It's just impossible to
make predictions, so we'll limit ourselves a little here, and talk
about the Unlimited race, where the rumors are hottest, and where
everybody has an opinon.
Heck -- we have opinions, too; but sometimes it's good to listen
to the people whose opinions may be better-informed. [This isn't
politics, after all -- there are quantifiable facts available
Prior to the race, there is a lot of psych-ing out going on, of
course; teams will be happy to share their 'official' opinions,
their 'official' stories. Each story naturally is put together for
one purpose: to let everyone else believe what the teller wants
them to believe. Sometimes, these stories are absolutely true;
sometimes, they're nowhere close. The fun part is figuring out
who's telling the truth, and when. It's all part of racing --
before the race starts; but when the starter says, "You have a
race," all the BS stops. That's one reason why people love
The trick, ahead of the race, is to cut through all the
messages, and figure out just what is likely to happen.
Here's what's likely to happen:
If the day is hot, the
Mustangs (like Dago Red) will not be able to run flat out
for long, but the radial-powered machines (like Rare Bear
and Dreadnought, and the other Sea Furies, even the Yak)
will. The weatherman says Sunday will be very much like all week so
far: low 80s, light breezes. That means that the Mustangs will be
able to use nearly all their available horses, and the power
advantage of the radials will be reduced.
If Friday's and Saturday's heat races are predictors of
Sunday, Dago Red will win in a relative walk; but Friday's
heat is probably not indicative. Rare Bear, with one
engine available for maybe the rest of its life, wasn't about to
get close to blowing anything up, in a heat race. Its heat speed,
some fifteen miles slower than Dago's, is thus not giving us a
The friendly rivalry between Rare Bear and Dago
Red is heating up, to the point where somebody even 'TP'd'
Dago Red's paddock. Supporters of Rare Bear are
suspected, and it's not just an educated guess. The toilet paper
was custom-printed, and notified the Mustang team that "The
Bear is Back." The next time they flew (which was Friday),
Skip Holm felt very much like serving notice that Dago Red
never left. He flew every lap over 500mph! Skip told me Saturday
morning, "The temperatures were perfect... everything was perfect."
So it would seem.
Oh -- and this may not
be significant [yeah, right] -- Rare Bear's team pulled an
all-nighter Friday after the heat race, to replace two cylinders.
"Probably valve guides," was the oft-heared muttering at the
On race day, Rare Bear may very well be ready to kick
serious Dago Red butt -- but John Penney's got to catch
Skip Holm first. Dago has a big logistical advantage:
Rare Bear is flying on its only engine. I overheard some
crew talk, from one of the tired mechanics: "We're NOT going to
break that motor..." That, if it's official team strategy, means
that Rare Bear won't risk having to replace that 4000+hp
mill here in Reno. A fellow mechanic, from another contending
Unlimited team, said that means Rare Bear is headed for
second place, "unless Dago breaks... and that's
not going to happen."
Rare Bear isn't ready to go to a museum yet, though,
and its legion fans were packed around the souvenier table in their
paddock, buying t-shirts, paintings, photos...
What about the rest of the field?
The'slowest' machine in Friday's Unlimited Gold heat, Czech
Mate, ran like a train, and posted a 445 mph race
lap. The Yak still hasn't dripped a drop of oil, and the
crew said, "It's running great." Fast enough to have won the gold
in most previous years, in fact.
Furias crewman Dale
told me, "We ran 445 -- that's the fastest this plane's ever gone."
Furias had a little oil showing at the edge of the
spinner, and the Sea Fury's crew looked in, Saturday morning.
"Remember Czech Mate's runaway prop last year?" he asked. "Their
governor was a little low on oil. That cost them an engine. We're
OK -- we know that now -- but we wanted to be sure."
Dreadnought's crew chief, the legendary Chuck Cabe
(right), told us that his machine is running well. "It's a stock
engine, now," he said, in the 2-place Sea Fury. We're not making
the horsepower we used to in the '80s (when Dreadnought
won the race here, in '83 and '86). We're turning only 2850 rpm; we
used to go 3250." That race engine ran for eleven years, an
eternity in racing. "The new engine should last at least eleven
more," he said. Same prop? "It's the same modified Sky Raider prop
that has always been on this machine," he noted.
Miss America, after having been as much as totaled last
year, had been putting up a valiant show all week. In Saturday's
heat race, though, Dr. Hisey called a Mayday. A quick response:
"Brent, put it on one-four, NOW." He landed without incident, under
greatly reduced power, and asked for a tow in. Miss
America, racer since 1969 and Silver winner in '94 (and '73,
when it was called the 'consolation' race), Bronze winner in '94
and '96, will be silent on Sunday.
In Sport Class, the consensus among the competitors is that
unless Darryl Greenamyer's Lancair doesn't start, it will win. It's
40 mph faster than second-fastest plane, and Darryl has everyone
thinking that he has more speed available, if he needs it. Dave
Morss, who has devastated the competition in that class since it
was formed, is running in the Silver race. We couldn't catch up to
Dave, but some grumbling was heard that he's 'sandbagging,' looking
to win the Silver, because he can't keep up with Greenamyer. That
doesn't sound like the competitive Morss we know. Hey, Dave, what's
The T-6 class was led by Mary Dilda in Two of Hearts,
but something -- we're looking into it -- happened in the heat race
Saturday, that may sideline that beautiful airplane, and its
elegant pilot. At least that's what we think the announcer
Formula One looks like
a runaway for Mariah, with Gary Hubler holding the stick.
Last year's winner faced a challenge early on from Miss B.
Haven, but Charlie Greer's little racer blew an engine early
in the week. The replacement engine was of unknown provenance, and
on Saturday afternoon, #69 was spotted over at American Air Racing,
where John Parker had sensors hooked up to it. There was some
strange vibration going on. Charlie told me, "Well, we had a
chance..." Later in the day, a crew member told me Parker's advice
had perhaps helped a little (they couldn't flight-test it, but it
seemed better in a static runup). Charlie was working down on the
floor of the cockpit, with a piece of coarse sandpaper. "We found
something else," he said to me. Then he looked around, and asked
everyone within earshot, "Does anybody have a 9-volt battery?"
The jets may be fun to watch racing (and they are), but they're
no 'fun' in the paddock. The machines are abandoned most of the
time, buttoned up tight as Queen Victoria's jewel case. The
L-39 trainers are so reliable, the theory goes, that nobody works
on 'em. The four pilots -- Curt Brown, Lee Behel, Jimmy Leeward,
and Mary Dilda -- all have their own planes, in different classes,
to race. It's a spectator's race, to be sure, as the field is
tighter. The planes stay together better than the 40 mph qualifying
differential would suggest. Mary Dilda's really fast, though,
qualifying 30 mph ahead of second-fastest, Porsche dealer supreme,
What's the drama story?
As of late Saturday, the fastest biplane in the field, Tom
Aberle's Phantom, was without a prop. A problem was
diagnosed earlier in the week, and a spare prop manifested the same
problem. The team has a third prop, but it is from the same maker
[Catto -- and ANN left a message on the company's answering
machine, about 7PM Saturday, just in case], and they don't trust
it. The prop maker was supposed to have been at Reno, and they
can't reach him on the phone at his home base. If he's at Reno, his
cell phone isn't working. Aberle, top qualifier in a plane he made,
from a dream to the front of the field in under seven months, will
sit this one out.