Reno Unlimiteds Turn 35

The 1998 Reno National Championship Unlimited Air Races will be remembered as one of the most exciting and most competitive meets in the 35 year history of Reno unlimited racing. If you couldn't make it, this heat-by-heat play-by-play by AVweb's race correspondents will make you feel as if you had been. And, if you don't feel "the need for speed" after viewing the three dozen magnificent race photos, we suggest you visit your AME pronto!


Saturday's heat raceThecontemporary Unlimited Class of air racing celebrated its 35th birthday in grand style atthe National Championship Air Races held at Stead Field near Reno, Nevada, September14-20, 1998. This year’s event featured 26 aircraft and pilots who qualified to competefor the prestigious bronze, silver and gold race trophies. Included on the entry list weresome familiar names such as Gary Levitz, Howard Pardue, and the Sanders brothers Dennisand Brian. A few rookies like John Bagley, Astronaut Robert "Hoot" Gibson, andMichael Brown also made the cut. However, perennial unlimited champions Lyle Shelton andBill "Tiger" Destefani were noticeably missing from this year’s line up.Unfortunately, both Strega and Rare Bear were damaged at theconclusion of last year’s gold competition and Tiger and Lyle where unable to get theirrespective racers ready for the 1998 event. In spite of Tiger and Lyle’s absences, thisyear’s crop of qualifying pilots showed a great deal of promise that should lead to somevery exciting racing.

Don’t miss AVweb’s Reno ’98 photo gallery!


Bruce Lockwood's 'Dago Red'Official qualification runscommenced on Monday as 14 unlimited racers took to the 9.125-mile race course. The weatherwas near perfect with crystal blue skies speckled with beautiful white clouds. The fastestlap of the day was recorded by Bruce Lockwood, piloting the highly-modified North AmericanP-51D Mustang, named Dago Red, to a lap speed of 443.932 mph. Veteran racepilot Dennis Sanders and his Pratt and Whitney R4360 powered Hawker Sea Fury was closebehind with a recorded speed of 433.282 mph. Gary Levitz ‘ hybrid Lear-Mustang racer MissAshley II posted the third fastest lap at 429.378 mph. Most of the first round ofqualification laps was uneventful with the exception of Hurricane BobHannah’s attempt at the course.

Hannah was again at the controls of the P-51D Mustang, nicknamed Voodoo(formerly known as Voodoo Chile, Racer #55). During the off-season TeamVoodoo put their racer through an extensive modification program. A newlighter-slicker composite cowling replaced the standard Merlin cover, and wing filets wereadded to more smoothly match the wings to the fuselage. There were certainly numerousother things that were done to the aircraft, but Hannah’s crew wasn’t talking at racetime. What looked like a promising qualifying run (452.549 mph) suddenly ended in a maydaydistress call after Voodoo’s cockpit quickly filled with smoke. (Race fansmight remember the aircraft formerly know as Voodoo Chile has experiencedsome difficulties in successfully finishing races in the past few years, and with the mostrecent bad luck, one can only wonder if Team Voodoo might actual be a victimof Voodoo.) The source of the smoke came from a couple of exhaust stacks,which burnt the new carbon fiber cowling. Hannah cleared the air in the cockpit by openingthe canopy and executed a perfect emergence landing.

Miss AmericaDay two of qualifying opened with BrentHisey’s P-51D Miss America departing the pylon course during the earlysession with a blown gasket; however, he returned in the rain-delayed afternoon sessionand successfully flew the course without incident. Bob Hannah declared his secondemergency in as many days when he reported that Voodoo’s engine was runningrough. In the mean time, rookie John Bagley, who successfully completed his pilotqualification on Monday, posted a very respectable speed of 400.404 mph in his Sea Fury, SouthernCross. When asked what he thought about his pilot’s test, Bagely replied,"what a rush!" "The interesting thing is, it doesn’t feel much different at41 inches of manifold pressure as it does at 54 inches. There is a lot of difference inspeed, but once you’re on the course, you really don’t feel it. I am here for a parade nota race. I have no illusions of grandeur. You look around here at the bid dog Furies andall the experienced pilots—-I can follow."

Again, one could not ask for better weather on Wednesday, the third and final day ofqualifying; however, there was some controversy. Apparently, the rule governing the numberof qualification laps was interpreted in a manner which could allow pilots who hadpreviously only used one of their two allotted circuits to re-qualify. The Reno Air RaceAssociation (RARA) took a look at the rule and decided to let many of the pilots haveanother go at the course on Wednesday. Bob Hannah finally managed an uneventful run aroundthe pylons, but the recorded 440mph fell 12mph short of the speed he clocked on Monday.Veteran race pilot Jimmy Leeward was late getting into Reno due to storms in Texas, but onWednesday he finally got the chance to qualify his P-51D Cloud Dancer.Leeward registered a very respectable speed, for a stock Mustang , of 382.379mph. BillRheinschild took advantage of the RARA’s ruling and pushed Risky Business’lap speed to 430.446mph. Gary Levitz’ also requlified his beautiful Courtaulds Aerospacesponsored Miss Ashley II at 437.376mph, which was fast enough to put himthird in the gold race starting line up.

Miss Ashley IIDuring the off-season Bill Rogers andhis highly talented crew brought Miss Ashley II back to Everett, Washingtonin the late spring in order to get her ready for the National Air Races. Some of themodifications they incorporated included replacing the aircraft’s leading edge with acarbon fiber leading edge that was modeled from the wings of a P.16 Swiss fighter. Rogersalso replaced last year’s troublesome gear doors with a more rigid composite version .Lastly, his crew also added a little extra kick to the Miss Ashley II’sGriffon by installing a nitrous oxide injection system. Each day of the qualifying round,pilot Gary Levitz took to the skies and made calibration flights to fine tune his racer,and by Wednesday night all was ready for the first of the heat races.


UNLIMITED HEAT 1C Medallion, 5 Laps

Howard Pardue's BearcatThe first official heat racecame off without a hitch as Howard Pardue flew his rare Grumman XF8F-1 Bearcat to a firstplace finish with an average speed of 365.273mph. Probably the most exciting thing aboutHeat 1C was seeing three beautiful stock Bearcats round the course at the same time. Thisis the first time in recent memory that three Bearcats have been paired in the same race.

Race #PilotAircraft TypeNameRace TimeRace Speed mph
14Howard PardueXF8F-1Bearcat7:29.96365.273
50Ike EnnsP-51DMiracle Maker7:31.63363.939
106Bill AndersF8FWampus Cat7:45.98351.976
2Thomas CampYak 11Maniyak7:53.07347.445
204David PriceF8F-1Bearcat8:04.15327.135
29John HerlihyYak 11Czech Ride8:22.47327.115
81Rob PattersonP-51DLady Jo9:00.93303.858

UNLIMITED HEAT 1B Bronze, 5 Laps

Rookie Mike Brown was fined $200.00 for low flyingUnlimitedHeat 1B featured four Sea Furies and two Mustangs. Rookie Michael Brown took the lead inhis Sea Fury, September Pops, as Bill Rheinschild’s Fury Bad Attitudeand Steward Dawson’s Sprit of Texas jockeyed for second. Brown continued tolead in the race and took the checkered flag with less than a half second ahead ofRheinschild. A very exciting race indeed; however, Brown would later be fined $200.00 forlow flying and moved to last place in the finishing order. The low flying penalty moved BadAttitude into the winner’s circle, closely followed by Stewart Dawson’s Sea Fury.

Race #PilotAircraft TypeNameRace TimeRace Speed mph
74Bill RheinschildSea FuryBad Attitude7:05.48386.307
105Steward DawsonSea FurySprit of Texas7:07.37384.598
99"Hoot" GibsonSea FuryRiff Raff7:18.08375.196
22Bill EberhardtP-51DMerlins Magic8:21.52327.735
9Jimmy LeewardP-51DCloud Dancer8:22.44327.135
911Michael BrownSea FurySeptember Pops7:05.22365.543*

* Moved to last place and fined $200.00 for low flying.

UNLIMITED HEAT 1C Silver, 5 Laps

Brian Sanders' Sea Fury 'Argonaut'The three topqualifiers Bob Hannah, Bruce Lockwood, and Gary Levitz were exempt from competing in Heat1C Sliver race. The six remaining competitors all had very close qualifying speeds that,in theory, should have produced a very competitive race. But things don’t always happenthe way one might think. Dan Martin was flying a fine race when suddenly he called outover the race frequency that he thought he had lost the trim tab on his rudder. Martinsubsequently left the course with a mayday while Steve Hinton in the pace plane took alook at the damage. In the mean time, Sherman Smoot in his brightly polished Yak 11 flew avery fast 399.528mph and captured the checker flag just ahead of Brian Sanders’ Sea Fury, Argonaut.The rest of the pack, Nelson Ezell, John Bagely , and Brent Hisey all managed to cut outerpylon 5, which resulted in a 10-second (two seconds for each lap) penalty to theirrespective race times. Fortunately, Dan Martin’s Mustang was not severely damaged,although it would require a new rudder assembly.

Race #PilotAircraft TypeNameRace TimeRace Speed mph
86Sherman SmootYak 11Czech Mate6:51.40399.528
114Brian SandersSea FuryArgonaut7:00.43390.947
66Nelson EzellSea FuryFury7:29.81365.411*
47John BagleySea FurySouthern Cross7:38.26358.673**
11Brent HiseyP-51DMiss America8:03.52339.936***
20Dan MartinP-51DRidge Runner Did Not Finish

* Cut Outer 5 Pylon on lap 3, +10 seconds penalty.
** Cut Outer 5 Pylon on lap 2, +10 seconds penalty.
*** Cut Outer 5 Pylon on lap 4, +10 seconds penalty.


UNLIMITED HEAT 2C Bronze, 5 Laps

The first heat race of the day proved to be a cake walk for Rookie Mike Brown who hadbeen bumped down to the Bronze after being penalized for low flying on Thursday. Brown’spowerful Sea Fury was first out of the blocks and he never relinquished the lead.

Race #PilotAircraft TypeNameRace TimeRace Speed mph
911Mike BrownSea FurySeptember Pops6:47.73403.124
22Stu EberhardtP-51DMerlins Magic7:16.85376.252
50Ike EnnsP-51DMiracle Maker7:42.88355.094
14Howard PardueXF8F-1Bearcat7:50.63349.246
106Bill AndersF8FWampus Cat7:50.99348.979
99Hoot GibsonSea FuryRiff Raff8:04.45339.283
9Jimmy LeewardP-51DCloud Dancer8:23.00326.771*

* Cut Pylon 1 on lap 5, +10 seconds penalty.

UNLIMITED HEAT 2C Silver, 5 Laps

The Unlimited 2C heat proved to be a little more competitive with the top threefinishers closing out the race within 3 seconds of each other. The lead was traded backand forth between Howard Pardue and Brian Sanders until the last lap. At that point,Sanders gained a slight edge and managed to slip past the home pylon just ahead ofPardue’s Sea Fury. Brent Hisey, in Miss America placed a very fast third at399.780mph. Dan Martin was also able to replace Ridge Runner’s rudderassembly in time to compete in the race; however, he cut pylon 5 which cost him a 10second penalty. Stewart Dawson also had a pylon cut, and rookie John Bagely was also movedto last place for a deadline violation.

Race #PilotAircraft TypeNameRace TimeRace Speed mph
114Brian SandersSea FuryArgonaut6:48.26402.601
66Howard PardueSea FuryFury6:50.91400.004
11Brent HiseyP-51DMiss America6:51.14399.780
74Bill RheinschildSea FuryBad Attitude7:05.39386.388
105Steward DawsonSea FurySprit of Texas7:23.66370.477*
20Dan MartinP-51DRidge Runner8:06.83337.624**
47John BagelySea FurySouthern Cross7:20.91372.787***

* Cut Pylon 1 on lap 2,
+10 seconds penalty.

** Cut Outer 5 Pylon on lap 3,
+10 seconds penalty.

*** Moved to last place for Deadline Violation.


Dennis Sanders' Sea Fury 'Dreadnought'.This is theheat race that most of the unlimited fans had been waiting for as the three top qualifierslined up on the pace plane. Gary Levitz experienced a problem with his gear doors so hemaneuvered Miss Ashley to the end of the starting line up. Bob Hannah and Voodootook a short-lived lead in the race until Bruce Loockwood and Dago Red passedhim on the back side of the course. Shortly thereafter, both racers pulled back on thepower to save their engines for Sunday. However, Dennis Sanders and Dreadnought keptup the pressure so Lookwood again applied the power. Gary Levitz’ gear door problem becamemore acute as the damaged door left the plane and fell to the desert below. The exposedwheel well caused considerable drag, and Levitz wisely didn’t stress his Griffion in arace he could not win.

Race #PilotAircraft TypeNameRace TimeRace Speed mph
4Bruce LockwoodP-51DDago Red6:21.42430.931
5Bob HannahP-51DVoodoo6:25.02426.902
8Dennis SandersSea FuryDreadnought6:25.78426.061
86Sherman SmootYak 11Czech Mate6:59.57391.748
38Gary LevitzP-51DMiss Ashley II7:17.00376.123*
45Matt JacksonP-51DRisky Business7:29.45365.704

* Cut Outer 6 Pylon on lap 5, +10 seconds penalty.


Hoot Gibson's Sea FuryUNLIMITED HEAT 3C Bronze, 5 Laps

Astronaut and rookie unlimited race pilot Robert "Hoot" Gibson looked like hehad gotten the hang of air racing while posting his first victory in Saturday’s 3C Bronzeheat race. His very competitive average speed of 376.580mph was fast enough to hold offthe rest of the pack and bump Gibson and his beautiful Red and White Hawker Sea Fury intoSunday’s Silver Trophy Race.

Race #PilotAircraft TypeNameRace TimeRace Speed mph
99Hoot GibsonSea FuryRiff Raff7:16.47376.580
50Ike EnnsP-51DMiracle Maker7:23.08370.962
9Jimmy LeewardP-51DCloud Dancer7:27.31367.454
14Howard PardueXF8F-1Bearcat7:40.70356.774*
204David PriceF8F-1Bearcat7:45.91352.784
2Thomas CampYak 11Maniyak8:00.45342.108
106Bill AndersF8FWampus Cat8:04.99338.954**
29Sam RichardsonYak 11Czech Ride8:24.42325.851

* Cut Pylon 3 on Pace lap, +10 seconds penalty.
** Cut Pylon 3 on Pace lap and Pylon 1on lap 3, +20 seconds penalty.

UNLIMITED HEAT 3B Silver, 5 Laps

Heat 3B Silver shaped up as a show down between five Sea Furies and three Mustangs. Inthe end, the Sea Furies piloted by Howard Pardue, Matt Jackson, Stewart Dawson and RookieMike Brown, prevailed by finishing 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th.This heat was only the second in the series on unlimited heats in which there were nopenalties assessed. Dan Martin’s repaired Ridge Runner also took to thecourse but did not finish the race.

Race #PilotAircraft TypeNameRace TimeRace Speed mph
66Howard PardueSea FuryFury6:54.27396.760
74Matt JacksonSea FuryBad Attitude7:09.90382.335
105Steward DawsonSea FurySprit of Texas7:11.00381.359
911Mike BrownSea FurySeptember Pops7:11.72380.723
22Stu EberhardtP-51DMerlins Magic7:27.40367.380
11Brent HiseyP-51DMiss America7:39.57357.651
47John BagelySea FurySouthern Cross7:43.03354.978
20Daniel MartinP-51DRidge Runner Did Not Finish


The last unlimited heat of the day had moments of both extreme excitement and terror.Overnight, Gary Levitz’ crew made the necessary repairs to Miss Ashley II so all three ofthe top qualifiers where lined up and ready to go when Steve Hinton called the start ofthe race. Dago Red took the early lead over Voodoo and Miss Ashley II. Then Voodoo veryabruptly pulled up; however, Hannah didn’t radio a distress call. Shortly thereafter,Sherman Smoot’s Czech Mate belched flames and smoke. Smoot pulled off the course with animmediate called a mayday. Smoot’s Yak doesn’t glide very well so he brought the planedown at about 170mph and ground looped it at the end of the runway. The gear collapsed andthe Yak slid sideways for a good distance before stopping just short of a small bluff onthe east side of the airport. Smoot quickly jumped out of the plane and walked away a verylucky man. Voodoo after losing trim tabIn the mean time, SteveHinton flew over to take a look Voodoo. "You OK Bob?" called Hinton. "Yea,this thing just popped big time," replied Hannah. What Hannah didn’t mention is thatthe g-load from the quick pull-up had caused him to black out. He finally managed to reachthe throttle and reduced Voodoo’s power. At that point Hannah radioed that he"(wasn’t) out of it yet," but he wasn’t thinking clearly. Later, he declared amayday and made a perfect landing. The race continued as Dago Red narrowly edgedDreadnought for the win. Miss Ashley II also had its best race performance todate with an average speed of 428.717mph. On the ground one could see what cause Voodoo’sproblems during the race. The left elevator torque tube failed when the elevator trimfluttered and departed the plane. Fortunately, Bob Hannah’s skill and coolness in thecockpit saved day.

Race #PilotAircraft TypeNameRace TimeRace Speed mph
4Bruce LockwoodP-51DDago Red6:12.402441.369
8Dennis SandersSea FuryDreadnought6:25.78439.551
38Gary LevitzP-51RMiss Ashley II6:23.39428.717
45Bill RheinschildP-51DRisky Business6:43.83407.017
114Brian SandersSea FuryArgonaut7:22.98371.045
86Sherman SmootYak 11Czech Mate Did Not Finish
5Bob HannahP-51DVoodoo Did Not Finish


UNLIMITED Bronze, 7 Laps

The first unlimited race on Sunday was completely dominated by the three stock Bearcatsthat qualified for the race. Howard Pardue captured the win in the bronze by edging outformer Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders in Wampus Cat. Alan Preston finishedthird, making the first ever 1-2-3 Bearcat finish. One of the more strange things thathappened during this race was the departure of David Price in the first lap. Price radioed"see you later Alan," and headed home to Santa Monica.

Race #PilotAircraft TypeNameRace TimeRace Speed mph
14Howard PardueXF8F-1Bearcat7:28.39366.569
106Bill AndersF8FWampus Cat7:31.07364.391
204Alan PrestonF8F-1Bearcat7:49.13350.363
2Thomas CampYak 11Maniyak7:49.61350.005
29John HerlihyYak-11Czech Ride8:19.26329.219*
81Rob PattersonP-51DLady Jo7:29.01292.850**
44Brant SeghettiP-51DSparky8:00.86273.453**
49David PriceP-51DCottonmouth Did Not Finish

* Cut Outer Pylon 8 on lap 1,
+10 seconds penalty.

** Time computed on 4 laps completed.


Miss America after raceAll of the sliver racecompetitors had very close qualifying times, which left the race wide open. Rookie MikeBrown and his Sea Fury was the front runner, but the pilots that have been holding backall week will surely reveal themselves in this race. With that in mind, some may callBrent Hisey a sandbagger, but after the silver race everyone called him a winner. All weekHisey’s crew’s only comment was they didn’t have a full-blown racing motor, but onecertainly couldn’t tell that in the silver race. Miss America jumped out from itsfifth place starting position to easily out-distanced the competition to the checkeredflag. Miss America has always been a competitive airplane and Sunday’s result simplyreinforces that one should never count Miss America out of a race. Team Miss America cameto Reno to capture the silver and they accomplished their mission. Well done Team, fansare looking forward to seeing you in 1999.

Race #PilotAircraft TypeNameRace TimeRace Speed mph
11Brent HiseyP-51DMiss America7:58.19414.202
911Mike BrownSea FurySeptember Pops8:11.76401.088
22Stu EberhardtP-51DMerlins Magic8:38.18380.638
47John BagelySea FurySouthern Cross8:42.89377.209
99Hoot GibsonSea FuryRiff Raff8:44.41376.116
9Jimmy LeewardP-51DCloud Dancer9:02.34363.681
50Ike EnnsP-51DMiracle Maker9:04.44362.278
20Daniel MartinP-51DRidge Runner Did Not Finish


With a week worth of competition behind them, it was finally time to see three of thefour top qualifiers push the trottle home. The race had a very frightening beginning whenthe engine in Howard Pardue’s Sea Fury seemed to sputter on takeoff. One could hear therecord crowd of spectators take a deep breath as their heartbeat moved to their throats.Pardue was able to get the engine running again while gaining a little altitude beforeturning left and executing excellent emergency landing. Pardue certainly had his handsfull for a few moments, but he sure made it look easy.

Bruce Lockwood's 'Dago Red'Lockwood was first on thecourse after Hinton called "gentlemen you have a race," but he was soonovertaken by Dennis Sanders in Dreadnought. Could this be the year of theround engine? Sanders had the inside position, flying very tight a low on the course.During lap three, Lockwood was caught in the propwash of the big Sea Fury as theyapproached pylon two. For a moment, it looked like Dago Red might flip over,but Lockwood is a fine pilot, and he managed the situation and eventually passed Dreadnoughtand sprinted to the finish line. Miss Ashley II also had avery nice race; however, Gary Levitz cut pylon 4, and the ensuing penalty vaulted BillRheinschild to third place.

Race #PilotAircraft TypeNameRace TimeRace Speed mph
4Bruce LockwoodP-51DDago Red8:30.68450.599
8Dennis SandersSea FuryDreadnought8:36.75445.306
45Bill RheinschildP-51DRisky Business9:07.14420.572
38Gary LevitzP-51RMiss Ashley II9:19.25411.465*
114Brian SandersSea FuryArgonaut9:45.45392.375
105Stewart DawsonSea FurySprit of Texas8:34.56383.316**
74Matt JacksonSea FuryBad Attitude8:40.03379.284**
88Howard PardueSea FuryFury Did Not Finish

* Cut Outer Pylon 4 on lap 1,
+14 seconds penalty

** Time computed on 8 laps completed.


The 1998 Reno National Championship Unlimited Air Races will be remembered as an eventthat posted lower turn out of aircraft and slower speeds than in previous years. However,the 1998 competition will be recorded as being one of the most exciting and mostcompetitive meets in the 35 year history of Reno unlimited racing. A number of racingteams, like team Miss Ashley II, made significant improvements in theiraircraft and most will be back next year with even more power. And it is not beyond therealm of possibility that Tiger’s Witch, Lyle’s Bear, and Dwelly’s radioactive Sea Furywill return in 1999. Also, the new crop of rookie entries had a very good showing in 1998,and no doubt, they now have caught the racing bug. Lastly, all of the unlimited pilots areto be saluted for their skill and professionalism in calmly handling life-threateningemergencies. After all, the pilots who fly the pylons at Reno are some of the best in theworld. Outstanding job gentlemen, see you next year!

Don’t miss AVweb’s Reno ’98 photo gallery!