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Racing the wind

Tom Dwelle flies Critical Mass over Grass Valley during the Nevada County AirFest in July. Dwelle will be in Reno for the air races.
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The quest for speed and the chance to experience the ultimate in high-performance flying are on tap, as three local pilots gear up for the worlds fastest motor-sport at the National Championship Air Races in Reno.

Arnie Luters of Grass Valley will enter his fifth year of competition flying his No. 8 Glassair III named Pegasus. He placed first in the Sport Class Silver category in 1998. At speeds in excess of 250 mph, he went on to win third place victories in 1999 and 2000.

Luters is joined by long-time friend and fellow pilot Dave Cronin, who constructed an identical Glassair III, Race No. 1 at his home in Truckee.



The two men have spent the last three months fine-tuning their planes while honing their high-speed formation skills, which included a precision flying demonstration at the recent Nevada County AirFest.

At Reno, they will compete for an overall purse of over $60,000.




The Sport Class was created as an affordable means for pilots to showcase their kit-built planes and piloting finesse, using aircraft they have built themselves.

Increased popularity and factory sponsorships have resulted in several racers exceeding the 300 mph mark. Out of the 26 racers registered to compete, only 16 planes will be qualified to race, up from the 18 racers registered when the class was initiated in 1998.

While Luters and Cronin concede that they have little chance at winning the Gold Championship, they are looking forward to close competition with each other, provided they qualify to race in the Bronze or Silver classes. Each powered by a 300-horsepower IO-540 engine, their Glassair IIIs are a perfect match.

“Our (individual) skills and ability to fly the course consistently will determine which one of us wins” Luters added.

Fellow members of the Golden Empire Flying Association and Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter No. 1175 from the Nevada County Airport will serve as crewmembers in keeping the planes in top condition between races.

Lake of the Pines resident Tom Dwelle and the Critical Mass air race team, will return to the Unlimited Class with his highly modified World War II vintage Hawker Sea Fury.

Powered by a massive 4000-horsepower engine and capable of speeds reaching 500 mph., his race No. 10 was favored to win in the Reno 2001 races, but the event was cancelled after the September 11th World Trade Center disaster and cessation of all non-essential flying during a two-week period. After an incredible second place victory in the 2000 Unlimited Class Gold championships, Dwelle enlisted help from Dave Cornell, a well known engine builder who previously provided a similar motor for three-time Reno champion Rare Bear to continue improving his engine and airframe.

A veteran combat pilot with more than 300 missions in Vietnam, Dwelle credits the hard work and dedication of his crew including wife, Peggy, and sons, Ken and Tom Jr.

“We’re spooled up and we’re ready!” said Dwelle after completing a recent test flight.

The 39th Annual Reno National Championship Air Races and Show will be held Thursday through Sunday, September 12 -15, at the Stead Airport located 10 miles north of Reno Nevada.

Top aerobatic performers, military demonstrations, scores of aircraft displays and fly-bys will augment six classes of championship air racing.

New to the event will be the addition of official jet racing.

The event draws fans from all over the world including a large local following, and brings millions of dollars to the regional economy.

Tickets and pit passes will also be available at the gate.

For more information, visit: http://www.airrace.org or contact Ticketmaster for reservations.

The 39th Annual Reno National Championship Air Races and Show will be held Thursday through Sunday, September 12 -15, at the Stead Airport located 10 miles north of Reno Nevada.


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