Reno Air Racing: Thunder mustang Update!

"Ridge Runner" & Reno 98
an AAFO.COM Interview with Mike Barrow

After posting a great qualifying run (the forth fastest on Monday at 423.951 mph) pilot, Dan Martin, and Team Ridge Runner had a very disappointing week to say the least. FirstClick here for larger image loosing a rudder trim tab on Thursday and posting a DNF...... An intermittent problem in the power plant department soon became a continuing nuisance and kept them out of the running for this year's event. Now that the dust has settled, we were given the opportunity to talk with crew chief and engine builder, Mike Barrow, who graciously shared his experience and thoughts about Ridge Runner & Reno98. Obviously, our first concerns surrounded the Merlin powerplant and what problems were encountered.

Mike: "You could say that the engine is the ‘little brother’ of Merlins used in aircraft like Dago and Voodoo. As you know, I work with Dwight Thorn at Mystery Air and the engine was built by myself, using all the usual specifications that Dwight puts into racing Merlins, except for the crankcase and connecting rods. What we were running into was what we feel at this time was heat soak problems..... causing the valve guides to hang. We started encountering these problems when we were running manifold pressures in the range of 95 to 100. To be honest, we really haven’t found the exact root of the problems yet, that will come when we get a change to do a partial teardown of the engine later this year.

AAFO: Well, this problem really cropped up at the worst of times. During qualifications,Click here for larger imageyou ran great! Everything seemed like it was going to go your way until after the trim tab decided to part company with the rudder. After that - all I remember seeing is one busy pit crew throughout the remainder of the event. You guys really were working you asses off trying to figure out the problems, and trying to correct them.

Mike: "Yeah, that was about the size of it. The trim tab blowing off was, as they say - just part of air racing. But our problems really started a bit sooner than that. We got into a tailspin a few weeks before Reno when we discovered that we had some problems related to the airframe mods that we had done."

AAFO: Airframe mods?

Mike: " Well, as you know - Ridge Runner has a few mods that we did last year to reduce drag and make her go faster. The clipped wings, aero wingtips and such. We decided to try to add a few more things this year and, quite frankly, ran into a few problems. We spent the last couple of weeks before the races putting 12 to 14 hour days into correcting these. As a result, we didn’t get as much time on the engine as we would have liked. Again, that’s just part air racing."

AAFO: Sorry to hear about all that extra work for nothing. Nevertheless, I was really sad toClick here for larger image see what occurred to Team Ridge Runner this year. You guys certainly didn’t deserve it. A lot of sweat and effort for naught. I hope this hasn’t discouraged you from coming back next year.

Mike: "You know, we really have nothing to be ashamed of because the crew worked extremely hard and did the best that we could. Dan has talked about returning next year - but it really is a bit too early to be assuming that we’ll make it. We’ll see what happens, hard to say right now."

AAFO: That’s good to hear. I know that when you were running good - that engine screamed and Dan is a great pilot. It’s a team that really clicks when things get going.

Mike: "Yes, the team is what makes it all happen. Speaking of which, I’d personally like to thank all that made our run this year possible - Dwight Thorn, Bill Kerchenfaut, Steve Bartholf, Dixon Smith (of DSS Inc.), Jim Martenilli and Ken McBride for their assistance. Crew members Steve Bunch, Dana Dilguard, Tom Heil, Jerry Gabe, Dave Alderson, Pete Lovier, and Eric Martin for all their hard work. I’d especially like to thank Dan and Sylvia Martin for giving us the opportunity to be a part of ‘Team Ridge Runner’.

Click here for larger image

In closing, I’d like to thank Mike for taking the time to talk with us and share his story with the readership and to remind everyone that Air Racing is about much more than just winning the gold - it’s about people and their dedication and desire to achieve. As an old saying goes, "the mark of a true champion is not whether they win, it’s how they handle themselves in the face adversity". In my book - Team Ridge Runner proved this year that they are indeed true champions.......

Story and Photography by: Mark Kallio


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