By Victor G. Archer
During the 44th annual National Championship Air Races and Air Show, held in Reno Sept. 12-16 at Stead Field (4SD), fans witnessed many triumphs. They also mourned the deaths of three of the sports’ finest racers.
The Reno Air Racing Association dedicated the closing races on Sunday to biplane racer Steve Dari, jet racer Brad Morehouse and defending Formula One champion Gary Hubler. To honor these great competitors, flags flew at half-staff across the grounds. For the first time ever, the racers flew a commemorative lap and a missing man formation just before the start of the last race, the Unlimited Gold.
Tragedy strikes three pilots in three days
On Tuesday, before competition began, Steve Dari of Southern California, a former Navy fighter pilot, died in a crash after the engine failed on his Rose Peregrine RP-5 biplane. The accident occurred just after take-off during a test flight.
Brad Morehouse, 48, of Afton, Wyo., was killed Thursday when Dino Juice, his L-39 jet, was caught in wake turbulence from another jet and crashed. As he attempted to recover, his aircraft rolled. He was able to level the wings, but the L-39 pitched down and hit the ground at nearly 500 mph. Morehouse owned Afton Flight Services.
During a heat race on Friday, Gary Hubler of Caldwell, Idaho, was piloting Mariah, a Cassutt III M, when his aircraft clipped the tail of Jason Somes’ aircraft, Alley Cat, an Owl OR71. Hubler died when his aircraft crashed. The 51-year-old pilot was defending his 2002, 2003 and 2004 Formula One titles. Hubler had competed for more than 23 years at Reno. He was a flying service operator and had logged more than 19,000 flight hours.
Somes, 36, sustained non-life threatening injuries and was admitted to Reno Regional Medical Center. He successfully underwent surgery on his face and eye.
The Unlimited Gold category is mainly composed of stock or modified WWII fighters. Those aircraft flown most often include the P-51 Mustang, F8F Bearcat and Hawker Sea Fury. During the first laps of Sunday’s Breitling Gold race, John Penney, piloting Rare Bear, Rod Lewis’ highly modified R-3350-powered Grumman F8F Bearcat, was right behind September Fury, Michael Brown’s R-3350-powered Hawker Sea Fury. Brown tried to keep up when Penney made a pass-up high for the lead, but had to declare a mayday on the last lap after burning several pistons. Brown landed safely but didn’t finish the race. Penney’s winning race speed was 478 mph.
Finishing second behind Penney was Matt Jackson, piloting Dreadnought, an R-4360-powered Hawker Sea Fury. However, Jackson was disqualified for cutting across the eastern deadline. That moved Sherman Smoot, in Czech Mate, a modified Yak 11 powered by an R-2800, up to second place. The battle for third was between Sea Fury pilots Stewart Dawson and Robert “Hoot” Gibson. In the Spirit of Texas, Dawson barely managed to hold off Gibson’s Riff Raff. Two Sear Furies competed for first place in the Unlimited Silver race. Joe Thibodeau, piloting Sea Hawk, and Dan Vance in September Pops passed each other several times before Thibodeau was able to pull ahead and take the checkered flag, with a winning speed of 401.229 mph.
Thibodeau and Vance pulled far ahead of the field of Bearcats, Mustangs and a Yak. Ray Dieckman, in Blue Bear, a Grumman F8F Bearcat, also had a tremendous battle on the course. Racing against Howard Pardue in his F8F, Dieckman just managed to hold off Pardue for a third place finish.
Stu Eberhardt, in the P-51D Merlin’s Magic, was also in the hunt for the trophy, but was disqualified for cutting a deadline on the course.
Piloting his F8F, Pardue led the Unlimited Bronze from the start and never looked back. His winning speed of 389.295 mph was 30 mph faster than the rest of the field. When he elected to forfeit his first place finish to move up to Unlimited Silver, everyone moved up one position. That gave the win to Unlimited Bronze second-place finisher Brent Hisey, flying the P-51D Miss America.
Robert Odegaard, piloting Super Corsair, his beautifully restored F2G, chased Hisey, but didn’t have enough time to pass him before the checkered flag was waved.
Brant Seghetti in Sparky, the P-51D Mustang sponsored by Jelly Belly, was able to hold off Dan Vance in Speedball Alice, another Mustang, for third place.
Sport and Super Sport
In the Super Sport Gold race, two Nemesis NXTs battled it out for first place. For four laps, Jon Sharp trailed Kevin Eldredge, flying Relentless. Sharp was able to make the pass and take the lead. He won the race with an average speed of 385.65 mph, setting a new record for sport class aircraft. Michael Dacey finished third in a Questair Venture.
Pete Zaccagnino won the Sport Gold race in a Lancair IV. The battle for second place—between Gary Mead’s Glasair III and David Sterling’s Lancair Legacy, Luckymojo—went to Sterling.
T-6 head-to-head competition
The T-6 class features head-to-head racing between “stock” aircraft, including the original T-6 Texan, the Canadian-built Harvard and the Navy SNJ version.
In the Gold race, Dennis Buehn, from Carson City, Nev., finally joined the league of champions by beating previous winners Nick Macy, Al Goss and Mary Dilda. Buehn’s aircraft, Midnight Miss III, a T-6D, was proclaimed the fastest aircraft of the week. Macy, in Six Cat, his AT-6G, almost passed Buehn in Sunday’s race but came up about a lap short. Al Goss finished third in his SNJ-6 Warlock, just ahead of Dilda, piloting Two of Hearts, another SNJ-6. Buehn’s first-place speed was 234.939mph.
Tom A. Dwelle won the T-6 Silver race, piloting Tinkertoy. The 70-year-old former race champion announced that this would be his last race. Joey “Gordo” Sanders came in second in Big Red, an AT-6C. Third place went to Ken Gottschall in Grace 8, an SNJ-6.
The winner of the Biplane Gold race was Cris Ferguson, flying Miss Gianna, a modified Pitts LR-1. Norm Way came in second in Magic, a Pitts S1. Despite penalties for low flying, Dennis Vest, in his Pitts S-1C, Drag Racer, finished in third.
Fast qualifier Tom Aberle, flying Phantom, a highly modified Mong Sport, pulled out with a mayday after burning a piston. He landed safely, but that was the end of the quest to win another Biplane Gold victory.
Three Pitts S-1Ss won first through third place in the Biplane Silver competition. The winner was Dave Roelofs, in Purse Snatcher, followed by J.P. Thibodeau in Son of Galloping Goat and Jeff Watkins in Devil in Da Skies.
In Formula One Gold, David Hoover, piloting his custom-built Arnold AR-6 Endeavor, took the lead on the third lap from George Andre, flying Zipper, his Cassutt. Andre barely finished ahead of the hard-charging Scotty Crandlemire in Outrageous, his Cassutt III M. Hoover’s winning speed for the gold race was 245.669 mph.
Doug Bodine won Formula One Silver in his Cassutt Yellow Peril. Dave Roelofs came in second in the Cassutt Miss U.S.A. Jay Jones finished third in Quadnickel, a Cassutt III M.
The Jet races
Any non-afterburning jet with a wing sweep of less than 15 degrees can participate in Jet Gold. That includes the Fouga Magister, North American T-2 Buckeye, Lockheed T-33 and Aero Vodochody L-39 Albatros.
Rich Sudgen’s T-2B Buckeye took the win just ahead of Curt Brown, piloting Pip Squeak, an L-39 Albatros. Sudgen’s winning speed of 489.454 mph was a new race record for the jet class.
In Specline Special, a T-33 Shooting Star, Lee Griffin had one of the fastest jets of the week, but he only managed a third place finish after recovering from problems with the jet and receiving penalties for cutting pylons.
L-39 Albatros pilots placed first through third in Jet Silver. Rick Vandam won in American Spirit, followed by Cliff Magee in Violated and Sal Rubino.
More than racing
Between the racing events, Kent Pietsch, Greg Poe, Michael Goulian and hang-glider pilot Dan Buchanan entertained the crowd with their amazing aerobatic stunts. The Canadian Forces Snowbirds, USAF A-10 and Viper West F-16 teams gave flight demonstrations, including a USAF Heritage Flight with Glacier Girl, the Lockheed P-38 Lightning that was recovered from under 200 feet of snow and ice.
For more information, visit [http://www.airrace.org].