Soaring at 500 mph, Unlimited Class thrills at Reno Air Races |

Soaring at 500 mph, Unlimited Class thrills at Reno Air Races

Former NASA astronaut, Robert “Hoot” Gibson of Murfreesboro, TN in the victory circle upon capturing the Unlimited Class Breitling Gold Championship with an average lap speed of 488.983 mph.
Photo by Tim O’Brien |

The 52nd annual National Championship Air Races concluded five days of intense competition Sunday in beautiful skies above Stead Airport, north of Reno.

Heat races in the Unlimited Class thrilled fans with low-flying sights and sounds of vintage iron, quickly became serious business as top qualifiers battled hard at nearly 500 mph with some of the most exciting passes seen in recent years. Rival aircraft, “Rare Bear,” “Voodoo” and “Strega” swapped lead positions numerous times on the 9-mile course, casting doubt that Steven Hinton of Chino would easily sail his radical P-51 Mustang to a sixth consecutive win.

By Sunday, with seven proven planes in the running, Robert “Hoot” Gibson of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, jumped to an early lead in “Strega,” leaving Stewart Dawson of Celina, Texas piloting “Rare Bear,” and Hinton’s “Voodoo” behind in a close battle for second.

After an early dash at over 500 mph, Hinton pulled out of the race on the seventh lap with engine cooling problems, giving Dawson a formidable second-place victory at 471.957 to Gibson’s Breitling Gold Championship with an average speed of 488.983.

Other Gold victories included Tom Aberle of Fallbrook, in the Biplane Class, flying his modified “Phantom” racer at 245.109 mph after lapping the entire field, leaving Jake Stewart of Lewisville, Texas, a distant second at 220.447 mph.

The Formula One Class title went to Steve Senegal of San Bruno in his sleek AR-6, “Endeavor,” at 239.432 mph ahead of Vito Wypraechtiger of Bern, Switzerland, flying “Scarlet Screamer” at 238.243 mph.

In the Jet Class, Pete Zaccagnino of Park City, Utah, flying a rare British built DH115, “Vampire,” at 502.370 mph upset Sean Cushing of Virginia Beach, Virginia, in his L-39, “Fast Company,” at 501.806 mph.

In the popular Sport Class, it was John Parker of Reno who took his powerful “Blue Thunder II” to the checkered flag at 377.403 mph handily over second place, Lynn Farnsworth of Roswell, Georgia, in “Miss Karen II” at 375.483 mph.

Returning champion Dennis Buehn of Carson City captured the Gold in the AT-6 Class at 239.163 mph, ahead of a close second-place battle between Chris Rushing of Van Nuys and Nick Macy of Tulelake, at 231.808 mph and 231.730 mph respectively.

The Reno National Championship Air Races is the longest running event of its kind and is the fastest motor sport in the world. Six classes of racing were augmented by world-class air show performers, including the Breitling L-39 Jet Demonstration Team, plus performance and displays of some of the most exotic airplanes.

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