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Sun, Jun 16, 2013

Reno Air Races Debuts New Racing Class After Unlimited Division 'Stands Down'

Announcement Carries Serious Controversy

The Reno Air Racing Association (RARA) tells ANN that it has reached an agreement to unveil a new, high-profile racing class organization at the 50th annual National Championship Air Races this September. Headquartered in northern Nevada, the Unlimited Warbird Racing Class (UWRC) has been formed to take the place of the previous Unlimited Racing Division of the National Air Racing Group.

In just under twelve hours since the announcement of this new class, the UWRC has secured many of the same pilots who usually compete in the races as part of unlimited racing, including crowd favorites and former champions such as Curt Brown flying “Sawbones”, Tom Richard flying “Precious Metal”, Sherman Smoot flying “Czech Mate”, fan favorite “Voodoo” and John Bagley flying Bob Hoover’s legendary aircraft “Ole Yeller.” Additionally, RARA announced that Air Race legend and seven-time Unlimited champion, Bill “Tiger” Destefani will serve as the president of the new race class. Any pilot who is currently qualified to race in Unlimited racing will be welcome to participate in the UWRC.
 
“We think the formation of this new racing class is a positive step toward preserving air racing in Reno for the next 50 years,” said Destefani. “This class will feature former air race champions, aviation legends, space shuttle astronauts and some of the most famous aircraft in the world and will ensure our fans continue to see many of their favorite pilots and planes.”

RARA has held several very positive discussions with the FAA regarding the formation of the UWRC and is currently working to become accredited through the FAA’s formal accreditation process. The establishment of this new racing class is a result of the current Unlimited Racing Division’s inability to reach an agreement with the FAA and RARA on a few very complex issues.

“The safety of our pilots and spectators is the absolute priority for the National Championship Air Races and, while we don’t anticipate that any rules will be substantially altered from last year’s very successful event, we continue to work with the FAA to more clearly define certain requirements on the race course and are coordinating efforts to finalize the rules of racing for this year’s event,” said Mike Houghton, president and CEO of RARA. “We understand and support the FAA’s effort to create a more defined set of rules for this historic event and the RARA contest committee, which is an autonomous organization chaired by General (retired) Ron Fogleman, former Chief of Staff for the United States Air Force, welcomes individual class participation in the application of the rules as defined for racing in Reno. We are looking forward to releasing a full list of pilots that will be participating in the Unlimited War Bird Racing Class in the very near future.”

The move is not without is detractors... a published statement by Matt Jackson, VP of the Unlimited Division seemed to indicate that there had been some friction prior to this announcement between some of the Unlimited racers, RARA and the FAA. In announcing a  "Safety Stand-Down" from this year's races, Jackson stated that, "Reno race fans it is great sadness to make the following announcement. It has been the decision of the Unlimited Division Board of directors, representing the members of the Unlimited Division, to announce a safety stand down of the Unlimited Division from participation in the 2013 Reno National Championship Air Races.

The not so simple decision was made due to the inability of the Unlimited Class to reach a satisfactory resolution with the FAA and RARA to concerns regarding race course safety, specifically altitude restrictions. It has always been the opinion of the Unlimited Class that if you keep the pilots safe, the crowd will also be safe. In the last several years the Unlimited Class is of the opinion that RARA in conjunction with the FAA has made new altitude rules and race course changes that prohibit the pilots from having satisfactory safety clearance and G load margins. This stand down was the product of two organizations refusing to take the obvious qualified recommendations of the pilots flying on the course.

In response to RARA and FAA's refusal to remedy the issues at hand to the satisfaction of the Unlimited racers, it has left us no other option but to stand down in the interest of safety. It is the hopes of the Unlimited Division members that logic will prevail and the event we have come to know as the Fastest Motor Sport on earth will not disappear, but will continue for many years to come. In the mean time we have no other option, but to not participate in this years event."

In the meantime, though, a number of unlimited pilots seem to have broke ranks and lined up behind the new RARA category.

In addition to six classes of some of the most experienced and talented racers flying in the “World’s Fastest Motorsport,” this year, attendees can expect thrilling entertainment including the L-39 Patriots Jet Team, the Breitling Jet Team “Jetman,” and a bevy of individual air performances from some of today’s most talented aerial stunt pilots. Entertainment will take place on land as well, with high-speed performances from the Bentley Speed 3 car and the Smoke N’ Thunder Jet Car.
 
The 50th annual National Championship Air Races take place this year from Sept. 11 through Sept. 15.

FMI: www.airrace.org

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