It’s 45 degrees as the night hints at ceding itself to the sun in Reno, Nevada. In countless hotel rooms, houses, trailers and motorhomes the air racing tribe is up and headed to the airport. It’s Sunday. Race day. The day that counts; where winning and loosing decides who’s who and the promoters base their performance reviews in the form of checks.
And this race day is especially full of promise. Across a wide range of classes the top spot is not a forgone conclusion. Reno 2018 has proven transitional, a memorable node where younger teams having paid their dues are poised to move up and the old guard, not so ready to fade away, are motivated to pull out a few rare tricks.
Best of these is Formula One, traditionally a class full of knife fights but recently dominated by Steve Senegal in the advanced but apparently unchanged in several years Endeavor. While Endeavor has mainly been winning Lowell Slatter has been honing Fraed Naught, a conventionally sleek one-off. Building his own engines and tweaking all the little intersections and fairings that make these tiny speedsters so fast, Slatter won F1 Gold last year and has his wonderfully named racer up to the challenge.
But while Slatter and Senegal have been publicly racing, Justin Meaders has been privately testing his new Snoshoe racer, Limitless in Texas. Arriving in Reno this year, in one heat race Meaders went from that guy in the wheelchair who used hand controls to pilot mid-pack runner Quadnickel to top dog. In an epic heat race last Wednesday Meaders, Slatter and Senegal finished in that order–all three within one mph of each other. Since then a shifting schedule due to winds saw Senegal not starting his heat race Thursday, forcing him out of today’s Gold contest and leaving us anticipating a real dog fight for the Formula One Gold between Meaders and Slatter, along with the spectacle of Endeavor lapping the Silver field from it’s last place starting spot.
In Sport Gold, the wonder-kids of the homebuilt racing world are on the move as well. Yesterday afternoon the promises of Andrew Findlay’s Stihl sponsored One Moment racing team finally over came the endless little technical disappointments to do the unthinkable: pass Jeff LaVelle in his 400 mph Glasair III and make it stick without uncertainty to the checkered flag. Running in the high 380 mph range, this pair is poised to an all or nothing Gold race this afternoon. No one knows how much boost either team has kept in reserve, but everyone knows when the pair wails down the starting chute today both pilots are interested in only one thing and all the levers are going to the firewall if need be. Who will survive this gladiatorial horsepower battle is the question of the day.
Behind the dueling pair of LaVelle and Findlay Sport is full of promise. Jim Rust and Robby Grove have debuted a Glasair, and ex-Biplane racer Karl Grove (no relation) has an all-new Lancair fitted with the latest stuff. Grove has been methodically opening the envelope on his racer, and yesterday bumped the boost to take his Silver heat race and move into today’s Gold final.
In Biplane the nuclear hammer Phantom is being piloted by co-owner Andrew Buehler rather than regular Tom Aberle. Even with its back-up 3-blade Lipps-design propeller Phantom is still laughable fast. The plane is for sale, however, so this is likely the final chance to see the machine dominate in the hands of its builders. Behind Phantom a new Pitts racer arrived this year piloted by Scott Thomas and mechanically lead by Eric Scheppers. Built somewhat from spares and enthusiasm it’s a welcome addition to the sport.
The sun is almost up and soon the heat will be on.