By Marilyn Dash
What a great time! What a crowd! What amazing racing! This was the best year in a long time!
The week started out with great weather but lots of smoke from the many fires in California. When the wind blew in, the smoke blew out – but the winds brought a new set of issues. The wind was so bad on Sunday, several classes had to stand down from their allotted course time because the winds were above their limits – as addressed in the Rules of Competition.
But by Monday, everyone was back on the course and qualifying began in earnest. The Unlimiteds had two sessions for qualifying each day. By the end of Monday, Stevo Hinton had put up a time of 464.246. Not the fastest he’s ever gone, but the fastest of the day. Each class has their own rule, so in the Unlimiteds you can requalify if you want to better your time. Hinton probably thought this would hold, and if not, he could easily go back up by Wednesday to put a better number up.
Dennis Sanders in Dreadnaught put in a 432.860 – which was pretty good for the 4360 powered Sea Fury. And Hoot Gibson went up in Strega to put down a pretty disappointing 430.052. Not what Tiger and the Strega Crew had in mind, I’ll bet.
Tuesday comes around, still cold and windy – but workable. Curt Brown goes up in Sawbones and gets a 417.949 and Stewart Dawson in Rare Bear goes up for two laps – getting a disqualification on his first lap and getting a 480.644 on his second lap. Nail bite time. Stewart is now on the pole – with only one day left to qualify.
Wednesday’s qualifying session had all three of the “fast guys” in the air, Rare Bear with Stewart, Voodoo with Hinton, and Strega with Hoot. Hoot drops down to the course and puts a nice 475.043 on the board. Voodoo and Rare Bear stay in the Hold and taunt each other… never actually going onto the course. Prevailing wisdom says they were both waiting for the other to react to Strega’s time. But there were no takers.
So, by the end of qualifying, we have five aircraft over 400 mph and a wonderful array of warbirds in the 300 mph range. This includes Dan Vance in Speedball Alice and Rob Gordon in Lady Jo – two aircraft missing for the last few years. Glad you guys are back! Also two Rookies – Dusty Dowd in Layla, his Yak-11, and Sal Rubino in his polished P-51D, Grim Reaper. Dan Martin shared the flying duties with Sal – but it was Sal’s week.
The weather changed for Thursday. It was finally the warm weather we are more accustomed to during the September event. Thankfully, we put away our mittens and snow boots and were back in our Valley of Speed T-shirts.
The Unlimited Rules enable the three fastest qualifiers to stand down on Thursday and gives them time to relax, or thrash – depending on the year. Thursday’s Gold Race had Dennis Sanders in Dreadnaught flying over 100 mph faster than Dan Vance in Speedball Alice. Dan released a video showing Dennis zooming by, which really shows two things, the focus of the pilot, in this case Dan Vance, while he is getting passed. And the closure rate of two disparate aircraft on the course.
The Race on Thursday had one other element I haven’t seen – probably ever. Dennis Sanders cut a pylon. No kidding!
So Friday comes along, and the Big Three are together again. This race has Rare Bear on the pole with Hoot in the second spot and Stevo in third – based on Qualifying. Dennis and Curt Brown round out the five-ship formation based on their Heat 1A on Thursday.
With much jostling in the race, they end as they started – giving even more excitement for Saturday. They all seemed healthy and all of the pilots flew their hearts out. And the fans were thrilled!
Saturday’s race started as Friday’s did – Stewart, Hoot, Stevo, Dennis, and Curt in the top five with Brian Sanders in Argonaut bumping from Silver to Gold based on his win in Heat 2B. And Saturday’s race was GREAT!
Hoot took the lead and kept in, averaging 484.793 through the race. Voodoo was behind him at 475.482 and Stewart was on his tail at 474.760. The top three within just over 10 mph – epic race!
After the race, Strega had some issues with a cracked exhaust stack. But, with all the talent on the field, that was easily fixed. And they were ready to roll again on Sunday.
Sunday arrives, and the weather is perfect. The crowd is the largest we’ve seen in years. And we are all ready for the final Unlimited Showdown of 2015. Will it be Hoot, Stewart, Stevo – or will all three push each other too hard and set up Dreadnaught for the win. Wagers were happening in the Pits and the Boxes. Fans were taking sides, and everyone was in a great mood. It all comes down to this – the next 10 minutes tells who the victor will be – and who will be the first loser.
They all line up in front of the crowd, Hoot, Stevo, Stewart, Dennis, Curt, and Mark Watt this time in Argo and finally Korey Wells bumped up from Silver in 924. Trivia time – four different engines in four different Sea Furys. You don’t see that everyday! But – I digress.
The come down the Chute, Gentlemen, you have a Race… Stewart briefly took the lead, then Hoot takes his lead back and never let’s go. Voodoo and the Bear go back and forth until the sixth lap when Stevo calls a Mayday. It seems Voodoo had oil coming out of the breather. The oil was showing has light grey smoke and Voodoo was out. Stevo made a beautiful landing, and the race for the Gold continued.
There were no losers this day in the Breitling Gold Race. Hoot Gibson fulfilled his dream of winning the Gold Unlimited Race. He had some troubles on the course earlier in the week but got it all together at the end. Who ever thought an Astronaut, a Farmer, and a Witch could make such beautiful music together. Congrats to the entire Strega Crew!
Rare Bear was not a loser on this day. They regained their reputation as a FAST airplane. After being plagued by gremlins for years, Bear finally looked like her old self again. Congrats to Stewart and the entire Ezell and Rare Bear Crews for putting those awful gremlins behind you and giving us a great race.
Voodoo was not a loser on this day. The crew performed seamlessly. The Racer was ready, but one small issue kept them from reaching their goal. They’ll be back – and they won’t ever have that problem again.
To the rest of the Unlimited Pilots, Crew, and Owners: THANK YOU! Thank you for putting so much of your lives into a one-week-a-year event. Thank you for the time, the energy, the ingenuity, and the countless dollars you put into this amazing sport.
And to RARA: THANK YOU for never giving up. This was a great year, and the new regime did an outstanding job. There were issues and minor problems all week, but you were receptive to hearing what people had to say, and you made the best effort to take care of things.
And to the FANS! THANK YOU for coming back! The stands were packed, and the Pits were crazy with activity. So nice to see you back in your seats again!
Next month, I’ll cover the other classes and share more about the event and the plans for the future.
What a great year!