Pilot Journal
Friday, July 1, 2005

Clark Kent Of The Sport Class


Mike Jones is a mild-mannered businessman, but in Reno, NEV., he’s some kind of Superman!


clark kent of the sport classIf you’re like me and would not consider missing the Reno Air Races every September, you have to have noticed the increasing popularity of the sport class. The Reno Air Races have survived for years with only four classes of competition: sport biplanes, Formula One, T6 and unlimiteds—the latter, by far, being the top draw of all.
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clark kent of the sport class
Prize-winning sport-class racer Mike Jones spent six years building his Glasair III, which included modifications both inside and out. The result of his efforts yielded him a series of awards at several racing competitions.
Prize-winning sport-class racer Mike Jones spent six years building his Glasair III, which included modifications both inside and out. The result of his efforts yielded him a series of awards at several racing competitions.

Jones began competing in the R.A.C.E. series in 1994 and he has won the Super Glasair Class Championship every year since. “Those races are fun because there are usually only one or two turns on the course and the circuit is long enough that there’s rarely much traffic around the turns,” says Jones.

Jones’ entry into pylon racing at Reno in 1998 helped initiate the class. “As much as I loved the R.A.C.E. series, the Reno Races were a little intimidating. I always regarded the Reno pilots as supermen, and I never thought I’d be joining them, but when the opportunity arose, I jumped at it.”

During that first year of sport-class racing, there were only 13 airplanes competing for top honors, but since Jones became class president in 2003, the class has expanded considerably. Some 23 airplanes participated in the 2004 races, and this year, Jones says there will be 30 airplanes competing for the Gold.

Just as in the R.A.C.E. series, the sport-class president’s airplane has done well at Reno. Wearing race #10 and named Warp Speed Wanda, Jones’ Glasair III won the Silver race in 1999 and placed second in the 2000 Silver event, circling the 6.3-mile course in only about one minute and 15 seconds. “At Reno, where density altitude is usually at least 7,000 feet, twin-turbocharged airplanes such as Darryl Greenamyer’s Lancair Legacy and John Parker’s Thunder Mustang will probably always outrun those of us who fly behind normally aspirated engines,” says Jones. “With the help of blowers, they’re pulling as much as 600 hp from those engines, whereas we’re not getting more than 350 hp, so unless they have mechanical problems, it’s unlikely we could win. But that’s all a part of racing.”

Warp Speed Wanda is one of several airplanes in the sport class that enjoy sponsorship from Lycoming. In Jones’ case, Lycoming replaced his airplane’s stock IO-540 engine with a high-compression version of the IO-580 powerplant. Accordingly, Jones has Warp Speed Wanda running well over 300 mph down the straightaways. “Lycoming supports both normally aspirated and turbocharged entrants in the sport class because it’s one way of improving the state of the art. They sponsor my normal breather and Jon Sharp’s turbocharged racer. The improvements they try on our airplanes that work well, improve power and turn out to be reliable very well may show up on production engines a few years down the road.

“Since starting racing at Reno six years ago,” continues Jones, “I’ve increased my lap speeds by about 30 mph with a combination of Lycoming’s innovations and some aerodynamic tricks of my own. At Wendover last year, I ran 309 mph to win the event, and I’m lapping at almost 300 mph at Reno.”




Labels: Piston Singles

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