As is generally the case, there was much excitement this weekend in Reno as the National Championship Air Races celebrated its 53rd year of races around closed pylon courses in the beautiful desert landscape north of the Reno-Stead Airport. However, unlike most years, this year’s greatest thrill did not come from the Unlimited Class.
The video below shows Thom Richard in his Hot Stuff race plane getting ready to depart for the final race in the Gold heat for the Formula One Class. Just as the race was about to start, Richard had engine trouble. He signaled the problem to the flagman and opened his canopy to emphasize that he was out. Unfortunately, the other racers thought the race was on and started their takeoff runs. The dramatic video shows the plane lined up behind Richard hitting Hot Stuff from behind. The video might be a little unsettling and does have some foul language.
Richard appeared calm considering the circumstances. In a statement, Richard said “the propeller sliced three evenly spaced gashes about mid span of my right wing, about a foot apart.” Also, several inches off the vertical were shaved off and the other airplane’s wing “skimmed the turtle-deck without touching until it impacted my right hand holding up the canopy at well over 60 miles an hour.”
Although his hand was injured, the incident did not scare off Richard from racing. “I choose to cross the street because the risk of crossing the street is worth the reward of getting to the other side. Same thing with air racing. I’ll be back,” he said.
Formula One, along with the Sport and Jet Classes, saw big attendance this year, with more than 40 airplanes racing in the Sport Class alone. However, the Unlimited Class saw fewer than a dozen airplanes, bringing two sparse heats. The airplanes have simply become too expensive to operate and too valuable to risk the damage caused by the immense stress the races cause. With Strega as a no-show and Rare Bear and 232 parked on display outside the VIP chalets, Voodoo, flown by Steven “Stevo” Hinton, had little competition. But the airplanes, with their roaring engines, still made the spectators’ hearts beat a little faster.