Happy to report I’ve made it to the Reno-Stead Airport! The drive was… uneventful. Not too much traffic. However, we did get in late. And by late, I mean early. One of Jeff LaVelle’s mechanics and I left Paine Field in Everett, WA at 5:00 P.M. after work on Friday. I drove until 10:30 P.M., then he took over and drove until 5:00 A.M., while I napped off and on. We stopped at a rest stop at 5:00, woke at 7:00 and got to our hotel in Reno at 9:00 A.M. This marathon driving is definitely not my preferred means of travel. In fact, I hate it. But this guy was feeling good and wanted to push on. Am I tired? Yes. Am I excited to be here? Yes!
I made the long commute alone my first few years on the job. It was really my only solitude during my early twenties, something I looked forward to every year. When I wasn’t working I was flying. And when I wasn’t flying I was hanging out with my friends. I didn’t realize how much I needed peace and quiet until I was out there on the open road, thinking about who I was and who I wanted to be.
Now I don’t go it alone, Jeff’s various mechanic friends have joined me these past two race years, which has been a huge help. It’s a 13-hour drive from Paine Field to Reno and while I once enjoyed the alone time, I no longer need it (although the bags under my eyes say otherwise). Most people’s schedules aren’t as flexible as mine, or at least not everyone wants to take nearly two weeks off of work to go, so I’ve been Jeff’s only constant these last six years.
In the past Jeff’s had issues with his gear doors. They wouldn’t seal well and would sometimes pull open, producing a lot of drag, which he compensated for with much higher power settings. This ultimately lead to greater problems, i.e., broken motors. He thought he resolved the gear door issue after the 2018 National Championship Air Races (NCAR) with some maintenance and physical adjustments to the door recesses, but problems continued to arise in 2019.
The system had always been somewhat unreliable, requiring operation at low speed and oftentimes it took multiple cycles of the gear to get the doors to set right. If a spectator hadn’t shown Jeff a photo he took of the belly revealing one of his signature carbon black doors wasn’t fully shut during a heat race, Jeff wouldn’t have understood the magnitude of the gear problem. The only indicator of the issue was the speed being so off for the amount of power he was running.
Last year was the first year he got to fly Race 39 with the new hydraulically actuated lower door design, which Robbie Grove of Grove Aircraft designed for he and Jim Rust’s neon green Glasair III, Gremlin’s Castle. Robbie provided Jeff with his design and tooling. My boyfriend, Brian Hickman, helped with implementing and adapting the design to Jeff’s III. Each example of the airplane is considerably different, which is largely due to the handmade internal structure. Brian also helped and continues to help me wrap my head around all of this gear stuff. Thanks sweetie! Sorry you’re stuck at home this year. Here is a video of Jeff’s new gear design in action:
Anyway, Jeff LaVelle is back, people! Race 39 slips through the air more easily than ever. I’m hoping for a good race year. Okay, time to get some much needed shuteye. More to come!