Thursday, April 2, 2009

Formula One Air Racing – New Players

When most people hear about the Reno Air Races, they think of the Big Iron – the Unlimited Division, Strega, Rare Bear, and Dago Red. Not many of the fans wake up at the crack of dawn to watch the Formula 1 Racers, or my beloved Biplane Class. These two groups put up some of the most exciting racing you’ll find, and they do it on a budget.

This month, we are going to look at some of the new blood in Formula 1. In the last few years, we have seen an amazing amount of talent come into the sport in the morning classes. And I, for one, believe they deserve more of our attention and support. Especially since I’m one of them, and I believe in the entertainment value of these groups. Seriously, where are you going to see an eight airplane formation take-off? Heck, that almost scares me, and I’m fearless.

Meet Elliot

One of the new players is a young man with an amazing pedigree. Elliot Seguin was one of those airport kids. You know the ones, they have a ton of energy and all they want to do is learn and help and fly and learn and help. And he’s SMART – not like “doesn’t fall down or hit himself in the head” smart… I mean REALLY SMART. But, you’ll see that in a few minutes, keep reading.

He grew up in the Midwest, Michigan to be exact. People from California don’t realize how different aviation is in other areas of our country, and around the world. In California, antiques like the Stearman, Waco or Ryan and military fighters like the P-51s or trainers like the T-6 are plentiful. Highly modified speedsters, like the Legacy or Glasair are everywhere. At my airport, we have several antiques, fighters, racers, speedsters and aerobatic aircraft. When visitors come from other parts of the country or the world, they pull up a lawn chair and watch the activities all day – and we practically laugh at them. It’s all in what you get used to and we, in California, are spoiled. Big time.

The other day, I left the office early and headed to the airport. Seriously, where else would I go? I watched the B-17 Liberty Belle come in to land and then, watched the run-up for a newly restored Yakolev-3 with an Allison motor, a few minutes later an Extra 300L landed behind a Sukhoi 26 and a Glasair II took off for a flight. This would be a good month in Michigan. Where I live, it’s called “Tuesday”.

So, back to Elliott… his dad was a pilot. In fact, his dad was “that guy” at the airport who kept improving his airplane .. because he could. He owned a Globe Swift. But when Elliott was in middle school, he put a Continental 210 on her. She was the Hot Rod of the Airport and probably started Elliot’s love for noise and speed and experimentation. He would watch his dad fly this amazing example of a Swift – at mid-field he’d be at pattern altitude. That was impressive. Elliot loved it. And he never forgot it either.

Dad went to Reno several times, but because of the school schedule – Elliot wasn’t able to join him. He heard the stories. It became his dream, his Mecca, if you will. Dad brought home Reno Paraphernalia, a coffee table book, a box of pictures and a vinyl record album of Reno Sounds.

These things drew Elliot’s attention like a moth to a flame. He would listen to that album until it was nearly groveless. He would look at the pictures and dream of being there. But, the final straw is when he met Lyle Shelton with his Rare Bear at Oshkosh one year. He was sold. He still has the t-shirt which Lyle signed for him.

Meeting Lyle, standing toe to toe with this legend, shaped this young man’s life. From that moment, he focused on earning his Pilot Certification and going to Reno to race a Bearcat. He couldn’t imagine anything better than that.

However, that road was long. He worked full time as a laborer through high school to earn enough money to buy a Cessna 150. He wanted to spend every minute at the Airport working on his plane, flying or earning enough money for avgas.

He then met a man named Davey, who restored old Fords, but his passion was the Stearman and T-6 projects he was working on in the evenings. He had a machine shop and all the tools a young Elliot would need to get into trouble. Davey hired our aspiring racer making him a deal. If you work on the car stuff and do a good job, I’ll teach you about the airplane stuff.

His first project was to get the cranks out of three old 1340’s which Davey had purchased off a cropduster somewhere in Indiana. Elliot was covered in old oil, pesticides and bugs working on those motors, but he was dirty and happy.

Later he worked on several W-670s for customers’ Stearman. At a small fly-in somewhere in the Midwest, Davey pointed at a Stearman taxiing by and says, “That’s your motor right there”? An overcoming feeling of pride took over him, as he watched his handiwork take to the sky.

All of this working and flying framed his life. He wanted to go fast, and whatever he flew would have a round motor and a tailwheel – like the Rare Bear. He told me that he couldn’t figure out why anyone would fly anything else. And he was never into those composites, but he should have been paying more attention.

He earned a Mechanical Engineering degree and is now a Design Engineer for Scaled Composites down in Mojave. From thinking the only cool airplane to race was a Bearcat, to working in composites for Burt Rutan was a long way to come. But he is around some of the most brilliant minds in Aviation.

Enter Jon and Patricia Sharp. Since he is already in Mojave, and already working in composites and engineering, doesn’t it make sense to walk a few hangar rows over and introduce yourself to the Sharps? He was hired. Joining the Nemesis Crew was his first real exposure to the Races.

In 2007, he was able to share his dream with his dad in a big way. Tiger had some composite problems with Strega and Elliot was able to get his dad inside the Strega Pit to help work on the beautiful Unlimited Racer. Dad got to meet Tiger, LD and Stevo and was able to see the sport “from the other side of the ropes”.

It was obvious to Elliot that the most economical and intelligent way for him to enter the races is through the Formula 1 Class. He liked the heritage of the class, thinking back to the names of Wittman and Cassutt. It was clear to Elliot after spending so much time with Jon Sharp, that this was the place to make his debut as Jon did many years ago.

He found his Cassutt Project in 2007 and started to turn her around. With the help of many people at the Mojave Airport, he was able to finish the aircraft in February of 2008 and by the time June rolled around; he had over 50 hours of flight time in her.

In June 2008, Elliot attended PRS, or Rookie School. This is the Seminar held each year to train and evaluate the new racers. He was a fresh young face and a “racer’s favorite.

The first time I met Elliot, he had just arrived at the Races in 2008. I was sitting in the Biplane/F1 hangar with some of the other racers and when they saw him pull into the pit area, most of them got up to say hello.

He is a genuinely likeable young man with a lot of passion for the sport and a good head on his shoulders. I expect to see him improve each year and probably move into another race class in the future. Will he fly a Bearcat in the Unlimited Division, or will he stay in composites? Only time will tell.

Reno is Marketing

A completely different story comes to us from Texas. John Hall was always interested in flying. He enlisted in the USAF when he was 17 years old and became an aircraft mechanic. He started his flying lessons shortly thereafter via the USAF Flying Club. He earned his CFI/II and MEI and a Bachelors in Aeronautical Sciences from Embry Riddle.

His first experience going to Reno was in the Mid 90’s while running the CJ/Bravo Division for Cessna Citation. He brought the CitationJet for display. This was before many exhibitors were at Reno and now, the Pits are filled with the latest and greatest.

John joined an organization called Premier Jet Aviation. He thought a great way to get publicity for the organization was to go to Reno, NOT as an exhibitor again, but as a racer.

Race 99 was originally raced by Dave Morss as Cool Runnings and before that Sahara. She has a long heritage making her first race appearance back in 1980. John also purchased Race 98 as a practice airplane – but ended up entering both in 2007 and 2008.

The plan, currently, for 2009 is to just race one. Fielding two aircraft each year was taxing and doesn’t really benefit them from the Marketing standpoint.

John is one of those people who are always ready to lend a hand. I remember several times where he was able to fly his other plane, his RV-8 to give a competitor a hand. Steve Senegal from the Endeavor team forgot his tow-bar last year during PRS. John packed him into the RV and flew him back to Hayward, CA to pick it up.

He is also a big fan of the Formula 1 class. He agrees with Elliot about its Historic Value and considers it one of the most competitive classes. It is the only class built specifically for racing. The aircraft are all required to meet strict technical requirements and the pilot and crew can make only certain modifications.

The Rules – from the IF1 website
The rules are simple; all racers must be powered by a 200 cubic inch Continental engine (the same 100 hp engine used in a Cessna 150 trainer). The weights and size of every major part must be within stock limits. The cam profile and carburetion are strictly controlled. The racers must have at least 66 square feet of wing, weigh at least 500 pounds empty, have fixed landing gear and a fixed pitch propeller.
These rules were designed to provide a fast and economical racing class. They have succeeded well on both counts. International Formula 1 Air Racing is one of the fastest sports in the world. These racers routinely post lap speeds around a 3 mile oval in excess of 240 mph, and have been clocked on the straight-aways at well over 260 mph, all while flying approximately 50’' off the ground.
The races start from the ground, with the entire field of 8 airplanes taking off right in front of the crowd, and racing for the lead at the first turn. The races are generally 8 laps of a 3 mile oval course. Top planes post lap times of about 45 seconds. The class is highly competitive, with the difference between first and third often less than 1 mph.


Now, doesn’t that make you want to wake up early a few times during race week and see what all the fuss is about?

I’ll see you there.

Fly Low, Fly Fast, Turn Left,

Marilyn Dash
Ruby Red Racing


John Hall with his racer, Cool Runnings, Race99
Photocredit = Curtis Fowles

John Hall with his Practice Plane
Photocredit = Curtis Fowles


Photocredt = Tim Adams

Tight Racing

Photocredit – Curtis Fowles

Even tighter

Photocredit – Tim Adams

Elliot and Wasabi ready to roll

Photocredit - John Hall


Photocredit – John Hall

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