2014 Event Review

National Championship Air Races, September 10-14, 2014
Location: Stead Field, Reno, Nevada
Admission: General admission, $14 to $35 depending on day
Pit Passes, $20-$34 depending on day
Parking: $10 on-site
Value: Excellent
 
air race
National Championship Air Races, Reno, Nevada

“Fly low. Fly fast. Turn left.” Sounds simple enough. But for almost 120 pilots racing in six classes over five long days in September (not counting qualifying days) that’s just the start of it. The week in September at Stead is the culmination of work that has gone on all year, and in many cases over many years. Stead Field, outside of Reno, Nevada, is the home of the National Championship Air Races. Organized by the Reno Air Racing Association, it is the last pylon air racing event of its kind in the world.

“Race On” was the theme for this, the 51st season of racing at Stead. And race they did, with one of the most competitive series of races in recent years. Indeed, the closest race in the event’s history ended with a photo finish in the Unlimited Gold Heat on Saturday. Seven-time race champion Bill “Tiger” Destefani, owner of Strega, had retired in 2008, passing on the reigns to his protégé Steve Hinton. In 2009 “Steve-o” set a course record on his way to becoming the youngest champion in the event and proceeded to win three more times in Strega before retiring in 2012. Lured out of his brief retirement the very next year by the owners of Voodoo, Steve promptly won again in his new mount. Our report on last year’s competition between Voodoo and Strega can be found online here. The lure of racing Strega head-to-head against Steve in Voodoo proved irresistible to Tiger, who came out of retirement this year to compete once again. Flying high during all six laps of the heat, Tiger traded altitude for airspeed at the finish, appearing to catch Steve-o at the line. Unfortunately Strega was later disqualified for “not maintaining course altitude” so we’ll never know if Tiger’s diving sprint paid off. Nevertheless, the crowd went wild. Even viewing the finish from the pylons, the excitement was palpable. During the cooldown, Tiger announced a Mayday as Strega experienced mechanical difficulties. He landed safely but announced the next morning that he would retire once again from racing. Without Strega Sunday’s final Gold Race was not nearly as exciting, although the disqualification of Thom Richard, flying Precious Metal, for cutting the showline was cause for much discussion.

In addition to the Air Races, this event also hosts an Airshow and the National Aviation Heritage Invitational aircraft display. The airshow acts are interspersed with the races during the weekend. The Patriots Jet Team put on a splendid performance in their six black L-39 aircraft. Three Alaskan F-22s were at the show, with one on static display. Raptor Demo Team pilot Capt. John “Taboo” Cummings amazed the crowds with a spectacular demonstration of the jet’s capabilities. The Heritage Flight was particularly interesting as it featured a P-51D Mustang, Wee Willy II, showing the incredibly long history of that airframe. One of the Raptor ferry pilots, Lt. Col. Kevin Sutterfield made his racing debut piloting SNJ-4 #42 Defector to a sixth place finish in the T-6 Silver Medal race. In October Sutterfield will return to Elmendorf AFB to take command of the 302nd Fighter Squadron, one of the USAF's ten front-line combat F-22 squadrons.

Aviation legend Bob Hoover was recognized as the 2014 Man of the Year and was in attendance signing autographs and answering questions during the show.

There are numerous viewing options for spectators, from open spaces to set up a folding chair, to reserved seating, bleachers or chalets. A trip to the “pits” is well worth it, especially after hours, as you can see teams working (or partying) late into the night. It is an atmosphere unique to this event and not one to be missed. Jumbotrons were set up at either end of the grandstands providing spectators with enhanced viewing opportunities. Live video streaming of the races was also provided by LiveAirShowTV. Announcers Ray Hafeli, Steve Stavrakakis and Danny Clisham did a great job of keeping the viewers informed and entertained.

The Aviation Magazine (formerly ASR Media) would like to thank all of the staff, volunteers and sponsors who make this event possible.

Unlimited Breitling Gold Results:

Place

Race #

Aircraft

Pilot

Speed (mph)

1

5

P-51D Mustang Voodoo

Steven Hinton

462.926

2

86

Yak 11 Czech Mate

Sherman Smoot

458.856

3

8

Sea Fury TMK 20 Dreadnought

Dennis Sanders

419.394

4

71

Sea Fury TMK 20 Sawbones"

Curt Brown

415.685

5

924

Sea Fury TMK 20

Korey Wells

368.503

DNF

77

F8F-2 Bearcat Rare Bear

Stewart Dawson

DNF

114

Sea Fury MK II Argonaut

Mark Watt

DQ

38

P-51XR Mustang Precious Metal

Thom Richard

Results from all of the heats and races can be found online at http://reports.airrace.org.
 
Performers apart from the racers:

F-22 Raptor Demo

The Patriots Jet Team

Heritage Flight:P-51D Mustang Wee Willy II & F-22 Raptor

David Martin, Breitling CAP 232 Aerobatics

Jeff Boerboon, Screamin’ Sasquatch Jet Waco Aerobatics

Melissa Pemberton, Edge 540 Aerobatics

US Air Force Academy’s “Wings Of Blue” Parachute Demonstration Team

Falcon 900LX

 

Report and photography by Norman A. Graf for The Aviation Magazine

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National Championship Air Races
 
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