to Lyle and the crew. They are clearly the most dedicated and talented group that I have had the privilege to work with." You did contribute much this last off-season towards getting the airplane ready... How will your leaving the team effect the chances of getting the airplane out of Reno again, back to Van Nuys and prepared to race at Reno 2000?

Jackson: "He's [Lyle] got a good pilot in John Penney.... They'll be there, I'll have the engine done. The engine is going to be completely torn down and disassembled, put back together and be repaired as an overhauled engine. The last few years, it's been band aided, remove that, repair this, repair that... The engine failed this year from no fault of the repairs. It broke a broke an intake valve. And the intake valve created a problem with the master rod, which later created metal on Sunday morning's test flight. Had nothing to do with the repairs, the engine was putting out horsepower, the engine has run beautiful since we put it in, in April...I've had no complaints with the engine, minimal squawks, it served us well.... It's an unfortunate thing, it's racing, we're pushing that engine far beyond its limits and..... it broke a valve... Welcome to air racing! Dwelle dealt with the same problem on Critical Mass..... It's the nature of the beast." The snippet we saw on the net earlier this week, about you flying Voodoo next year, apparently, caught a lot of people by surprise... How did the connection with you and Voodoo come about....

Jackson: "I thought about it a while when it was first hinted.... Bob [Hannah] said "hey if you wanna fly Voodoo I'm going to step aside and you're welcome to do it.." A month or so went by and I talked to Hannah again here just recently and asked if he was thinking of changing his mind.. He said "I'm done, I have no intentions of doing it again" He said "I gave it my shot and that's all I'm gonna do". So I called up Bob [Button] and started shooting the breeze about it, he asked me if I was interested in getting a ride that I was covered that I wouldn't have to spend any of my own money... I said I'm game if you are. We were going to get together after the holidays and sort things out... Evidently, somebody mentioned something to somebody, and the next thing I know it's on airracer [.com]....... Pat Stratman and Allen Michales got the scoop and printed it up even before it was even set. It wasn't for sure, it was just two people talking.... and the next thing I know, I'm on the Internet as the pilot. It kind of created some problems with the crew on Rare Bear. There were some people who weren't even aware of what my situation was... or my contractual agreements with Lyle... and they thought I'd jumped ship. In reality, I've not jumped any ship...I'm moving on and going in a different direction. As long as I fulfill my obligation to Lyle which I've done and will continue to do...... Lyle is a good friend of mine, I've no intentions of letting anybody hang. He's got a good pilot in John Penney....." Bob Hannah has indicated that whoever gets into the Voodoo seat for 2000 will be flying an airplane ready to win....

Jackson: "I'm excited, I've been friends with Bob Button for years. Bob's worked real hard, he really strives to be successful, he's had a lot of tough breaks. This year the airplane was really ready to go and had that fractured oil line, which was really unfortunate...." Is that what took the prop out?

Jackson: Yea, broke the oil transfer line on the governor, the prop overspeed... ruined a perfectly good engine it had been thoroughly tested all was ready to go. Real unfortunate. All of us here would like to wish you good luck in the run for the R2k Gold, Matt!

Jackson: The aircraft will be up and running sometime in April. P-51's are my weapons of choice. I think that I will have a hell of a run at the National Championship with Bob and the Voodoo team."


Clearly, when Matt Jackson gets into this seat, he'll be flying a very well "tested" airplane. Voodoo is a crowd favorite at Reno, she is well overdue for a mark in the win column!....

We'll be keeping close watch on progress with Voodoo's new engine... they are taking a slightly different approach this year.... Last word had the new race engine on the test truck going through its paces...Stay tuned for more details.......

Will 2000 be Matt's year? Who will win the first air race of the new millennium? Way too early to speculate... but one thing is for sure... It will be the best Reno ever.... they all are!

Interview by: Wayne Sagar

Photography by: Dominique Thirot - Mark S. Daniels - Wayne Sagar

Special thanks to: Brad Haskin for historical background informaton.


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