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Reno Air Races Day 4

I’ve been trying to catch a couple hours to catch up on this blog but Reno is just too much fun! I’ve been staying at the Grand Sierra with the T6 Racing Association and it seems everybody wants me to go out to dinner with them or go bowling or come to their wedding… I’ve been a very busy boy. I am also quite roasted from the sun out at the races and in quite a bit of pain. I bought a brand new pair of shoes just before I left Twain Harte and the bottoms are almost worn smooth from all the walking I’ve been doing trying to get the pictures. Sore all over. But I’m feeling great.

Yesterday I finally made it out to the pylons. Thanks to Nikon I was equipped with a D3s camera with a 300mm fixed lens. It was a sweet camera but weighed around 35lbs. You have to watch for folks around you when swinging one of those; clobber someone in the head and they’d suffer a major concussion for sure. So far I’ve been lucky although a little old lady did have to duck yesterday when I was following the Snowbirds through the sky!

Going to the pylons is really an experience. I get on a special press bus with about forty other crazy photographers from around the world. Everybody’s talking about how to shoot, what the light is, shutter and f-stop, apertures and shots per second. Most are carrying huge bags with gigantic cameras. The typical air race photographer’s apparel is usually a fishing vest stuffed with gadgets and festooned with patches and buttons from years past.

So anyways we get loaded on the bus and then it’s a ride out to the pylon on bumpy dirt roads. It’s a short trip but fascinating. Seeing the races from the other side of the racecourse in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of crazy photographers is a very unique feeling. Pretty soon though the first bunch of aircraft are diving right down on you. It’s time to start shooting. It’s exhilarating when those airplanes and jets fly over you at speeds of up to 500mph. And trying to get them in the center of the frame, in focus, is really quite a trick. Exhausting really. To get an idea try swinging a sack of concrete around for four hours straight. That’s about what it’s like…

After the pylon shoot I headed back to the pits to see my Warlock family. We are all beginning to feel that the end is approaching fast. Sunday will be the last day for the Warlock pits, ever, and we are all getting a little choked up about it. It’s going to be really hard to say goodbye to all these fine folks come Sunday night. I’m sure there will be many tears when we part tomorrow.

When I got back to the hotel that night I met up with my buddy from New Orleans, Jay Murdock. Jay used to live in Twain Harte and wants to return someday. He is one funny guy. We decided to go bowling at the alley here at the hotel. Great idea! After swinging that sack of concrete all afternoon that bowling ball felt like a pingpong ball. I managed a fantastic average score of 115 but Jay beat me. We both only had one gutterball with a lot of high fives for our occasional spare.

Jay is leaving tommorrow so we had as much fun as possible.


Today I woke up way late. Having so much fun with Jay left me feeling rather horrible so I grabbed some Starbucks and downed a breakfast sandwich at the bistro here in the hotel, then it was off to the races again.

The first race I saw this morning was the Unlimited Bronze race. One of the aircraft in that race, the Galloping Ghost #177 piloted by Jimmy Leeward, is a surefire contender for the Gold class next year. He should take the bronze with ease this year. The Galloping Ghost is a classic racer, with a Packard engine and a cockpit way in the back. It looks fast and is very fast. Look for Jimmy in the gold next year.

After the bronze race I decided to walk down to see the historic aircraft at the Heritage Invitational and the military aircraft on display. There were some really cool aircraft down there; a 1934 Douglas DC2, a 1943 DC3, a 1929 Hamilton Metalplane (thought it was a Trimotor but no!), the first Boeing aircraft (a 1928 40C1 mailplane), and many more. Beautiful! The military had a C5A, several jets, helocopters, and something called an Osprey. What is an Osprey? Can’t really say because it’s a helicopter, no, it’s an airplane, no, what  the heck? In any case it was really something to see…

I dropped by to see Airrace 21 (Raju Grace), which is a jet owned by Raju Mann Ward. I’ve been following the development of this jet from the beginning on Facebook and was quite pleased to finally get to meet Raju. She gave me a team hat and a happy smile. What a neat lady. She signed the hat for me and I wore it the rest of the day. I was dissappointed I didn’t get to meet the pilot, Heather Penney. I wanted to congratulate her on her race in the Bronze Jet Class this morning where she placed 3rd. Not bad for a rookie! I hope she can win on Sunday…

I headed back to the Warlock pits. Wow, it was sure easy to walk the mile down there but the heat was getting to me on the way back. By the time I got to the pits I was feeling a bit heatstroked so I grabbed a bunch of water and doused myself, then headed for the shade. I sat down with my friends and we laughed about old memories. Everybody was real concerned about my newfound ruddy red complexion and at least four people offered me sunscreen. I piled it on enough that I was looking like a commercial for jergens. In Reno too much sunscreen is never enough.

We watched the T6 Gold heat. When the T6s take to the air the Warlock pits come alive. Everybody was cheering for their favorites and the race was won by Midnight Express (pilot Rick Siegfried) followed closely by Midnight Rendezvous (pilot Carter Clark). There really is nothing like the sound of a T6… due to a lack of gearing in the T6 propeller the prop spins faster than the speed of sound which results in a growl you can hear from quite a distance. A T6 prop actually spins faster than that of a P51! At full speed the pressure on the tips of the prop is more than 60000 lbs!

Next came the Snowbirds. From Canada, the Snowbirds are a precision jet team with 9 aircraft, and do they ever put on a show! The announcer at the races remarked that they are great to have as performers because they are so low maitenance; give them a room a car and a pool table and they’ll be happy all week. It was great to see them fly though, an excellent routine carried out with such precision. I always love seeing them.

After the Snowbirds I decided to call it an early day and headed back to my hotel. Tommorrow is the big day, with all the final races.

So for tonight no bowling and early to bed. I hope to be there when the sun rises tommorrow. It’s a photographer’s dream to catch the sunrise at Reno.