Things are heating up in the headlining Sport Gold class at the National Championship Air Races in Reno, Nevada. The last few years the class had plateaued behind Jeff LaVelle’s reliably 400+ mph Glasair III. Sure, John Parker certainly gave it a go with his Thunder Mustang, Andrew Findlay made a big impact with his Stihl-sponsorship and depth of talent in his team while steady David Sterling was always there as the gate keeper to 370 mph or faster.
But this year is different. Parker and his Thunder Mustang are no longer with us, victims of a non-racing accident earlier this year; LaVelle remains seeming reliable as sunrise with a 407 mph qualifying effort, but Andrew Findlay made a big jump to 388 mph in qualifying. On the downside Sterling suffered a shattered propeller and is uncharacteristically done for the year.
And then there was yesterday. In Thursday’s heat race LaVelle and Findlay had a real battle, with Findlay actually passing LaVelle at one point. Finding themselves in unfamiliar circumstances the pair seemingly took a look at each other, got busy passing traffic and LaVelle was inside at the end for the heat race win.
A much anticipated re-match in this afternoon’s heat race fizzled when Findlay’s ADI system refused to function and he finished a fading sixth at 303 mph. LaVelle cruised to an easy win at 388 mph followed by Bob Mills in “Mojo” at 356 mph for second and Peter Balmar of Switzerland at 330 mph in “Swiss Thunder,” which is the familiar blue and yellow Thunder Mustang from the Parker stable.
An interesting fourth place was Jim Rust of El Cajon, California. Rust owns Whirlwind propellers and has been working on a line of constant speed units, along with his Lycoming IO-580 powered Glasair III. A brief talk with Rust revealed he bought the airplane to race, so expect to see more of him–and improvements–in the future. Rust posted a 315 mph average.
Even better, there are other Sport Gold racers in the works to hear the talk in the pits.
For now the big anticipation is if Findlay will be at full chat on Sunday afternoon, and if LaVelle has anything more in his combination.