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Inside Air Racing Report

An Evening With Lyle Shelton and "Rare Bear"
By: Patrick Hunt
The annals of Air Race History holds many names, however, there are but a few that ring in memory as having a special meaning to those who follow The World’s Fastest Motorsport.

Legendary names that — by their mere utterance — evoke a sense of that Golden Century of challenging the sky.

Names like Bleriot, Curtis, Doolittle, Turner, Williams, Wedell, Cochran, Stead, Slovak, Greenamyer…

…and one name that belongs to a man still quite active in the sport - undeniably the greatest Air Race pilot to ever live:


Six-time National Champion at Reno;

First to win three Unlimited Championship Races within the period of a year;

Holder of the World’s Speed Record For Piston-engine Aircraft Over a 3 KM Straight Course at 528.33 mph;

Holder of the Time to Climb Record - 3000 Meters in 1 minute 31 seconds;

Pilot of the veteran Grumman F-8F Bearcat racer, "Rare Bear," Race 77;

Inductee into the Motorsports Hall of Fame…

Lyle Shelton.

Truly, an Air Racing legend.

Last month, we had the unique experience of sitting behind that legend while he flew his Bearcat for the first time in several years.


You say his airplane sits engine-less in a hangar at the Reno-Stead Airport…how can this be true, then?

Many of you probably already know where I’m heading with this:

Xtreme Air Racing!

If you follow this website, or computer games, you already know about the upcoming flight simulation we refer to. If not, let us explain that the new Xtreme Air Racing is a computer game and competition modeled after the Reno National Championship Air Races, held annually in mid-September at Stead Airport, Nevada. (see link for more information) With this new flight sim, gamers will not only be able to fly the course at Reno-Stead and compete with each other on that same course, but they will also be able to compete against the racers themselves...

...including, Lyle Shelton!

To say that laying one’s hands on this simulation could be an Air Race fan’s dream come true, would be an understatement! As it turns out, this new flight simulation could well be one of the best things that both the Air Racing fanatic, the future Air Racer, and those involved in Air Racing today, can lay their hands on…

...but I digress — let’s go back to the cockpit with Lyle Shelton.

In past meetings with Lyle, I have heard him describe what it is like to fly the course at Reno, and along with most of you reading this, we have seen him fly the course at Reno from our perspective on the ground.

Over the past four years since this publication began, my own personal "dream come true" has been the opportunity to meet with and become friends of the many personalities involved with Air Racing. Now, the dream has become even better!

During the recent Pylon Racing Seminar, held at Stead, Nevada, between June 21 - 24, 2001, we were invited to join Victory Interactive's President, Pat Hunt, on a visit to introduce Lyle and other racers to Xtreme Air Racing. Even better, we had the opportunity to have Lyle view and fly his own airplane, which is modeled within the new flight sim.

The man who controls the mighty "Rare Bear" is no stranger to real airplanes of many different types, and as our good luck would have it, he’s no stranger to flight simulations either!

Lyle Shelton is an active member of a "virtual flight simulation squadron," flying and competing regularly on-line at "Warbirds" with his fellow "squadron mates"; as a pilot as well as a "virtual pilot", he was personally eager to see just what this "Xtreme Air Racing" game was all about.

Let me pull a Richard Milhous Nixon here and "make this perfectly clear:" I’m a big — let’s make that, a HUGE — Air Racing fan, and have been for many years; and yet, what was about to unfold before my eyes will now and always be one of my fondest memories of this grand, epic motorsport.

"This looks a lot like my panel," said a grinning Lyle Shelton as the "virtual Rare Bear" came up on the screen. "Did you guys take a picture of it?" he asked.

"Yes we did," smiled a proud Pat Hunt, as he watched an actual race pilot about to step into the saddle of his "brainchild," Xtreme Air Racing.

As Pat Hunt loaded the simulation onto Lyle’s computer, we both watched as it began…Lyle’s transformation from a man sitting in his living room at his computer, to Lyle Shelton, Pilot: Rare Bear Air Racing Team!

...something thousands more will get to do — live vicariously through Lyle Shelton and many of their favorite racers — come the Reno Air Races in September!

Delighted, I sat back and watched in awe as Lyle took control and immediately began calling off where he was on the course:

"This would be pylon four," he said, as he leaned into the turn, smooth as silk.

Talking with and guiding us as he flew around the course from pylon to pylon, Lyle took everyone present into the cockpit with him as he explained to us what he was doing and — even better — "why."

Flying his normally smooth and slightly high line, the six time winner of Reno Gold and Motorsports Hall of Famer was no longer just sitting in his living room, he had made the transformation into the Rare Bear again — and every move counted, just as it did the last time he flew Race 77.

I mentioned a few lines earlier that Lyle was smooth on the controls — this is a major understatement! Lyle was awesome at the controls! Everything he did, sitting there before us in his living room, was something he had done previously in the cockpit of the Rare Bear itself, and for that matter — will be something he does once more at some time in the near future.

Simply put — he gave us a class in flying his airplane.

Eager to learn more about flying the course, both Pat and I were curious in regards to emergency procedures. The two of us had been having problems getting back to the runway after engine failures while flying Xtreme Air Racing. No matter what we did, wherever we were on the course, we never seemed to have enough airspeed or altitude to first find...then land...on the runway.

ANY runway!

Lyle had a very stern and serious answer to this question:

"You better know where the runways are, no matter where you are on the course" said this master of speed sitting before us; "and you have to be making your turn and approach while you are climbing or you’re in big trouble."

I have to break into this for a moment to qualify what I, personally, was feeling at this moment…and I do not mean to slight anyone who is religious…however, sitting in Lyle Shelton’s living room surrounded by the spoils of his many victories in air racing — receiving racing lessons from him personally — to this Air Racing fan... was akin to an audience with God himself!

It just does not get any better than this!

In fact, though, it did get better.

The main reason for this visit was to have Lyle act as "test pilot." This would be a shakedown flight for the new sim, and beyond a shadow of a doubt, Lyle is in good company, seeing that he's performing this test pilot work for Victory Simulations, a company with whom R.A. "Bob" Hoover himself, has been acting as "Chief Pilot" for several months…

Both Lyle and Bob have made the suggestion that wake turbulence be factored in…

Attention to detail being a prerequisite in his work, Pat Hunt wrote down every word of their suggestions and informed me only today, that work is complete, implementing both men’s experience and ideas.

Is Xtreme Air Racing real air racing?

No, it is only a simulation. And yet, how close to "real" is it?

In his living room this evening, Lyle Shelton answered that question for us:

"Xtreme Air Racing gives me many of the same sensations of speed and relative motion that I get when I’m flying The Rare Bear around the course at Reno," said the smiling aviator, as he stepped out of the "virtual cockpit" and back into his living room once again. Continuing his visit with us that evening, Lyle added something in the way of a suggestion that impressed me even further:

"You guys need to give this to the racing class check pilots for training race pilots."

...and Lyle explained why:

"When I was getting ready to fly the airplane (Rare Bear) in ’97, it had been a while since I’d flown it. I was flying Warbirds (the simulation) at the time and I found an airfield that was similar to Reno, and used it (the simulation) to practice emergency procedures...and it really did help!" According to Lyle, "This would be even better — the terrain and pylon locations are pretty much what you see out there — this would be a great help to any pilot flying Reno."

I have personally been impressed with Xtreme Air Racing since I first saw it in February of this year, but I never really knew for certain. Yes, it looked pretty "real" to me at the time. The game was a challenge to fly well and the airplanes looked realistic. Certainly, Xtreme Air Racing "took me there," but I had been wondering from the very first look — will this feel the same to someone who has actually put a lot of time in on the actual course?

Lyle’s comments had answered my question.

This was a fantastic experience watching Lyle fly Rare Bear once again; even better to hear him talk us through a few laps on the course; and his coaching on the engine out procedures had me actually making the runway after the first few tries.

However, what about Lyle Shelton? Did he enjoy flying Xtreme Air Racing as much as I have been enjoying it?

A quick answer would be yes, but since this Editor’s Editor coached me on just how to approach this story — by saying, "take it one moment at a time and tell what you saw" — I’ll take the answer into the next day…

Pat had only brought one copy of Xtreme Air Racing, and as such, was unable to leave one for Lyle, who now had the frustration of having the simulation loaded on his machine, but was unable to fly it without the CD installed.

Here he was, Lyle Shelton! Grounded — yet again! Or was he?

You do not win six Unlimited Gold Championships and not learn how to bypass a problem or two!

I received a call from Lyle the very next day and he, along with his friend and fellow Warbirds squadron mate, were trying to get Xtreme Air Racing to work sans the CD. The two men had, however, partially succeeded, and Lyle was impatient to find out when he could have a copy of the simulation to continue his flying.

A quick trip to the local office supply — along with a few minutes of CD burning — and we had a copy in his hand!

...and you — our readers — think that you're anxious to see Xtreme Air Racing !!!

So how good is Xtreme Air Racing? The quick answer: DAMNED GOOD!!!

...and over time, it’s even getting better.

I mentioned earlier that Pat was taking notes as Lyle spoke and made requests, several of which had already been in the works on the advice of "Chief Pilot" Bob Hoover.

Many new things have been added since the evening Xtreme Air Racing was demonstrated to Lyle.

For one, the realism factor has been bumped-up significantly, but the sim will still be easy for those who are just getting started. Selectable levels of difficulty will be a feature of Xtreme Air Racing, plus you can add or subtract reality components to suit your level of ability.

A pilot selectable failure mode for practicing engine out procedures, as well as several different view options are among the suggestions from actual racing pilots that have recently been added to Xtreme Air Racing.

Xtreme Air Racing is scheduled for release at the 2001 Reno National Championship Air Races, and is currently available only via on-line ordering at:

The best way to experience Air Racing first hand, from our pilots' point of view, is to grab a copy and strap in!

Once you do, we’ll see you on the pylons, where you'll be able to see your favorite racer, too — and after a while, there you'll be! Flying the virtual course at Reno-Stead, competing with the best that Air Racing has to offer... "equals!"

Support Air Racing: Visit RareBear.Com

The 2001 Reno National Championship Air Races will be held
Sept. 13-17
CLICK HERE for further information

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