Reno Air Races Return to Form

The 2021 event saw windy conditions, but top-notch, professional racing.

Reno has returned to flight status—and in fine shape as the shadows of the pandemic have retreated. The 2021 National Championship Air Races wrapped up Sunday with the final races in most classes at the Reno-Stead International Airport in Nevada.

The ghosts of the past have informed the racers of today. While protocols and attention to the details of racing safely make for a firm foundation, the conduct of each pilot still remains that person’s responsibility.

With a race card that went off without an incident or accident—and a high degree of professionalism—the collective cadre of pilots has proven its ability to rise to the level of airmanship that the “fastest motorsport” demands.

With seven classes now represented at Reno—STOL Drag was added this year to the six classes previously in play—the races offered up a breadth of aviation to weekend crowds that filled the grandstand after a two-year hiatus.


Competitors in this newest of Reno classes completed their heats and finals during the week, with a wide range of aircraft and pilots vying for places in the bronze, silver, and gold divisions by testing themselves in a short-field takeoff and landing contest that played out directly in front of the crowd with a high degree of dust and drama.

The final round on Friday in the Gold division came down to a photo finish: The judges reviewed slo-mo footage to determine first and second place between Toby Ashley and Steve Henry. In the end, only 0.2 inches separated them.

STOL Drag Final Round:

Place Name Aircraft
1. Toby Ashley Race 56
2. Steve Henry Race 44

The class illuminated the appeal of the new concept to relatively new and seasoned pilots alike—and how an airplane often considered “old and slow” such as a Piper Clipper can be used in a unique way to demonstrate adept pilot skill.

More results from STOL Drag can be found here.

Biplanes, Formula 1, T-6s

While other classes attract a broad range of types, the biplane, Formula 1, and T-6 classes pit birds of a feather against each other.

Biplanes Top Three (Gold):

Place Name Aircraft
1. Jake Stewart Bad Mojo
2. Scott Thompson Second Hand
3. Tommy Suell Shake ‘N’ Bake

More results from the Biplane class can be found here.

Formula 1 Top Three (Gold):

Place Name Aircraft
1. Justin Meaders Limitless
2. Justin Phillipson No Strings Attached
3. Jim Jordan Miss Min

More results from the Formula 1 class can be found here.

T-6s Top Three (Gold):

Place Name Aircraft
1. Chris Rushing Barons Revenge
2. John Lohmar Radial Velocity
3. Joel Stinnett Midnight Miss III

More results from the T-6 class can be found here.

Sport Class

In airmanship and sportsmanship, the pilots competing within the Sport class at Reno set the bar. Established as a new class in the 90s, the Sport class allows for experimental and production aircraft to vie for a top speed on the Reno course within certain parameters.

The free and open nature of the class was evident in the camaraderie and competitive nature of the airplanes that scored at the top in each division.

For example, a Van’s Aircraft RV-8, Miss Ruby S, took top honors in the lowest speed class, Medallion, with Skylor Piper notching 233.921 mph on the course.

In the Bronze division, Neil Wischer’s Triple Eight led the pack in his RV-8 with a high mark of 254.302 mph.

Racing away from the rest in the Silver division was Vicky Benzing in Lucky Girl, her Lancair Legacy, with a blistering 305.199 mph.

The winner of the top speed division, Gold, was Jeff LaVelle, who notched 400.834 mph in his Glasair III—only the second pilot in the sport class to break the 400-mph barrier.

Sport Top Three:

Place Name Aircraft
1. Jeff LaVelle Race 39
2. Jim Rust Race 24
3. Andrew Finley One Moment

More results from the Sport class can be found here.

Jet Class

The USAF Thunderbirds weren’t the only hot jets crossing the skies over Reno—for 2021 the Jet class featured L-29s and L-39s, with a lone L-139 flown by Dianna Stanger, and a SIAI Marchetti flown by Scott Farnsworth.

The Jet class gives Reno its top speeds overall—with winner Pete Stavrides clocking 502.362 mph in an L-29 in the Gold finals on Sunday.

Jets Top Three:

Place Name Aircraft
1. Pete Stavrides Viper
2. Pete Zaccagnino Just Lucky
3. Bob McCormack Athena

More results from the Jet class can be found here.

Unlimited Class

The unlimited class brings aviation history close at hand, with its parade of Sea Furies and P-51 Mustangs—the gallant warbirds that keep flying more than 75 years after their debut.

They were built for speed—and success in air combat—so it makes sense they would rule the roost. Though top aircraft in the Sport class now notch commensurate speeds in some cases, the Unlimited class holds onto final billing on the schedule as a position of honor these aircraft and their pilots have earned with blood, sweat, and tears.

Unlimited Top Three:

Place Name Aircraft
1. Joel Swager Dreadnought
2. Sherman Smoot Argonaut
3. Dennis Sanders 924G

More results from the Unlimited class can be found here.

Click here to check out a photo gallery from the races in Reno.


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