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2014 Reno Report 

Story and Photos By Pete Shirk

Race 5 Voodoo - the winner of the 2014 Unlimited Gold. If your idea of good air racing is competition among several fairly matched runners, rather than repetitive domination by a favored past winner, then 2014 was your year at Reno. Great racing did happen but actually more on Saturday than Sunday.  Not that the Gold Race on Sunday was boring, but by then, events had narrowed the field. Good air racing took place the entire week, but Saturday’s Unlimited Gold Heat 3 was a finish unlike anything I can remember, having been going there since 1965.

Here is what occurred. A very promising field of unlimited entrants emerged from qualifying and good racing was on the horizon. Per the Reno Air Race website qualifying times were as follows:


Race #




Speed (MPH)


Steve Hinton

P-51D Mustang




Stew Dawson

F8F-2 Bearcat

Rare Bear



Sherman Smoot

Yak 11

Czech Mate



Dennis Sanders

Hawker Sea Fury




Tiger Destefani

P-51D Mustang








(Readers are encouraged to visit the Reno Air Races Reports website for further info:

Of interest is Race 7. This aircraft had qualified in 2011 at 499.160. This year’s qualifying speed of only 381 was done with the ferry engine, which was replaced by the fully prepared race engine for heat events.

Also of interest was Race 38, a highly modified P-51D with a Griffon engine in place of the Merlin. The Rolls Royce Griffon has a distinctive counter-rotating prop and stock is capable of higher horsepower than stock Rolls Royce Merlins. Given the high horsepower potential and the modified airframe Precious Metal is thought capable of high speeds. It did get qualified, although late and did run, but did not achieve results.

In addition, the very full field could have also had Race 232, a Hawker Sea Fury flown by former astronaut, Robert “Hoot” Gibson, but it blew a piston on Monday trying to get qualified. Last year, it had a respectable 479 mph qualifying speed.

So the 2014 unlimited field looked good in terms of speeds, pilot experience, and variety of aircraft types, and it turned out to be quite a show.

For many of us, the real drama was Saturday’s Gold Heat 3 in which Strega (11 time winner), Voodoo (2013 winner), Rare Bear (which had done 528.33 in a prior year), and Dreadnought (which runs a Pratt & Whitney 4360 engine – the largest mill of all) matched up at 4:09 p.m. At end of the final lap, it was Strega and Voodoo nose-and-nose at the finish line. It appeared that Strega had won literally by the length of its spinner … but was disqualified by the Contest Committee “for not maintaining course altitude.” 

It was the most extraordinary finish I have seen at Reno. In all the excitement, most of us missed the fact that Strega’s pull up at the end was actually a Mayday. When back on the ground, water was found in the oil indicating serious engine damage (engine case), so that engine was ruined for racing on Sunday.

The other major contender in the tight race Saturday was Rare Bear, and after Strega’s disqualification, Bear was awarded second place to Steve Hinton’s 492.525 mph in Voodoo.

By comparison, Sunday’s final race could be considered a little anti-climactic with Rare Bear and Argonaut completing only one lap while Precious Metal was disqualified for a “showline cut.” Voodoo took the Gold for the second year in a row.

Other classes also had excitement with new records set in Formula One (Race 11, Endeavor flown by Steve Senegal, Biplane Class (Race 62 flown by Tom Aberle), and Sport Class (Race 39 flown by Jeff LaVelle). So air racing is alive and very well in Reno!

The week was marred, however, by the tragic loss of Lee Behel of San Jose when the wing of his Sport class Race 5 failed at high speed resulting in an instantaneous fatal crash in qualifying. All respect is due to this veteran.

Another good reason to attend Reno, in addition to all the great acts and events, is the National Aviation Heritage Invitational. These are all special aircraft in terms of rarity, historical importance, and quality. With 20 classic restored aircraft entering for the Heritage Trophy, this event alone is worth the price of admission.

See you next year!

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