September Family Keeps Reno Racers Going

The National Championship Air Races are as much about the people as the planes.

reno air races
Alan Crawford, who is racing a Lancair Legacy named "Beast," returned to the races this year after an accident in 2014. He credits his ability to come back to his racing family.Pia Bergqvist

Pilots at the National Championship Air Races at the Reno-Stead Airport are getting deeper into the game of pylon racing as the weekend approaches. The excitement is building as the racers attempt to get faster and faster laps times to move up to the next group or get into a better position to reach the podium in each race class.

Behind the amazing race pilots is a strengthening bond of a group that keeps growing each year in Reno. Many call it the September Family.

There are some families that are well known to those who are passionate about fast airplanes. One of the best known is the Hinton family, with Steve Hinton, the president of Planes of Fame Air Museum in Chino, and his son Steven Hinton, both of whom have won the coveted Unlimited Class trophy multiple times. Steven Hinton is flying the highly modified P-51 named Voodoo, in which he recently achieved a speed record. Hinton dominated the Unlimited Class last year, but should get a good challenge this year as James Consalvi, who took second place last year in Czech Mate, is flying Strega, which beat Voodoo two years ago when it was flown by former astronaut Robert "Hoot" Gibson.

Several pilots in the Sport Class, the biggest by far with 40 airplanes racing, are attending the races at Reno-Stead airport as first-time parents. These pilots have found the importance of having strong families and friends to make things work in this stressful environment. Sport Class pilots David Robinson and Andrew Findlay, who are both flying Lancair Legacys, created attached racing pits. This way their babies, both about 4 months old, can interact and their families can help each other out during the races.

reno air races
Sport Class pilots David Robinson and Andrew Findlay created attached racing pits so their babies can get to know each other while their dads fly.David Robinson

But the September Family extends way beyond the bloodlines. Alan Crawford returned this year to the Sport Class after an accident in Texas in 2014. A visibly emotional Crawford thanked a long list of fellow Sport Class pilots as he accepted his race license on Tuesday night from class president Bob Mills, one of many who inspired and encouraged Crawford to return to his passion. Crawford, whose best placing to date was second in the Silver Class, showed his enthusiasm on the pylon course on Thursday when he flew his Lancair Legacy “Beast” way ahead of his Silver heat competitors. A pylon cut gave him a 12 second penalty, but he remained in the top placing at 286 mph. Crawford is likely to fly faster this weekend as his best qualifying time was 298 mph.

The Gold heat pilots in the Sport Class are, however, flying significantly faster. Jeff LaVelle, who won the Class last year, qualified at an impressive 401 mph in his Super Glasair, Race 39, and Vicky Benzing flew the fastest time in ever recorded in a Lancair Legacy, the recently restored Lucky Too, at 377 mph.

Benzing is also competing in Darkstar II, an L-39, in the Gold heats in the Jet Class. Darkstar II is owned by Diana Stanger, who is supporting her September Family member as a pace pilot in the Jet Class. Benzing is currently in the middle of the pack, with American Spirit, which Rick Vandam flew the L-39 to the Jet Class podium last year, in the lead after Thursday’s heat.

To experience the excitement of the National Championship Air Races, head out to Reno-Stead Airport this weekend. You can also experience the September Family in action in the pits. A live stream is available on the NCAR website.