2017 Reno Air Race Results
2017 was, as expected another reduced performance year for the Jet Class. There were 17 entries, up one from 2016. The fast jets, the Aero Enterprises L-29 Vipers and DV2 powered L-39 remain banned, reducing Joe Gano to flying his stock L-29, Race 6, SLUGGO for another slow year. This left the Jets open to Zach McNeil’s Vampire and the Soko Galebs of Joe’s teammates, Bob McCormack and Jon Socolof, to challenge the stock L-39’s.
The Warbirds of Delaware team drama started early. Bob McCormack made a decision to go for the Gold in 2017. This meant ditching Race 27, his stock L-29, for a new ride.
Under severe time constraints, Bob raced to find and purchase one of the four Soko’s remaining in the country, get his Soko type rating, and get the plane up and running for the first time in over ten years. After a couple of frenetic months, Bob was able to fly his spiffy new Soko into Stead two weeks early……with an engine that was immediately grounded for bearing failure.
That started a race to find a replacement engine. Bob and teammate, Rookie Jim Beyer, located probably the only spare Soko engine in the US, and dragged it out to Stead for John Hammond to install. John got the engine in quickly with the help of the Warbirds of Delaware ground crew, but THAT engine was a no start. John then gave up and left to focus on Zach McNeil’s Vampire, leaving Bob despondent. It was less than a week before the races and he had no plane to race.
Then Jon Socolof checked in and informed us that for personal reasons, he had elected to not race this year. But his plane was entered, so he graciously offered it to Bob. Bob immediately raced off to Boise to retrieve Jon’s Race 4.
Meanwhile Dave Cannavo of Aero Enterprises was flown in to try to salvage the spare engine. Dave, the Warbirds of Delaware crew and several other volunteers worked night and day, and managed to get Race 107 ready to qualify only 3 hours before the deadline! So Bob went from the depths of despair to having two racers!
As the week progressed, Ed Noel’s L-39, Race 5, established its dominance again, with Mike Steiger actually turning a 502 MPH race on Saturday, the only racer to exceed 500 MPH for the week. The Vampire and the Soko’s, both flown by Bob, could not challenge Race 5.
On Sunday, the Bronze heat started with SLUGGO at the back, where it finished. Joe usually can take advantage of mistakes made by other racers to finish up several places, but could not pull it off this year. He even got beat by rookie teammate Jim Beyer in Bob’s L-29, Race 27, a feat Bob could seldom pull off!
Bob meanwhile won the Bronze easily in his own Soko, Race 107, then moved up to the Silver heat in Jon’s Soko, Race 4, where he finished a close second to Pete Stavrides in Race 10. Pete, racing for Raf collado’s team, won the coveted Rookie of the Year award for his performance.
Bob then bumped to the Gold race, but was baffled by Vicki Benzing’s sophisticated blocking techniques. She ultimately forced him high and he was DQ’d. Still a great comeback for Bob and the Soko’s! Once again, Ed Noel’s Race 5, with Rick Vandam driving, won the Gold with another slow, 494 MPH effort, but far ahead of Zach McNeil in the Vampire at 472 MPH. Killer Culler, driving Raf Collado’s Race 8 finished out the top three at 465 MPH.
The Unlimited class continued to fade away in 2017. The Race Association went to great lengths to add new racers by heavily recruiting stock fighters. Pulling no stops, they were able to get the total up to 18, from 11 in 2016.
However, the real racers, the highly modified fighters that gave the class its name, dropped from 3 to 2, with only Strega and Voodoo appearing. Steve Hinton and Jim Consalvi put on a good show battling it out for first in the Gold Race, with Jim in Strega ultimately winning. Meanwhile the rest of the heat paraded around the course at least a lap behind. The Silver race was even more unappealing, with Robbie Patterson winning in an F-51D at only 337 MPH, slower than many of the Sport Class racers, but still faster than the T-6’s. They had a Bronze heat also.
The T-6 Class finished with 15 racers, the same number as last year. As usual, their main impact was the deafening racket their props make. Very few things in the world this noisy go this slowly!
Once again, the Sport class descended on Reno like a herd of locusts, with a full field of 30 racers. This class is very popular with the race community, but there seems to be limited fan appeal, at least at the gate. Perhaps there is a way to make it more popular with proper TV coverage.
The Reno Race organizers are making every effort to re-invigorate the event, which is still suffering the effects of the 2011 disaster. However most of their efforts continue to be misdirected.
One event that should help with TV, Facebook and Twitter appeal is the addition of drone racing. This event is more suited to TV and YouTube than a live gate. These new media vehicles are exactly where Reno needs to go to build its appeal.
Less helpful was Reno’s addition of motor bike racing and log cutting. These events were seen by the racers as a sign of desperation. RARA clearly hasn’t figured out what its new business model must look like if the races are to survive.
RARA’a effort to enlarge the Unlimited Class with stockers is another effort that will be doomed to failure. WWII has been over for 70 years. Young fans have no knowledge or interest in either the war or its fighters. WWII fighters are no longer the $15,000 war surplus bargains they were in the middle of the last century. They are now multi-million dollar artifacts that owners are not willing to risk for a meager purse.
Without true racers, the class is rapidly deteriorating into a mirror of the T-6 class. Except for two aircraft, the Unlimited’s speeds are exceeded regularly by both the Jets and the Sports. Times have changed, but RARA continues to cling to the business model that had been successful for so long.
The RARA Board has historically been run by hard supporters of the Unlimiteds. It does not bode well for the future of the races that the new Chairman for 2018 is Fred Telling. Nice guy, smart guy, but an old guy, and wed to the T-6 class. The only class as old as the Unlimiteds, and a lot slower.
The jury is still out, but that is not a good sign for Reno, which needs to focus on youth as its traditional fan base fades. That means supporting jet, drone and electric plane racing, and in a format that lends itself to modern media, not just a live audience.
More ominously, economic growth in Reno and the surrounding area is exploding with a vibrant new industry. As some have predicted for years, Silicone Valley has little capacity to absorb new growth. An obvious candidate for expansion is Reno, which is only a few hours away. With a strong university, lots of space, and much lower taxes and living costs, Tesla, Google, Amazon and Microsoft and others have already established major facilities. Reno is no longer the depressed, high unemployment gambling town of just a few years ago.
So how long can RARA keep these giants at bay? Right up until the giants decide they want the land around Stead. And that is already rapidly happening to the south of the airfield.
The Warbirds of Delaware team intends to compete in 2018 with Race 2, Pipsqueak and Race 77, Viper, and will continue to fight to get these fan pleasing record holders re-instated.
Joe plans to fly Pipsqueak, Race 2. Meanwhile he’ll ensure he has SLUGGO as a backup ride. Bob McCormack has his fangs out and plans to lay waste to anything or anyone hampering his quest for a Gold win. That may or may not be in a Soko. That will depend on Dave Cannavo’s genius to coax 30 miles an hour out of Race 107. We expect Jon Socolof to be back in his Soko, Race 4, and be a Gold contender. Jim Beyer remains uncommitted to flying Race 27.