Reno Sport Class Racing
by Karen Morss
My husband, Dave, has been racing at Reno for 21 years,
and racing with Lancair for 10 years. He left for Reno a
week early to set up the airplane’s telemetry equipment on
loan from Rick Schick at Microsoft. The plan was to
broadcast a race in real time on the Internet on Ultimate TV.
At Reno 2000, Dave would fly Race 99, a new, factory-built
Lancair IV, in Reno’s Sport Class. It would replace the 10-
year-old Lancair IV prototype, N409L, in which Dave won the
1998 and 1999 Sport Class races and the 1990 “Reno Prop
Throwing Contest,” when one of the two blades on the
airplane’s truly “experimental” prop flew off at the hub. Ol'
409 held together, got him down, and proved the incredible
strength of that carbon fiber airframe.
We named the new IV racer Carbon Dreams, and Dave got
his favorite race number, 99. Teledyne Continental Motors
contributed a special TSIO 550 race engine. Primed, super
turbo-charged and ready to race, the TCM guys had built it
on their own time at night and on weekends. Hartzell
contributed the magnificent three-blade, scimitar race
propeller. Everything was looking good.
Driving to Reno the following Monday, I called Dave about
an hour outside of town to report my progress. He told me
not to hurry. “We’ve just blown up the engine.”
During a test flight the ADI (alcohol direct injection) pump
system, which controls detonation at very high power
settings, had apparently failed, causing the number two
cylinder to literally get blown off, and the debris trashed all
the cylinders. The Lancair Racing Team had a lot of work
ahead of them.
The standard TCM TSIO 550 is rated at 350 hp, and over
the years we’ve proven that it’s a tough and reliable engine
capable of delivering quite a bit more power by boosting
manifold pressure. In true racing spirit, this year we were
pushing the power envelope and asking the engine for a lot
more power, and we knew that alcohol direct injection would
be necessary to prevent detonation.
We flew in N409L as a standby, but it was not in race
configuration. Team Lancair disassembled Race 99’s
engine and confirmed that the damage was extensive. The
crew went into action immediately and figured out what it
needed to do, what parts it required, and how it was going to
complete all the work before 5 p.m. on Wednesday, the
Phone calls located parts and started them toward Reno,
and the Lancair IV pace plane, owned by Bob
Wolstenholme, jumped over the mountains for more parts.
After two long days and nights, we pushed Race 99 onto the
ramp at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
Dave did a run-up and taxied into position. About a quarter
of the way down the runway he pulled the throttle to idle and
aborted the takeoff. We weren’t ready for a qualification lap
- yet. Manifold pressure was the problem. There wasn’t
enough of it. And the turbos were shot.
Devastation doesn’t adequately describe our emotions.
Here we were, the defending two-time champions who held
all the records for the class, and it appeared that we were
not going to be able to qualify. To make things worse,
Lancair is a major sponsor of the Sport Class, and the
company’s founder and president, Lance Neibauer, was
arriving Friday to watch the races for the first time in 10
years. Sport Class President Lee Behel was on the ramp
with Team Lancair, and he’d been cheering us on while we
rebuilt the engine. Really wanting us in the field, Lee called
RARA (Reno Air Racing Association), which runs the event,
and pleaded our case. Given the situation, we hoped we
could qualify as late as Thursday morning. RARA gave us a
reprieve and granted a makeup qualification attempt at 8:10
a.m. on Thursday. (Thank you Lee. Thank you RARA.)
During another late-night session, 409 donated its small
turbochargers (among other things) to replace the ones we’
d blown up. Never giving up, the Lancair Racing Team
(people from three companies, including several customers)
worked late into the night and started early each morning.
After a few precious hours of sleep, at 6:30 a.m. on
Thursday the team met at the hangar that stored the Sport
Class racers. It was locked.
With 10 people grunting, we pushed enough on the hangar’s 100-foot-long door so one of
us could squeeze an arm inside to hit the button and raise the door. We had 25 minutes to
put the cowlings back on Carbon Dreams and get Dave on the runway. With no tug in sight
(it was probably with the folks who had all the keys), we pushed the plane up the ramp to get
to the taxiway... a very long push.
As Dave took off, someone mentioned that this would be his first flight in Carbon Dreams. All
went well, and he qualified at 325 mph, second in the field. Hallelujah! We were in the race,
but somehow, somewhere, we had to find another set of “big boy” turbochargers.
Thankfully, we had two days to figure that one out.
The first heat race was at 3 p.m. on Thursday. The racers took off in Reno’s typical
mountain desert weather - windy, hot, and turbulent. As they came down the chute, Race
25, Eggstra Special, Dave Anders’ Questair Venture, called a Mayday when its prop
oversped and destroyed the engine, and set up for a landing on Runway 14.
Laced with holes, grooves, and dips, this runway was in terrible condition as far as race
planes are concerned. After making a beautiful dead-stick landing, a rut caught the airplane’
s nosewheel, breaking it off, and the Venture skidded for some distance. Just as we thought
he was going to make it, the plane flipped upside down. Dave escaped with a few scrapes
and bruises, a testament to the Venture’s strength and the pilot’s ability. But the beautiful
race plane was destroyed.
Several seconds later, Race 71, another Venture flown by Mike Dacey, hit some turbulence,
breaking the landing gear up-lock. The gear came down, and Mike declared a Mayday. The
pace plane confirmed that the Venture’s gear was hanging straight down, with the main
wheels together, obviously not locked in full down position. Because Dave Anders’ flipped
Venture had closed Runway 14, Mike had to circle until the race was over before attempting
a landing (which was successful and didn’t damage his plane).
Then Lou Meyer in Race 69, the Thunder Mustang, told Dave that Carbon Dreams was
trailing smoke. When the cockpit filled with smoke, Dave declared the heat’s third Mayday -
before the races had reached the back course! With the engine still running, Dave was able
to land on the one remaining runway. Met by his disappointed teammates, the team
returned to the hangar for another long night.
Digging into the problem, it turned out that the new, bigger ADI water pumps we’d installed
needed a 15-amp circuit breaker, not a 5-amp breaker. When the breaker blew, the pumps
quit. And we already knew what happens when the ADI quits - two more blown cylinders,
bringing the week’s total to eight.
With more parts arriving the next morning, another long night of tear down and rebuild saw
Team Lancair ready to race again on Friday morning. Race 99 didn’t quite have matching
cylinders; it was sort of a hodgepodge, with the best of the old, some new, and lots of hope.
But Carbon Dreams was wearing its new race cowling that fit the TCM TSIO-550 like tight
jeans. We also scrounged up another “big boy” turbocharger to replace the ruined one. And
Discovery Wings Channel installed its camera in the cockpit to film the race. So once again,
we were ready to go racing, and race we did.
Friday’s race would be Dave’s first time around the new course because his Mayday took
him out of the race before the first turn. RARA had modified the chute and entry procedures
from previous years to make a longer run for the first lap only, and this will soon become
meaningful. Sitting on the ramp with my timer board and radio on Friday afternoon, I was to
time the laps and radio the time, resulting speed, and time interval from the nearest
competitor to Dave on a discreet frequency. As Dave rounded the homestretch pylon,
Carbon Dreams was howling toward me and going faster than I could ever remember. But
the angle didn’t look right. Dave had made a mid-course mistake and missed two of the new
On the home straightaway, an imaginary line keeps the racers at least 1,000 feet from the
crowd. It’s called the “deadline,” and crossing it is a bad thing. Dave realized his mistake as
he came roaring into that last turn at far too sharp of an angle. To keep from crossing the
deadline, he put both hands on the stick and pulled. Despite the 7-G turn, Carbon Dreams
cut the deadline.
Not giving up the race, Dave finished the remaining five laps and built a 25-second lead
over the next plane, Lou Meyers in the Thunder Mustang. But the mistake was costly. Even
with the 24-second penalty he was still the fastest, but the deadline cut automatically moved
him to the last starting position in the upcoming Gold heat race.
But we’d finally flown the course, the ADI was working, and the engine was running
beautifully. The team breathed a big sigh of relief and left the hangar at a reasonably early
hour after the obligatory oil change and cylinder check. But we also wondered how Dave
would go about getting by everyone else in the Gold heat from the back of the pack.
Disappointed with his performance, Dave did something about it. He studied the Discovery
Wings Channel video to analyze the course and spot those new pylons. On Saturday, we
were out of the hotel by 6 a.m. We got to the field and he climbed into the new Lancair
Legacy that was on display, flew the chute and course entry, and found his correct course
checkpoints. He’d not make the same mistake twice.
Taking off into a windy sky at 3 p.m. on Saturday, the members of the Lancair Racing Team
held their collective breath, and I said a prayer to the race angels. We started breathing
again after hearing the magic words, “Gentlemen, you have a race,” over the loudspeakers
as the racers flew down the chute. Hardly believing our eyes, Carbon Dreams streaked to
the front of the pack before it reached the backstretch!
By the first turn Dave had a 7-second lead interval. Speeds were down because it was
windy, but things were looking good, and Carbon Dreams was way out in front, which is
usually the time to throttle back a little and bank some engine insurance. Then came Lap 3.
“Race Control, Race 99, Mayday,” Dave radioed as he pulled off the course to convert
speed into altitude. “Roger 99, what is the problem?” “I think I lost part of the cowling or gear
With Dave clear of the course, C.J.Stevens, flying with Bob Wolstenholme in his Lancair IV-P
pace plane, checked Carbon Dreams’ gear doors and cowling - and found everything
perfectly intact. Dave landed and taxied to the ramp.
On closer inspection, on the under side of the right wing we found that the taped-on flap
gap seal was missing. Dave said that when the tape was being ripped off it caused a
vibration so violent he couldn’t read the gauges, and it broke his oxygen gauge. Nothing
else was broken, so we went back to work figuring a new way to tape the gap seals. But we
were still in the race!
Under the Reno rules, when a racer is unable to complete a heat race, the airplane reverts
to the last race speed for the next pairing. Carbon Dreams’ Friday race time was good
enough to put Race 99 in the pole position for Sunday’s final, the Gold Championship Race.
Considering everything that had happened during the week, the Lancair Racing Team was
Sunday brought clear skies and just the right amount of wind to carry off those nasty wingtip
vortices off the course line. As the racers launched, I again asked the race angels to bring
them all home safely. I’d also had a nice talk with Carbon Dreams before the race. I assured
her that even though this was her first Gold Championship, she’d do just fine. She was a
magnificent machine with a terrific pilot.
As the racers came down the chute, Race 99 was screaming. Dave immediately pulled in
front of the field and by the first lap had a 4-second lead interval over Race 69, the Thunder
Mustang. I clocked Carbon Dreams at 334 mph (earlier in the week it had clocked a 342-
mph lap). The racers were really moving around that course and Dave kept gaining 4 or 5
seconds a lap for the first three laps. By Lap 4, Race 99 had a 20-second lead - maybe time
to back her down just a little.
It was about then that I noticed that Dave had pulled up to fly a higher course line and
slowed to about 320 mph. But that was okay. He lapped the last-place plane on Lap 5. On
Lap 6 he lapped two more planes. On Lap 7 Carbon Dreams took the checkered flap and
pulled up to exit the course.
Whew! Then, over the radio, we heard those haunting words for the third time that week -
“Race Control, Race 99, Mayday.”
Race control gave Carbon Dreams priority landing clearance, and Dave taxied it back to an
ecstatic team. This time it was the left flap seal. It began to rip loose in the fourth lap, which
explained Dave’s higher course line. “The shaking seemed about the same, so I figured it
might be the gap seals again,” Dave said. “I decided I’d try to ride it out and finish the race,
provided it didn’t get any worse.”
It didn’t, and the Lancair Racing Team has won its third consecutive Sport Class Gold
Championship and set a new final race speed record in the process - 328.045 mph.
At the awards banquet, Team Lancair already had its sights on the 2001 National
Championship Air Race to be held September 13-16. What were we going to do about those
flap seals? How would we beat Daryl Greenamyer in his hopped up Lancair Legacy or Jon
Sharp in his new Sport Class racer, NemesisNXT?
(As an aside, Jon Sharp, flying an SX-300, was the first plane Race 99 lapped in the Gold
race, and we kidded Jon’s wife, Tricia, when she hollered in good-natured fun that this was
the first time anyone hap lapped the former Formula 1 racer in a race.)
More than 200,000 people attended the Reno Air Races, but I don’t think any of them were
as happy about the outcome as the Lancair Racing Team. Thank you race angels.
participate in racing. It’s a fertile environment where they can learn much about their
machines’ structure, power, and handling. They can test many new ideas, several of which
can and do make it back to the machines we drive on a daily basis.
We, too, have learned much from Reno racing. Even with blown up engines, we’ve learned
firsthand, the wide margin of reserve built into the stock Continental engine. Airframe drag,
that constant nag, can be closely examined. We’ve located a couple of points that seem to
produce some amazingly high levels of drag energy on our already very slippery airframe.
And it’s quite possible that we can incorporate some devices to mitigate that drag, thereby
further increasing performance for every Lancair IV owner. In all, Reno racing is some
exciting stuff, but I was exhausted from holding my breath so many times during that week of
- Lance Neibauer