Chuck Gardner Reports from Reno

Wednesday, September 11 - The Air Races are a very very exciting and thrilling event to see. Can you believe that Skip Holm qualified the Dago Red P-51 at 497 mph? I have also seen 4 airplanes heavily damaged since I have been here. Miss America, Strega, Critical Mass, and Czech Mate are out of the races. I believe that Bill "Tiger" Destefani has retired from Racing as this was to be his last race anyway.
  The Bear was probably ready to fly today. It taxied around and ran for a while this morning but could not get an FAA airworthiness inspection at the last minute after not haven flown in three years. If you have ever seen Rare Bare fly, you know what a major disappointment this is to myself and all of the fans. September Pops Seafury is making metal and will get an engine replacement by tomorrow. Precious Metal qualified at 385mph.
  The Hughes H-1B replica flew in today and is as beautiful in person as in the pictures. The 2 F-104 Starfighters flew in this afternoon. I can't wait to see their airshow performance. B-25 Sunday Punch and Executive Sweet flew in. The Oshkosh winning Firefly is awesome! I have never seen one before. P-51s Val Halla and Six Shooter flew in late this afternoon. Tony Banta's P-40 is on display and so was the P-51 Section Eight. John Bagley's P-63 was moved over to the other display aircraft for the judging compitition. Last but not least, an A-26 flew in right before I left for the evening. We are still expecting a Corsair and Tigercat.

Thursday, September 12 - Today was another fine day of racing. No accidents today and the show went off without a hitch. I ran into Lefty Gardner(no relation) at a booth where he is selling his pictures to help restore his P-38 White Lightning. I met his son, Ladd who was the pilot during the unfortunate crash. Great guy. They are trying to secure funds to rebuild it but it will cost more than they orignally thought. Ladd hopes to keep it in the family and not have to sell it.
  I talked to Chuck Hall of San Diego, CA and got some good shots of his P-51 Six Shooter. The A-26 that flew in is 434313 N1190R painted in silver and blue. Rare Bear ran her 3350 this afternoon for about 10 minutes. There is nothing quite like standing 30 feet from this meaty racer while she runs her engine at high RPM. They hope to fly it by Sunday for a test flight and for all of the fans. I also stood next to Precious Metal, the contra-rotating prop, Griffon engined P-51 while she warmed up to go race. I wish everyone could have been in my shoes and seen through my eyes. It was an awesome experience!
  Dick Bataya (sp) brought in his F7F Tigercat this morning. The F-104 Starfighters put on their display today. No loops or rolls but incredible to see with the high speed passes. P-51 Voodoo went out for a photo shoot this afternoon so you will probably see it in a magazine in a few months. I talked with Michael O'Leary (famous warbird photgrapher) today and it's possible you might see some of his pictures at some point that are very similar to mine since we were shooting next to each other.
  I went and had a look at Miss America this morning. It is a wreck. It will take at least a year to rebuild. The wing is broke and there is a hole in the side in the engine from letting a rod go. Mr. Hisey had just raised the insurance on it before the race and his agent was at the races!! I saw him today and seems to be in good spirits given the circumstances.
  Nelson Ezell, famous warbird restorer, flew Stuwart Dawson's Seafury Spirit of Texas today and was the fastest plane on the coarse at 416 mph. P-38 Joltin' Josie was on the ramp when I arrived this morning and was a great sight to see. Steve Hinton flew it with P-51s Val Halla and Six Shooter with a F-16 for a Heritage flight. Great show!
  Some interesting news is that the Strega team is using Dan Martin's broke engine as well as their own to create a good one from the two. They hope to have the new, rebuilt engine in by tomorrow night and race this weekend. The custom nose cowling panels are gone (runway FOD) so the will have to replace the pieces with stock components. This will reduce the overall speed potential of the P-51 but it is still a hot airframe. I wish them luck!

Friday, September 13 - Well, I left the races early today because of a fatality. A Questar Venture had a structural failure and nose-dived into the ground directly in front of the crowd. The race finished on the next lap and the other Sport Class aircraft landed. At that point, another Questar Venture ground-looped and was damaged but the pilot was unijured. It is always traumatic to see a crash and even worse when someone dies. My deepest sympathies go to the pilots family and friends.
  Other news: The Hughes racer H-1B flew this morning to break the speed record set by the orginal H-1 in the '30s. No word on the results, the crew was very secretive. It also flew this afternoon for a demo. It is a stunningly beautiful airplane in the air as well as on the ground.
  Strega has it's new engine installed and they hope to run it tonight. Tiger seems very enthusiatic about the prospect of racing this weekend.
  I met Rob Patterson who flies the TF-51 Lady Joe and is a very nice guy. He was one of the "Chino Kids" and grew up flying warbirds with the likes of Steve Hinton. Lucky guy!

Saturday, September 14 - Today was a great day for racing. No Maydays and no one got hurt. The Seafury September Pops got its new engine on yesterday and was run last night. It was in the bronze race today but aborted take-off. It did not race and I have not heard from the team what problems they had. The team put in a lot of hard work to get race ready by today and and very disappointed.
 Tiger Detsefani's P-51 Strega ran its new composite engine last night and the crew was up until 0400 this morning getting the new cowlings installed. They borrowed pieces from the crashed Miss America airframe. Strega flew this morning for the first time since the beggining of the week. There were no sqawks and she was set to run the silver race today. This afternoon Strega started last in the silver and finished first, passing everyone along the way. Very exciting racing. She is now qualified for the Gold race tomorrow and a very strong contender.
  John Bagley won the Bronze race in Old Yeller which used to belong to legendary pilot Bob Hoover. The Gold race was won by Dago Red which has been the fastest racer on the course all week. Tomorrow is the final race day as well as the most exciting. Many racers hold back until the final race to save their engines. I look for everyone to run really hard and maybe a few suprises as well.

Monday, September 16 - I realize that I didn't post any info yesterday after the races. I was on the ramp from 6:00am to 9:00pm and I was beat. I went out to the airport before sunrise this morning and photographed the racers as they preapred to leave for home. It was a great opportunity to get close to the planes and get great shots. John Bagley's P-63 and P-51 Old Yeller flew by for a photo pass on the way out. I wound up meeting the pilot of the Firefly and got to talking to him for a bit. I helped him wash the dirt off of it which took about 4 hours. The restoration is 101% and the Firefly is just an awesome airplane! Later he let me take cockpit photos and get some great shots of the plane. Anyone jealous? It was a great morning. The Firefly took off for a photo shoot with Michael O'Leary in the B-25 Pacific Princess for a Air Classics cover and center spread for a upcoming issue.
  Yesterday started out like a normal Reno day. By noon the winds were howling and the sky was brown with dust. By the time of the Gold unlimited race, the winds were 25mph gusting to 50mph. Sometimes it was very diffucult to look up at the racers going by for getting sand in your eyes. The Bronze race was won by Jimmy Leeward in his P-51 Cloud Dancer. The Silver race was a mess because of several racers cutting pylons and having time penalties add to their finish times.   The R4360 powered Seafury Furias came across the finsh line first but Joe Thibedoe's Seafury Sea Hawk won by default. Strega had won the Silver race on Saturday and bumped up to the Gold for Sunday. Sundays race was short lived for this racer as she only made two laps before blowing the newly installed engine and deadsticking the plane onto the runway. Tiger Destefani did some amazing flying to get the Mustang down with the severe crosswinds and without power. The race was dominated by Dago Red who won for the 4th time in a row this year. Dago flew an average speed of 468mph. Michael Browns Seafury September Fury placed second at 455mph and P-51 Voodoo placed 3rd at 435mph with a stock engine. Everyone made it down safely with the high winds and it was a great race.