Dwelle comes from behind
Special to The Union
RENO ” The age old saying “plan your work and work your plan” could not have held more true as local pilot Ken Dwelle shattered records and brought home the gold in the AT-6 Class as the 45th annual Reno National Championship Air Races concluded its five-day run Sunday.
It began with a proven airplane, “Tinkertoy,” and a precision 600 horsepower engine prepared by renowned performance builder Larry Klassen of southern Nevada County. The strategy held so secret by the Dwelle team began to play itself out with a second place qualifying speed of 239.203 miles per hour behind Nick Macy who had established an AT-6 qualifying record in “Six Cat” of 243.083 mph.
Thursday’s heat race saw Dwelle pressing Macy hard around the pylons to a close second place finish. “I had power in reserve, but elected not to pass,” Dwelle said, adding, “with two more heat races remaining before the Gold, I wanted to get a good feel for the airplane, the course and Macy’s flying technique.” In addition, with passing only permitted around the outside of slower planes, he reasoned that he may not catch Macy while flying the wider course.
During Saturday’s heat, Dwelle raced “Tinkertoy” at a higher altitude for the first five laps while maintaining the second position behind Macy. He then converted his extra height to airspeed by executing a dive on Macy during Lap 6, but what appeared to fans as an even finish saw Macy beating out Dwelle by only a propeller spinner! At the conclusion of the race, it was also discovered the Dwelle had cut two pylons which penalized him into a fourth place finish for the race and for the starting position in Sunday’s gold championship.
In knowing he would have to pull all stops, the stage was set for the Sunday’s championship where Dwelle would have to rely on maximum power while flying an extra tight course to win.
As the seven planes entered the course, Dwelle leapt into the third position behind Alfred Goss flying “Warlock” and Macy’s “Six Cat.” On the second lap, leading pilot Macy pulled out with an in-flight emergency.
It was then that Dwelle poured on the coals, shooting past Goss and “Warlock” into the first position and victory with average lap speeds of 244.523 mph while shattering all previous speed records in the AT-6 class to include the 1-lap qualifying record recently established by Macy.
“We have never been more proud,” said Dwelle, who along with his wife Peggy and sons Tom Jr. and Ken have raced for 19 years with four airplanes in three classes at Reno. They are now distinguished as the only father and son to hold Gold championships in any class at the event.
The Unlimited Class also proved exciting with four previous champions battling it out in the four lead positions during Sunday’s Gold championships. Famous P-51 Mustang racers, “Strega” and “Dago Red” were followed closely by “Rare Bear” and “September Fury,” highly modified F8F Bearcat and Hawker Sea Fury respectively. In the end it was “Strega” piloted by eight-time champion Bill “Tiger” Destefani of Bakersfield who captured the gold at a blistering 453.062 mph.
Other gold championships included Tom Aberle of Fallbrook in the Biplane Class flying his modified Mong Sport at 251.975 mph. The Formula One Class went to Steve Senegal of San Bruno in his AR-6 at 246.119 mph. Curt Brown of Hudson, WI took the Jet Class in his L-29 at 507.124 mph. and Sport Class champion Lee Behel of San Jose raced his Lancair Legasy to 335.464 mph. Due to the wide speed ranges in the Sport Class, a “Super Sport” class was established permitting modified planes to race in addition to the factory kit planes, which the class was originally intended. Jon Sharp of Mojave flew his highly modified “Nemesis” racer to victory at 392.252 mph.
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 was augmented by world class air show performers including the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, plus fly-bys and displays of some of the most exotic airplanes.
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