2003 Reno Roundup
Story by Scotty G - WarbirdAeroPress.com
Photo by Scotty G / Jerry Day / Jan Peters / Randy Goss / Holbrook Maslen

With five short months to go until the 2003 Reno National Championship Air Races, race aircraft owners, crews and other workers are elbow deep in race planes making changes, making improvements, and getting systems ready for the September Classic. Fans of the races are already wringing their hands in anticipation of the action around the Reno course. Here’s an update on what’s happening.

The Michael Brown Racing Team

Mike Brown has bought the ex-Lone Star Museum F7F Tigercat, and has it based in Ione, California at Eagle’s Nest. This rounds out his collection of aircraft he intends to race this year; the Tigercat in the bronze, September Pops in the silver, and September Fury in the gold.

Named "The Bossman," Brown has enjoyed flying the Tigercat and plans on having his three planes at the Pylon Racing Seminar, as well as the races.


"Race 232 is RED," says Sue Miller Brown, Michael’s wife. "What a beauty! We can’t wait to get the graphics on her. We are very pleased with Renee’s (paint) work here at the Ione airport." The tricked out R-3350, built by Abbott and dubbed the ‘Abbott Special,’ is being fine tuned and should be back on the aircraft by now. "And yes...," Brown says, "We’re going to have to change the race trailer to get the purple plane taken off of it, as I LOST the choice of color for September Fury."



"We also found the problems with September Pops, and they are fixed. She’s ready and waiting for somebody to come out and wake her up," Brown says.

Critical Mass

After the disappointing gear failure at Reno 2002, the aircraft was dismantled and trucked back to its Auburn, California base. Owner and pilot Tom Dwelle says, "The right wing has been reskinned and repaired. James Flanagan has rebuilt the inner gear doors, so the airframe is finished except for the paint." Tom and his son, Ken, have flown to Burbank with parts to finish the new propeller, and will also be visiting Aircraft Cylinder and Turbine’s Mel Gregoire.

"We tore the engine down and took it down there, and Mel inspected it and found some slight damage in the blower not related to the incident," Dwelle says. "The bearings are all okay, and everything internal looks good. The EA-2 nose case suffered a crushed bearing and is being repaired."


The magnesium nose case has also been magnafluxed at another shop. After that is accomplished, everything will be reassembled. Dwelle is planning on having Critical Mass back at PRS in June for flight testing and fine tuning. It looks like we’ll see the Dwelle’s at Reno in September ready to go for the gold.


Precious Metal

Pilot and owner Ron Buccarelli reports that Precious Metal, the Griffon powered P-51 racer, is running great and that he flies it regularly.

"We’ve been doing some work on the airplane, and have a new crew working on it. Dave Berry remains the crew chief, and we’ve added Chris Patton and Kimberly Walsh," Buccarelli says. "We put a different prop on the airplane, and we gave Tiger (Destefani) the oil cooler back that he loaned us. We have also cleaned out the cooling system and put our ‘good’ race engine on the airplane. After flying it for six or seven hours, it has run great and there hasn’t been any metal in the screens."

Buccarelli has said that he will have the aircraft at Reno, but is not sure if it will race. "We’ll be there, and we’ll defiantly be at Aviation Nation in Las Vegas after that."



Ruth Sanders reports that Dreadnought’s engine is back together and they plan on being on the ramp and ready to race come this September. "We’re cleaning up the engine compartment and getting ready to hang the engine at the end of April," she says.

The Sanders will again bring Argonaut, their R-3350 Sea Fury, to the races. The old ‘924' airframe is also under restoration. "The fuselage has been mated to the center section wing, and the outboard wings have been installed," Sanders says. "We are starting to plumb the hydraulic system. Work is progressing, but it will be awhile."



Another one bites the dust; sort of. Bob Button’s Voodoo is in L.D. Hughes’ shop at Minter Field getting rebuilt as a two-seat, semi-stock racing Mustang. Jack Hovey will remain the engine builder, but after many years of hard luck and no wins, the aircraft will be rebuilt with a very sleek P-51K canopy and a second seat. Voodoo will be back at Reno with Matt Jackson at the stick, but don’t count on speeds capable of beating a healthy Dago Red.





Button’s L-39 also suffered another engine failure while on descent into Hollister, California. Button’s L-39, with Curt Brown at the stick, won the inaugural 2002 jet class race. Look for the jet class to return this year, and possibly have some new pilots in the future.

Miss America

She bit the dust, but from bent metal good things shall once again come. After the catastrophic engine failure at Reno 2002, Brent Hisey and his crew at Warbird Unlimited in Oklahoma City have been hard at work rebuilding the racer.

The fuselage has been completed, and the tail section is awaiting the tailwheel assembly. The engine mount is also bolted on and ready for a new motor. The wings, with Dave Teeters in his California shop, are being worked on. Wiring has also been installed within the fuselage and a brand new instrument panel and avionics package has been built up.


Crew member Scotty Butler says the new panel has people pretty excited. "It really makes people’s eyes pop open. It’s impressive," he says. Rick Shanholzer will once again build up a racing Merlin featuring Allison connecting rods and a -9 blower and lower end.

Some new racing accessory pieces will also be installed on Miss A, so we’ll have to wait and see if she can make roll call when the qualifying deadline closes. One thing is for sure; when and if she makes it this year, the 425 mph club is going to feature some really crowded and exciting racing.

Other news:

According to Art Vance, Furias will be having some modifications performed that will make it a true gold contender. He also commented that there may not be a field of 24 racers this year; if you have a stock unlimited aircraft, you might consider going to PRS to get race qualified and turn some pylons come September.

Holbrook Maslin has his modified Yak airframe ready for flight testing. The R-2000 powered aircraft is a sister aircraft to Sam Davis’ Yak, and is painted in a scheme very similar to Bob Odegaard’s F2G Super Corsair. Race 88, named Night Witch, would be a welcome participant in the unlimited class.


Sam Davis was injured when his R-2000 Yak Miss Trinidad crashed after a cross country flight to Bullhead/Laughlin, Arizona. The aircraft was going to land long, so Davis performed a go around when the crash occurred. No word on a rebuild.
Howard Pardue has been quoted at the ICAS convention as saying he will return to Reno this year. Odds are he will race his R-3350 powered #66 Fury.
Rare Bear has been under flight test at Stead. The Bear has new paint, and should be in good form for this year’s event. The R-3350 has been slowly broken in, and a new telemetry system has been installed. John Penney will be the pilot.
Dago Red, the favorite to win, may not have a fresh Thorne Merlin for this year’s race. Owner Terry Bland has committed to a five year plan to keep Dago at the races, and to set a new piston-engine speed record. The crew will remain the same.
Stu Eberhardt will once again return to Reno in Merlin’s Magic with a Mini-Mouse Merlin. Based on the Thorne Merlin, the Mini-Mouse has propelled the Merlin’s Magic P-51D to the 430 mph neighborhood.

Merlin engine builder Dwight Thorne suffered a stroke several months ago, but is now back home undergoing rehabilitation and recovery. All the best to him and his wife, Rose.


Wrap Up - The Early Prediction (Subject to Change; You're Results May Vary...)

Reno 2003 might be a thin year in terms of unlimited participants. Strega will probably not race due to funding and a pilot shortage, so another front runner probably won't be there. The return of Dreadnought is going to keep the fast bunch honest again, and Furias will likely find a few more mph in her bonnet. The 400 - 425 mph club is going to be quite crowded this year; Czech Mate, Miss America, Merlin's Magic, Riff Raff, Fury and the Spirit of Texas will all be closely matched. Back at 400 mph, September Pops, Bad Attitude and Precious Metal would fill out those ranks. (Yes; I'm predicting that Buccarelli will probably come back - but that's not based on anything he has told me...)


At the top of the heap, you'll probably see Dago Red at a slightly lower speed if they can not acquire a new Dwight Thorne Merlin. But the strong team - from owner Terry Bland on down the line - has an advantage in almost every corner. That counts for a lot. Rare Bear has a lot of time to test, tweak and twiddle. Owner Lyle Shelton, no doubt, wants another win. The team has overcome a lot over the past ten years, and they have to be hungry for an underdog comeback win.


As long as Dago, Bear or Critical Mass don't break, Dreadnought will be right behind them keeping everybody honest. 455 mph all day long...


The bottom line for now...
1. Dago Red
2. Rare Bear
3. September Fury
4. Critical Mass
5. Dreadnought
6. Voodoo
7. Czech Mate
8. Miss America
9. Furias

Story by Scott Germain - WarbirdAeroPress.com. Copyright 2003. All Rights Reserved.