Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, October 22, 2013

50 Years Of Championship Air Racing

“Fly low, go fast, turn left” is every racing pilot’s mantra

Old racers, new racers and fan favorites all came out to take part of the 50th. Three classic Unlimited racers are in attendance to show off some of the heritage of the last half century. Miss Van Nuys, Ole Yeller and Race 15, P-51 Mustangs that flew and raced back in the 1970s, graced the fans with their presence, as none of these planes had been seen together since they raced. A historic photo shoot was made the night before the last race, as all three of these planes were brought out for a static shoot right before a downpour that engulfed the field started. The purple, the white and the yellow racers stood fast in the rain; their colors never bled.

Things heated up as the race grew closer to the big race at the end of the week with the mighty Unlimiteds. With only 14 planes showing up, the bronze medal was removed, with only enough planes for the silver and gold. Out of this comes a silver lining. The field is littered with T6s, and more space was needed to accommodate the number of competitors. It's a good match for the gold, but due to a mechanical problem early in the week, one of the favorites, #6 Six Cat, a former champion, was out of the race, giving Dennis Buehn and his red T6 #43 Midnight Miss III another champion, a slight opening, which he used to once again get the gold.

This year's celebration was for fan-favorite racers, like #77 Rare Bear (bottom left). Three special guests this year were Miss Van Nuys, Race 15 and Ole Yeller, who raced together in the '70s and came together for one historic shoot (top) in what has become known as one of the wettest static shoots in Reno history. As the weather broke away Saturday night, we awoke on Sunday to a beautiful morning with the light gleaming off of Race 15 (bottom right). Another great day of racing was to begin.

With the excitement drawing to a climax, it's finally time to see the main highlight of the year. Since June, the rumors had spread, "Is it the man or the machine?" Steven Hinton would be flying #5 Voodoo, while #7 Strega would be flown by Matt Jackson. Matt Jackson and team Strega were having a week of troubles with a canopy coming off and a disqualified heat earlier in the week. He'll be starting sixth from the front as the race begins. Hinton had an average speed of 487 and a top speed of 504 during Saturday's race, putting him in a good position to stay in the lead on Sunday. The suspense has built between these mighty competitors, and a field of sleepers as to who would walk away with the gold.

A champion would be crowned, but who would it be? As #5 Voodoo took off for the last race of the year, all eyes turned to the sky.

As the planes and crews of the nine Unlimited gold competitors do the "duck walk" to the front of the grand stands, all eyes are glued to show center. As the announcer moves away, the props begin to turn, and the last race of 2013 commenced. These once war-built aircraft took to the skies to fulfill another purpose as if they were reborn in another life. One by one, they go up and join the T-33 pace plane. Under each of our breaths we all say what everyone else is thinking, "Let them all get down safely." The planes line up, the T-33 breaks away and the race begins! Into the shoot they go, with #5 Voodoo in the lead. #86 Czech Mate is in second and #77 Rare Bear in third with #7 Strega making its way up at the end of lap one. By the end of lap three, #7 Strega has passed #86 Czech Mate and is going after #5 Voodoo. Hinton's line is as straight as an arrow throughout the whole race. In the end, #7 Strega puts up a valiant fight, but can't catch #5 Voodoo. Once again, Hinton wins the gold and ironically beats his own winning streak in #7 Strega. After the race, a voice is heard over the radio saying, "Nice race, kid," to which the reply is, "Thanks."

As Sunday began with the Formula One Silver Medal (right), tension was in the air. After six laps, Hinton won his fifth consecutive win and hoisted the trophy he so richly earned with plane owner Bob Button (left).


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