Good News, Bad News: Reno Air Races 2019

2019 sees surprises in top classes as STOL Drag turns into a new race class.

STOL drag planes
In each STOL Drag heat, two taildraggers battle against each other in a thrilling and highly technical drag race.Reno Air Race Association

The 2019 Stihl National Championship Air Races are in the books after yet another exciting week of heart-pumping battles around the pylons, Thunderbird performances and a touch of aerobatics under mostly perfect flying conditions. This year's races concluded with a brand-new class emerging out of the STOL Drag Demonstration, the first class to be added in about 20 years.

The crowds in the grandstands at the Reno-Stead Airport, 10 miles west of Reno, Nevada, voiced their approval of the STOL Drag event loudly, with cheers and applause as two taildraggers battled it out in each heat. After being released at the start line by STOL Drag founder Kevin Quinn, the two airplanes would fly low, as fast as they could, then go into severe slips to slow down, get on the ground and come to a stop as close to the half-way-line as possible. Next, they did a 180-degree ground loop and flew back to the start/finish line. The airplane that stopped first was the winner of the heat.

While the conditions were ideal for the STOL Drag during most of the week, Sunday’s races were cancelled due to 20-plus-knot winds. Since this year’s STOL Drag was just a demonstration, no results were posted. But the Reno Air Race Association saw the event as enough of a crowd-pleaser that it has decided to add STOL Drag as a new class in the 2020 Stihl National Championship Air Races.

A great disappointment for the STOL Drag group this year was the announcement by Mike Patey that his immensely popular airplane—Draco, a turbine-powered bright-red Wilga, which won the STOL Drag race at the High Sierra Fly-In in 2018—was pulled out of the race due to exorbitant insurance costs. Draco was parked in the STOL Drag area and many fans stopped by to take a closer look at the unique airplane. But things got worse for Patey when he attempted to depart Reno-Stead in the strong, gusty winds that pounded the airport on Monday. The airplane went off the runway. The wings, gear and fuselage were contorted, and it appears that the airplane was totaled. Thankfully Patey, his wife and their passenger were okay. See more about the crash here.

There were several surprises in the established NCAR classes. American Spirit, the L-39 that has won the jet class several years in a row at the hands of Rick Vandam and Mike Steiger, lost to Just Lucky—an L-29 flown by Pete Zaccagnino. Only four out of six Unlimited airplanes finished the Gold heat, with Dreadnought, a Sea Fury flown by Dennis Sanders, taking home the trophy. Another Sea Fury, 924G, flown by Joel Swager, took second place.

Andrew Findlay’s Stihl-branded Lancair Super Legacy, One Moment, won the sport class for the second year. Kevin Eldredge, who for years has struggled with failure after failure in his Relentless Nemesis NXT, managed to snag second after having to pull out of Friday’s heat.