View from a Pylon Judges Perspective
My name is Bob Martin and I have had the privilege since 1998 of belonging to a select team of individuals known as Pylon Judges for the fastest sport in the world. I speak of the annual NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP AIR RACES, held near Reno, Nevada every September, except 2001, since 1964. The following is a sketchy and incomplete history of how the National Championship Air Races began in Cleveland and ultimately ended up in Reno. I have added links within the story to fill in the blanks and offer you great sites that will answer most of your questions. During practice, we are allowed to photograph aircraft, but when qualifying starts or races are underway, we stop taking pictures and perform the duties that are required of us. I am a amateur photographer but I get a few good shots. The photo gallery follows. I hope you enjoy this site. If you have suggestions, email me.
During the first part of the Twentieth Century, aviation went from a novelty to a spectacle. As soon as there were two airplanes, a race was bound to happen. Early races like the Schneider Cup brought prestige and fame to nations, manufacturers and men. After World War I, aircraft and pilots were plentiful. Barnstorming and air shows would spring up across the county as the public seemed to never get enough of this new spectacle. Enthusiasm for flying hit a new high with the news of the historic flight of Charles Lindbergh. The Golden age of aviation gave birth also to many companies creating general aviation aircraft companies such as Cessna, Beachcraft, Piper, Douglas and more. During this period of time, the Bendix and Cleveland races were created and contested. Aircraft like the Howard Mr. Mulligan, Granville Brothers GeeBee series became household names and then World War II brought aircraft to a new level with National wartime budgets pouring into the design, development and production of this wartime necessity. We learned that on land or at sea, it was imperative to have air supremacy.
Once again, after the Second World War, there were many pilots and the government had a lot of surplus aircraft of every kind available at bargain prices. Around 1980, my wife Katie and I had the pleasure of spending several hours talking to Tony LeVier, former test pilot for Lockheed Aircraft, and he told us that immediately after WWII, Kingman, Arizona Army Air Base became a storage depot for thousands of surplus aircraft including P-38 Lightning. Tony had been one of the test pilots on the P-38. He drove to Kingman, AZ and bought a P-38 for around fifteen hundred dollars, being one of the first people in the world to personally own a World War II fighter aircraft.
Brief History of the National Championship Air Races.
Over the years the classes have changed a little, Formula One, Bi-Plane, T-6, Sport, but the Unlimited class has been the main event. Until the last couple of years, the Unlimited class has been the fastest with winners reaching that magic 500 mph barrier.
Names like Red Baron, Miss America, Dago Red, Voodoo, Strega and Candace/Jeannie /Galloping Ghost (all the same airframe) leading the way for the Mustangs, Dreadnaught, Riff Raff, September Fury, Spirit of Texas champion the Sea Fury contingent, Bud Light Corsair and leading the way for the Grumman group is Rare Bear and the unique F-7F Bearcats of Big Boss Man, El Jefe, and Here Kitty Kitty and the YAK aircraft of Steadfast and Czech Mate. Other aircraft to have raced in the Unlimited Class at the National Air Race Championships at Reno include P-38 Lightning, F-4U Corsairs, T-28 Trojans, BF-109 and FW-190, Spitfire, Curtiss P-40s and more. Statistical record of the air races in Reno
At this time, Cleveland was the home of the National Championship air races. The sky would be filled with Mustangs, Corsairs, P-38s, P-39s and P-63s. The war bird or unlimited air race class was established. They even had a jet class. Unfortunately, in 1949 a tragedy occurred where an aircraft crashed into a home killing the pilot, a mother and an infant child. This would end the races in Cleveland.
In 1962 Bill Stead, a former unlimited hydro boat racer, got the idea to put on an air race to help celebrate Nevada’s Centennial. His family owned a ranch north of Reno that had a small dirt runway and so he pitched the Reno Chamber of Commerce, the Nevada Centennial Committee, local businessmen and even got ABC to televise the event.
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I lost my wife in November of 2010 shortly after the races. We had been married for 46 years and she was a big enthusiast of the Reno Races. No matter what, she made sure I was able to attend and work this event. Although I have pictures from 2011-2013 years, I have not had the energy to post them here. I apologize and hope my mind will soon clear up and I can continue to post pictures from this incredible event.