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Mon, Dec 23, 2013

Before And After The Reno Air Races With Steve Hinton Jr.

Five Time Air Race Champion Shares About His Life

By Maria Morrison

With the 2013 racing season well behind him, Steven Hinton Jr. is still getting up every day with the intention of flying and working on airplanes. Whether it's out of the Planes of Fame Museum in Chino, CA or working around the country on various warbirds, Hinton is always on the move, looking for aeronautical adventure. Looking back on the September Reno Air Races, "Stevo" as he's called by many, had a successful and exciting race season.

During the busy race week, Steve says that the only physical toll is lack of sleep. Race crews often stay in the pits as late as 2:00-3:00 in the morning, and will get back to the aircraft as early as 6:00 am. He did say that, once the races are over, and celebrations have settled down, he heads for home to "crash for a couple days." For the five or so months before the races, Steve was honing his racing skills, both in flight and on the ground, most every day, all leading up to the Reno Air Races in September. He said that during the race week, the adrenaline that comes from going nearly or over 500 MPH keeps him going strong. Flying and pulling "G's" doesn't drain him like it might some other pilots.

Steve started his life around airplanes as kid helping out his dad, Steve Hinton Sr., at the races with the pace plane or other racers. He would clean up race planes in the pits, and help out wherever he could. At the 2005 air races, which was Steve's first year as part of the P-51 Mustang "Strega" crew, the Rolls Royce Merlin-powered racer blew a radiator. With Steve working with the crew chief, the two of them had Strega racing again in five days. At the age of 18, Steve started flying Strega.  At 22 years of age, Steve Hinton Jr. became the youngest person ever to win the Unlimited Gold race at the Reno Air Races.

There was never a verbal confirmation that Steve would take over the controls of Strega. He says, "It was just assumed." Before Bill "Tiger" Destefani, owner and previous pilot of Strega, would let Steve fly his air racing champion, he had to prove his abilities. He flew a Luscombe, a Stearman, and a T-6 before moving on to the P-51. Tiger had wanted to step down for a while, and other pilots weren't working out. Steve has now flown 17 different Mustangs.

Originally, Steve planned to fly in the Air Force. However, when getting his private pilot medical certificate, partial color blindness issues got in the way. Although his father fully supported his decision to become an air racer, Steve was never pressured into racing.

Out on the race course, Stevo never thinks "That's my dad.” Instead, "That's the pace plane and I have a job to do." He says that his dad would be just as quick to call him out for starting early as he would anyone else, and that there is no favoritism. The farthest Hinton Sr. could go to support his son this year was wearing Voodoo glasses.

The switch from Strega to Voodoo was a bit of a surprise to everyone at Reno this year, but Steve says that there wasn't much trouble adapting to the new aircraft. Strega was built in 1983, and Voodoo's crew chief did much of the work done to modify it to the racing machine that it is today. This made Voodoo, designed and built in the late 1990s, strongly resemble Strega. Steve says that Voodoo is "more efficient and labor-intensive," than Strega. Other than that, it has somewhat the same systems and wasn't hard to adapt to. Steve did, however, have to substantially steepen his learning curve to about five months. This included learning all the mechanical aspects of the aircraft as well. In his article "Reno 2009 as Seen Through the Eyes of Steve Hinton Jr.", Steve states that he isn't "a pilot that has to work on his own airplane,” but "a mechanic who gets to fly the airplane.”

Steve says that knowing the systems on an airplane, and how to fix a problem, is a big part of why he enjoys air racing. When asked about thoughts of NASCAR or other Motorsport racing, he is adamant about aviation. He likes watching Formula One car racing, but he always has and will continue to have aviation as the main focus of his life. Despite his love of air racing, he does think that the racing mentality could switch over to driving. However, the ability to understand the systems and mechanics in an airplane wins out over cars.

Out of high school at 17, Steve was then enrolled in California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. The choice was simple for two reasons; it starts in the third weekend of September, after the races, and it’s close to the Chino airport. He did take time off from school, though, to help with Strega and other planes throughout the year. He says that "the experience gained from working on P-51's across the U.S." is more useful to him than what he might learn in a lecture hall.

When asked how flying a P-51 racing Mustang might differ or relate to flying one as a fighter in the war, Steve quickly replied that they really are "two different things altogether". Fighters were being shot at, and doing quick maneuvers. Racers, on the other hand, fly for sport. He also stated that racers are "pushing the equipment to its limits,” and that the WWII pilots are the real heroes.

As far as input on flying goes, Steve says he hasn't gotten any tips from former P-51 fighter pilots. He did, however, ask Bob Hoover about flying ideas. "I asked Bob Hoover about high-speed flying" recalls Steve. "He just told me, 'you're the expert on that now’.”

(Steve Hinotn Jr. pictured in 2009 YouTube video posted b wcflyers)



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