AIR RACING: Air racers chase gold at annual National Championships in Reno
Special to The Union
The 53rd annual National Championship Air Races concluded five days of competition and performances Sunday in the beautiful and breezy skies north of Reno, Nevada.
In the Unlimited Class of modified World War II vintage fighter planes, a wide field of aircraft and varying speeds thrilled fans with the sights and sounds of nostalgic iron. Steven Hinton, of Chino, easily claimed his seventh career gold victory at 460.306 mph in his radical P-51 Mustang, “Voodoo.” Rookie James Consalvi kept constant pressure with a respectable 450.582 mph second place finish in his Yak-11 “Czech Mate,” ahead of four formidable British Hawker Sea Furies.
Year long preparations in the Biplane Class rewarded Jeffrey Rose, from Carmichael, handsomely. Rose earned gold at 217.858 mph in “Reno Rabbit” well ahead of second place, Eric Zine in his Pitts Special, “Sunny Side Up” at 204.959 mph. Their glory was short lived however, with an accidental collision on the runway during landing following the race. Rose touched down and failed to see Zine’s racer, striking its wings from behind and causing both planes to ground loop in front of the grandstands. Although both aircraft were damaged, Rose and Zine were not injured.
In a bizarre twist at the start of the Formula One race, last year’s champion, Steve Senegal’s hopes for victory were dashed when his sleek AR-6 racer, “Endeavor” collided with Thom Richard’s “Hot Stuff” from behind on the runway during an eight-plane race horse launch for Sunday’s Gold. Richard’s aircraft had failed to develop power for takeoff and was stopped ahead of Senegal resulting in substantial damage to both planes. Senegal was not hurt, but Richard suffered a broken right hand. The victory went to top qualifier, Lowell Slatter at 256.728 mph in “Fraed Naught” ahead of Vito Wypraechtiger, of Salzburg, Austria, flying “Scarlet Screamer” at 234.873 mph.
By far the most exciting Gold race finish occurred in the AT-6 Class with everyone expecting an intense duel between returning champion, Dennis Buehn of Carson City, Nevada and Nick Macy of Tulelake who both set qualifying records for 2016. What they didn’t expect was an ear-splitting three plane brawl and ultimate upset by Chris Rushing of Van Nuys who captured the gold in “Baron’s Revenge” at the end of the last lap with a speed of 231.193 mph ahead of Macy in “Six Cat” and Buehn in “Midnight Miss III” at 231.104 mph and 230.912 mph respectively.
In other victories, Jet Class winner Rick Vandam, of Reno, took the gold in his L-39 “American Spirit” at 497.921 mph over Sean Cushing in “Fast Company” at 488.112 mph.
Jeff LaVelle took the Sport Class gold at 383.397 mph over John Parker, of Reno, racing “Blue Thunder II” to a 371.333 mph second place.
The Reno National Championship Air Races is the longest running event of it’s kind and is the fastest motor-sport in the world. Six classes of racing were augmented by renowned air show performers including the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and displays of the most exotic airplanes.
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Grass Valley native Brad Sweet drove past the competition and into victory lane last week, snapping his longest winless streak of the season.