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Countdown To Reno 2003
Reno Air Racing Update
Aug. 15, 2003

Once again, we enter the "Countdown To Reno." The annual thrash to finish projects begun long ago, the thrash to beat the entry day deadline. It happens every year. Months of hard work by Air Race crewmembers from across the country during the off-season for this one-show-per-year corner of the motorsport world culminate in the "all-nighters" to get ready for race day.

Twelve months is never enough time, never enough time to repair engines, smooth airframes, chase sponsors, modify propellers —in some cases— rebuild entire airplanes. Never enough time.

As we move ahead over the next few weeks during the "Countdown To Reno 2003," we're going to keep a running progress report here, within this feature. As we get information that we're given permission to publish, we will add to the list below.

Let's take a look at what we can talk about on this, the fifteenth day of August, two thousand and three.

Critical Mass:
Bad luck befell this promising race team early last year when the landing gear folded on owner/pilot Tom Dwelle while he was taxiing in from a test flight, destroying their propeller, and potentially damaging their one-and-only race engine. With what looked like it might be a good chance at a competitive program for the week, Critical Mass Air Race Team had their hopes dashed before the official race week even began.

It may well be said that every cloud does have the silver lining, however. Over the last year, a tear-down of the engine revealed problems that might well have the team looking at the untimely end to last year’s effort as a blessing in disguise. In addition to the damage caused by the incident, there were internal problems with the engine found, unrelated to the prop strike, that could have ended their week in a much more dramatic manner.

Engine and airframe repairs completed, currently, Tom Dwelle's "Super Sea Fury" sits ready, less one key part for the newly refurbished engine.

During the landing gear collapse, the prop blades for Critical Mass were completely destroyed. As the team searched for replacements, they began to appear to be made of the proverbial "unobtainium," there just were none to be found.

A solution to the problem was found during the June Pylon Racing Seminar, in a sort-of round about way. Hibernating in her Auburn, CA, hangar, Critical Mass had no prop, but her R-3350 had a good carb. Meanwhile "over the rocks" at the Reno Stead Airport, Lyle Shelton and his crew had an airplane needing flight testing, a pilot needing re-qualifying and a carburetor that went south during a test run just prior to the event. Worse yet, they had no money, or time to rebuild the needed part in time to keep to their schedule.

But Team Rare Bear had something else... They had a spare prop, just like the one needed by Critical Mass, a prop they would dearly love to have rebuilt and ready to install on the Rare Bear but, again, no funds to make it happen. Can you smell the deal that was worked out here?

The long and the short of it: a deal was struck between these two great Air Race teams. Critical Mass would "borrow" Rare Bear's "spare" propeller, Rare Bear would "borrow" Critical Mass's carb... As of this writing, the word we get, positioned as the "fly on the wall of the hangar" is..... "the Critical Mass carb is in the mail." By the time you read this, Critical Mass should have their fuel metering device in hand, and flight testing should begin shortly thereafter... (this situation will be updated as information can be gathered)

Miss America:
Another bad luck story here, if you can call a forced landing where the pilot walks away from a well insured, rebuildable, airplane bad luck.

In an incident that could have had a much worse outcome, Pilot/Owner, Brent Hisey had his "Ricky" race engine let go in a BIG way last year, during preparation for a qualifying run. Out of airspeed, altitude, visibility and options, "Doc" put the airplane down on the runway... at first anyway. His subsequent "off-airport" landing was not pretty and the airplane was, to put it mildly, substantially damaged. But the good Doctor from Oklahoma City walked away undaunted, albeit a bit shaken, but otherwise, unhurt. Hisey vowed to rebuild the airplane and return to Reno this year, it looks as though he's going to be good on this promise!

Tucked away in the middle of the country, away from most of the prying eyes of the curious, "Doc" has been keeping tight lipped regarding the exact details of his repair project. A few months ago, he told us of a "new look" and some changes we would see on the airplane this September. This past Tuesday, we spoke with Brent from his busy office (or from the sounds in the background, from the hospital) in OK City.

We asked Brent how the preparations were progressing on his Miss America Air Racer?

"So far, we're doing good. It went to the paint shop yesterday to get it primed and filled in, hopefully, we'll be able to bring it back out of the paint shop in a couple of days. The guys have a few things to finish up on it and hopefully, we'll run it this weekend."

Though Brent has an engine installed in "Miss A" this is not his racing engine, will we see Brent's repaired airplane race ready by Reno?

"I talked with Ricky Shanholtzer yesterday and the engine should be in position in about two weeks. Unlike last year, we're going to put that [engine] in here (author’s note: Last year, the race engine was not ready in time and had to be shipped to, and installed at Reno) and fly around a bunch on it. I think we're going to make it barring any disaster."

Anyone who made the trip down to the far end of the airport last year saw the sad state that this once beautiful P-51 racer was in. Brent vowed to fix it right. Just how much was done to the airplane?

"It wound up being a total restoration, even though I am biased, I think this will be the finest restoration in the world of a Mustang. It is just gorgeous. These guys have just done a beautiful restoration of it. There isn't anything old on it. It's still got the original longerons, but they replaced everything else, it's a brand new Mustang."

We mentioned Brent's comments earlier of the "new look" for the airplane this year, Brent finally has let the cat out of the bag...

"We've got some new wingtips, it's got a cut-down scoop on it, we have a cuffed prop and a new "Ricky" engine! Those are the main things that you'll see different on it. The paint's different, the colors are lightened up. It won't be as light as Howie had it, I think it will be in-between. [what we had before] I think people will be real pleased with it, it's going to be gorgeous. I think this will be the best looking airplane at Reno."

From what we understand, the "new wingtips" will be "Strega-like," the scoop will be "cut down" but not quite the flush design, familiar on Strega, Dago Red and Voodoo. Last year, Brent had his eye on moving up in the realm of speed. From the sounds of it, his plan is to be cautious, but competitive this year. Just how well might the once-again beautiful "Miss A" do this time round?

"We're optimistic, maybe this will be our year. With Rare Bear and Dago all going out and trying to do 500 miles per hour, there's no telling who's going to break. We sure can't keep up with them in a regular race but if they're wounded or broken, we're right there in it. It's going to be a really neat year."

When we asked how just how competitive he might be, Brent qualified his statement about his chances this year, stating his intent to carefully go at the race week, one step at a time.

"Well, we hope to be [competitive], we're going to take it slow this year. We don't have any intention of going out there and beating up the airplane, it's a new airplane to us and we want to break it in slowly, so we're just going to slowly progress through the week."

The "Doc" was in a very good mood and very optimistic about making it this year, we hated to do it, but we took the conversation back to 2002, and asked the question we had to ask.. Just what went wrong with the engine during last year? Brent had a very philosophical answer...

"All the parts on the inside went to the outside." [laughs]

Brent and Miss America are also scheduled to appear at the Nellis Air Show "Aviation Nation 2003" where the "Las Vegas Air Racing" demonstration event will be held, "We're looking forward to that" Hisey said of the November event.

Precious Metal:
We spoke with Owner/Pilot Ron Buccarelli a couple weeks ago, the airplane is entered for 2003 and he intends to bring her out to race. Ron told us to expect "Precious Metal Lite" this year. The difficulty of bringing out the equipment trailer and extra engines from Florida to Nevada is just to much drain on the team. The plan is to run a conservative race week, with a firm eye on finishing the week with a healthy airplane, ready to go to Ron's scheduled appearance at "
Aviation Nation 2003." Ron was on the schedule for the "Las Vegas Air Racing" demonstration event last year, but last minute engine problems kept him from making the trip from the Reno Stead Airport, where the airplane was staged, to Nellis Air Force Base, Las Vegas, Nevada, where the event was held. Ron tells us he is very excited about the event and we're very excited about the prospect of seeing the airplane there!

Rare Bear:
Oh gosh... The first "grass roots" "Fan Sponsored" Unlimited Air Race Team in the modern history of the sport…

I guess we've said about all there is to say about this effort on our various updates and message board sessions over the past year. I'll duck the flak for now and just say this, "The Bear's Back" is the theme for this team's effort and barring any last minute financial disasters, this long sleeping animal is gonna be there and very hungry.. and from what we understand, looking forward to a big drink of some fine Italian wine!

Dago Red:
What can be said about this well funded, well organized team! A new Dwight Thorne engine, plenty of spares, one of the best teams in the sport, equally so in the driver's seat... Bill "Kerch" Kerchenfaut managing the effort.. Wow.. a very, very, tough combination to beat.

At last word, the engine was nearing completion in Dwight's California shop, expect to see them polished, tuned and "ready for Bear" on the ramp at Reno 2003.

with her new driver, Gary Hubler ready to take control, the "word" from owner Bill Rogers is, the team is: "down to paintin' ground equipment".. (
see previous story) One of two Pratt & Whitney R-4360 powered Hawker Sea Fury raceplanes entered for Reno 2003, veteran air race fans will be watching for much improved performance from the "Retro" painted "Race #15" Furias.

Czech Mate:
Not many details from this Air Race Team, but we did receive information from a team member during the June PRS sessions that indicates that Sherman Smoot will be back in John Moore's little Yak. This team has not had a lot of good luck over the past few years, it would be great to see them do well this time round!

Dreadnought: New engine installed, flight testing underway. Watch for "the Buick" to be there to keep everyone "honest".. Always a strong threat any time she sees the pylons. Dreadnought: 28 well tuned cylinders in the able hands of the Sanders brothers... The Gold race is going to be pretty darn crowded this year!

That's it for this edition of "Countdown To Reno".. as it comes in, we'll update this section with all the news that's fit to print, or print to fit.

Note to Air Race Crews: (All Divisions) If you would like your team updates published here, please click here to contact us.

Note to Air Race Fans: It's time to "beat up the board!!" Who's gonna win it all? Who's gonna finish "in the ladies room?" Let's get some discussion going in the "Hangar Talk" Forum!

-Wayne Sagar-



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