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
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
a look at what we can talk about on this,
the fifteenth day of August, two thousand
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.
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
years 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
airframe repairs completed, currently,
Tom Dwelle's "Super Sea Fury"
sits ready, less one key part for the
newly refurbished engine.
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.
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
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?
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)
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.
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
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.
Brent how the preparations were
progressing on his Miss America Air
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."
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?
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
(authors 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
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?
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."
mentioned Brent's comments earlier of the
"new look" for the airplane
this year, Brent finally has let the cat
out of the bag...
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
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?
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."
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.
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."
"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...
the parts on the inside went to the
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
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!
Oh gosh... The first "grass
roots" "Fan Sponsored"
Unlimited Air Race Team in the modern
history of the sport
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!
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.
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
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!
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!
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.
Air Race Crews: (All Divisions) If you
would like your team updates published
here, please click here to contact us.
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!