Real Racing Today

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Jeff LaVelle’s Glasair III is healthy and winning heat races at Reno.

With an incoming cold front starting to push, the smoke has cleared for the best visibility so far this week and the racers are in the air. We’re not sure how long the now nice conditions will hold (until about 2:30 p.m. it turned out), but the organizers have loaded the morning with every race class to get in as many heats as possible.

First out were the Biplanes and Formula One heats. Notable results were a hum dinger Biplane Gold heat that saw Scott Thompson in his hot rodded Pitts Second Hand hole-shotting the field. But if Thompson has the quick propeller Sam Swift’s Pitts Smokin Hot has the fast prop (and engine) and he was soon on the move.

As Swift told us, his pre-race plan was to let things develop for the first three laps, then get serious with the power. Of course the first casualty of war—and racing is just ritualized mechanical warfare—Patrick McGarry tied a knot in Swift’s plan by getting between Swift and the running-for-his-life Thompson. Before Swift knew it four laps had gone by and he found himself on the outside of a three-abreast pylon formation flight. Advancing his engine’s ignition timing Swift was able to apply his superior horsepower and finally get by McGarry and Thompson on the final lap for the win. It was a crowd pleasing Biplane heat among three clipped-wing Pitts, but in the end it’s Swift who has the horsepower.

Just concluded was the much anticipated Sport Gold heat race. The big-bore speedsters have been grounded by smoke for two days and everyone on the property was ready to see who was done talking and ready to put up the stuff. That would be Jeff LaVelle who laid into the throttle on a real scorcher of a start and never looked back. Andrew Findlay had the same idea and was running a reasonably close second, but he maydayed out on the second lap. More on why in a minute.

Third was all Jim Rust’s in his Glasair III, then a large and getting larger gap to the remaining four Gold racers. Rust inherited second when Findlay zoomed up and out of the race, along with promoting Peter Balmar in his Vortech-supercharged Lancair Legacy into third.

Airshow coverage sponsor:

Not visible to the spectators was a bit of mechanical intrigue influencing the proceedings. Early in race week some of the hot Sport Gold racers tanked up on ADI (water-methanol mix) from the local Stead airport supplier. This is standard Reno race procedure, but it turned out the normal 50-50 water/alcohol ADI mix had been changed to an 80-20 mix. This is a problem for the racers because the water-heavy recipe is not what their ADI systems are jetted for and the result was a spate of detonating cylinders and generally lightly wounded engines. Jim Rust played Lucky Pierre in this little ditty, which is why we found him and partner Robbie Grove changing a cylinder when we arrived at Reno last Wednesday.

Rust and Grove figured out there was an unexplained detonation problem after realizing the weird pickling marks on their piston were steam erosion pockmarks. But the damage had been done and Rust went into today’s heat race knowing he was going to set a somewhat reduced power and take what he could get with it.

LaVelle mixes his own ADI, so he bypassed the wrong ADI issue and explaining his high-power attitude towards heat racing. Findlay doesn’t use ADI in favor of straight water for his anti-detonation injection fluid so he missed the ADI kerfuffle as well. Turns out his
mayday was a precautionary exit when he had a cylinder start to overheat. Back in the pits rust was found in the water injector for cylinder six, not to mention the cylinder itself was hors de combat. The team was starting to change that cylinder at our deadline.

Why the rust? Because last year, when no proper stainless steel fitting was available during a mechanical thrash at Reno, a steel fitting was fitted as an expedient to cylinder six. After all, it only needed to run a few hours and could be replaced once at home. Naturally the fitting was overlooked and after a year sitting in pure water… rust.

We’re set for a good day of Gold racing tomorrow. It’s going to be cool and overcast which can be good horsepower weather. Pray harder for no smoke as it’s starting to blow in again.

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Pumping avgas and waxing flight school airplanes got Tom into general aviation in 1973, but the lure of racing cars and motorcycles sent him down a motor journalism career heavy on engines and racing. Today he still writes for peanuts and flies for fun.

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