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Record-Setting Reno For Team Nemesis

Steve Hinton, Jr. Youngest-Ever to Win Unlimited

by Tim Kern, for e-Hotline

Nemesis NXT
Jon Sharp’s Team Nemesis NXT. Photo by Tim Kern

Steve Hinton. Jr. flying Strega. Photo by Tim Kern

Biplane 25
Dennis Vest in Biplane 25 goes inverted. Photo by Keith Breazeal

Invictus and Endeavor
F1 competitors Invictus and Endeavor. Photo by Tim Kern

Lancair Legacy
David Sterling’s Lancair Legacy. Photo by Tim Kern

Viper flies over Pipsqueak
Jet winner Viper flies over Pipsqueak. Photo by Tim Kern

A group of tightly packed T-6s flies past the stands. Photo by Tim Kern

Parrothead lands after winning the Unlimited Bronze. Photo by Tim Kern

Miss America
Miss America. Photo by Tim Kern

September 24, 2009 — The 2009 Reno National Championships at Stead Field, Nevada, were exciting in the best ways possible: records were set; the races were generally close; and only one fairly serious injury occurred - the result of a short landing.

But first, a word or two about Jon and Patricia Sharp’s Team Nemesis: “Record-breaking.” Their week at Stead Field went better than imagined - every heat Jon flew in his Nemesis NXT brought at least one new speed record in the Super Sport Class. In the end, he won his career record 15th National Championship of his career.

The records began falling on Wednesday when Sharp flew a new Super Sport qualifying record of 412.554 mph - the 10th highest qualifying speed of the piston powered aircraft, 19th fasted if you include Jets. On Thursday Sharp’s 393.282 mph set a new Heat Race record, but that fell twice more, on Friday (399.336 mph) and Saturday (406.051) mph. On championship Sunday, Sharp flew the Lycoming Thunderbolt-powered speed demon to an all-time Super Sport Gold Race record of 407.061 mph.

Unlimited Breitling Gold Race: Before the start of the Unlimited Breitling Gold final, the only planes in front of the P-51 Strega flown by 22-year-old Steve Hinton, Jr. were polesitter Will Whiteside in another modified Mustang, Voodoo, and Steve Hinton, Sr., who was flying the pace plane. Steve, the youngest-ever Unlimited entrant, was one spot off the pole due to a pylon penalty the day before. But there was no doubt who had the fastest ride - once his dad pulled up, Strega surged to the lead followed by Voodoo, a surprisingly fast Rare Bear flown by John Penney, and Sherman Smoot’s Yak, Czech Mate.

Though Strega clearly looked faster, Voodoo wouldn’t give up an inch. In mid-race, Voodoo rounded the final pylon high, outside, and a little bit inverted, screaming after Hinton, but the 22-year-old never looked back. A couple laps later, Voodoo pulled up and out of the race. The win wasn’t ever in serious doubt, but the racing was extraordinary, clean, loud – and some of the best anyone remembered.  Hinton Sr., high above in the pace T-33, lit smoke and did a little air-dance when he learned his son had won.

Super Sport Gold Race: Although predictable, this exciting final saw Jon Sharp run away from the field – 407 mph in a homebuilt! Kevin Eldredge in his NXT, Relentless, led the rest, including George Giboney in his Thunder Mustang, and Mike Dacey’s Questair Venture, after the “egg” passed the TM. John Parker’s new, normally-aspirated Thunder Mustang, Blue Thunder II, wasn’t ready to do battle with the  turbocharged competition, but he went progressively faster all week, ending with a fifth place. Darryl Greenamyer’s four-time-winning Lancair Legacy posted a respectable qualifying speed (378 mph), but fought gremlins all week and didn’t start.

Biplane Gold Race: Sunday’s first Gold race featured the (usually) fastest of all biplanes (and only non-Pitts in the race) Phantom of Tom Aberle starting sixth, due to elusive engine problems that had him melting a spark plug on every flight. On Saturday night, the crew thought they’d isolated and fixed the problem. The race would tell. Not only did Aberle start in sixth, he lost position and distance at the start, as his Paul Lipps-designed prop was built for speed rather than acceleration. Once in the air, though, Aberle picked off airplanes at a prodigious rate, coming around at the end of lap 3, and ending the race having lapped all but second- and third places. On lap 3, Dennis Vest had a serious moment, as he and Norm Way were battling for second. The photo (thank you, Keith Breazeal) shows how close these men fly, and how close they are to the ground. Best recovered, leveled off, and again ran fast – fast enough to finish third, just ahead of George Andre. Fast Alaskan pharmacist Leah Sommer was slated to have started third, but a last-minute problem kept her off the grid.

Formula One Gold Race: When the International Formula One Gold field took off, everyone on the ground expected Steve Senegal to repeat in last year’s winner Endeavor. On the tarmac, though, Thom Richard, in his first year flying Invictus (Latin for “unconquered”), had other plan and pulled steadily away, once the standing start sorted itself out. (Formula One and Biplanes, unlike all the other classes, use a standing start. The high pitch in the (fixed-pitch) propellers means that sometimes the ultimately fastest airplanes are slow to get off the ground.)

Senegal was uncharacteristically slow, dropping to last place before retiring altogether. Gary Davis was all alone in second; Germany’s Steve Temple brought the first non-Cassutt, a GR-7 Panther named Madness, into third, a second ahead of a dead-heat finish between Smokey Young’s Sly Dog and Doug Bodine’s Yellow Peril. Farther back, but only a whisker apart, were Jay Jones (Quadnickel) and Lachlan Onslow (Outrageous). Richard was busy, tired, and happy. An hour earlier, he had won the Formula One Silver!

Sport Gold Race:  There wasn’t a lot of passing, and the field strung itself out right from the start; but the victory by David Sterling’s Lancair Legacy was significant. His winning average of 352mph would have made him top qualifier against what are now called Super Sport machines as recently as 2004.

Jet Gold Race: Jets were dominated all week by Joe Gano’s L-29 Delfin Viper with astronaut Curt Brown on the stick. That combination again showed that pure speed does indeed win races, if the pilot is talented enough to exploit it. Well, Brown certainly is, and Viper certainly did win again, ahead of hard-charging Mike Mangold in another L-29, Euro Burner. These were followed by Gano himself in his L-39, the 2005 and 2006 winner called Pip Squeak. All week, the now-“usual” cruciform-tail L-39 and T-tail L-29s were given counterpoint by a lovely twin-tail deHavilland Vampire, which would have been fast enough to win a few years ago. This year it finished seventh.

T-6 Gold Race: The thundering T-6 s took the sky just before 1p.m., with former winners at the front: Nick Macy’s Six-Cat was defending last year’s championship from the pole, followed by Dennis Buehn in Midnight Miss III and Al Goss in Warlock. Each looked ready to put another trophy in the case, but it was the steady running of Macy who put it away, with Goss pulling a rare pass on Buehn to take second.

Unlimited Bronze Race: History was made as John “JC” Paul brought his Parrothead P-40 from fourth or fifth at the start (the starting run down the chute was ambiguous from my vantage point) into first place. This was the first time ever that a CurtissP-40 has won a trophy race here, and that victory was historic – at least until JC opted to move up to the Silver race (the winner of a class can forfeit his position and move to the next-higher class), where as expected he got his clock cleaned.

Unlimited Silver Race: This was a true shootout among the first three starters - two Sea Furies in front: Ray Dieckman’s Sawbones and Dennis Sanders’s Argonaut and Dr. Brent Hisey’s P-51D Miss America, always a crowd favorite and third down the starting chute. Hisey passed Argonaut on the second lap, and set his sights on the faster-qualifying Sawbones, finally reeling in the big Sea Fury a couple laps later and staying in front for the win. Miss America hadn’t won a trophy race since 2000, when she also took the Silver.

Notes: Air show performers included the Blue Angels, Patty Wagstaff, the Red Eagles, and Dave Martin. There was even a fly-by by a – what was that? – a U-2!

Injured: In the Formula One Bronze Class, Adrian Cooper flew his Formula One Cassutt, Miss t’Witchie, from his home in Vancouver, BC, to Reno in 2007, his rookie year. This year he trailered it and that turned out to be a good thing after he lost power in the Bronze trophy race, tried to make the runway, but came up short. The very hard landing, one observer described, “Pushed the wheels up to the wings.” Cooper reportedly suffered a couple cracked vertebrae and bruised lungs, but he should be OK. The airplane’s fate, however, is uncertain…as is (for now) what caused its engine to quit.

The official 2010 race dates are September 15-19. Arrive on Monday, take a little time to drive the 40 or so miles up to Lake Tahoe for lunch, then come back to the Valley of Speed and watch the World’s Fastest Motorsport as it unfolds during just one week each year.

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