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Among Champions:

My Time in the Sport Class at Reno 2004

 

 

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February 28, 2005
Story and photos by - W J Pearce
Saturday 9/18/2004 – Evidence?

Confident that we had resolved all of Friday’s difficulties, we were ready to give it all we had. We still wondered how much Greenamyer’s engine could take. Would it make it though the week, or was it mortally damaged from the overspeed?

The crews, pilots, and planes all gathered on the tarmac before the race. But I noticed an extra. Jon Sharp in NemesisNXT was there, along with his crew. As promised, Sharp would taxi NXT before the crowd. I wondered just how many of the fans would realize the Herculean task that the NXT crew had accomplished to get to this point.
I certainly did. It was yet another reminder of why we participate in this sport — for the joy.
As the sport racers took off, Sharp ran NXT up the ramp to the grandstands. He is a hell of a competitor, and we all got off easy this year.
From the start of the race to the end, it was the Darryl Greenamyer Show. The speeds were a little off the pace, but I chalked it up to the deteriorating weather. Greenamyer’s engine sounded good, and his victory was well deserved considering all the work that he and his crew had put in.
Maybe I wanted another fire truck ride, or maybe I wanted a championship on my watch. Without a doubt on Sunday, I wanted John Parker to come across the line first. Sunday was the day it all counted.
After shutdown, Parker reported an anomaly with the prop pitch, a precursor to a possible runaway prop. He said that he held it back a bit, hoping not to overstress the governor but Greenamyer had no trouble coming in first.
The crew took Blue Thunder to get fuel, and they were approached by a Reno Air Racing Association (RARA) official shortly after. The RARA official informed them that Blue Thunder was to be impounded in the ERA hangar.
Rumor was that some of the sport racers were using fuel additives to increases engine performance. Fuel additives are prohibited in the Sport Class.  As a result, RARA decided to impound all the racers in the ERA hangar.
It wasn’t a big deal for the other racers, because the ERA hangar is where they normally were. But for us it meant moving our tools from Parker’s hangar to the ERA hangar if we were going to investigate the prop issues.
When I arrived in the ERA hangar, there was red taped marked “EVIDENCE” over the fuel caps of all the racers. RARA had placed the tape to prevent crews from adding anything to the tanks. But everyone got a chuckle out of the hangar-turned-crime-scene. I wondered what would stop one from simply pealing back the tape, pouring in an additive and then replacing the tape.
At any rate, it didn’t matter because we, along with everyone else, were fully abiding by the rules. The rumor’s origin remains unknown.
We reviewed the flight data and inspected some cables but found no real issues with Blue Thunder. A cable had slipped just slightly and caused an anomaly with the prop pitch. Parker felt it and had erred on the side of caution.
In short, we were ready to race!
Sunday 9/19/2004 – Champions

The tension and pressure had been upped a few notches. Excitement could be felt as the air tingled with electricity. The wind blew cold across the ramp, and the weather got worse. It was time for the Sport Class Gold race.

Darryl Greenamyer thundered into the air first, followed by John Parker. As the gear retracted on the Thunder Mustang, the sequencing erred, and the right main was left out in the wind. If we could not get the gear to retract, we would not be able to race.
I saw it. The rest of the crew saw it. But before we could start discussing the situation, Andy Chiavetta ran over and shouted “Your gear’s hung up!”
I don’t know Chiavetta, but at that moment I realized we had a lot in common. He wanted to make sure we were in top shape so that it could all be settled in the air on the last lap — may the best racer become champion.
We thanked Chiavetta. Parker had seen the gear problem too, and he cycled the gear. This time it fully retracted. We were back in the game. The race would be settled as it should be: all systems go, the fastest plane wins, and all the others are simply beat.
The eight racers made their way onto the course, Greenamyer and Parker shooting out in front. Around the back side, it was obvious that it would be a two plane race. As they came by the first time, I found myself shaking from the rush of energy and emotion flowing throughout my body.
I watched with intense, focused attention as Parker ever so slowly closed the gap on Greenamyer. The hair on my arms bristled, my muscles tightened. Foot-by-foot, second-by-second, Parker was faster.
DSCF0143 copy.jpgBut would he have enough to get around Greenamyer? It takes a lot more power and speed to actually pass in air racing. To pass the slower aircraft, the faster one must fly to the outside of the course, which is a much longer lap.
Parker was right behind Greenamyer, set-up for the pass. I spoke words of encouragement to Parker even though I knew he could not hear me. They were side by side. I was ready to burst.
Parker pulled beside, then in front of Greenamyer. I watched to see if his lead would hold. And it did. I could not believe what I was witnessing. I talked to Parker even more. Had my mind not been so busy, I would have thought I was going insane.
“Hold onto it buddy, keep it up! You’re doing good!” I spoke to myself. I have no clue if anyone heard me, but I do know everyone else was caught up in their own personal missions to will their pilot on ahead of the competition.
Parker was no longer expanding his lead. A few moments later, and Greenamyer was now closing the gap. Could he pass Parker? Should I still wonder about his engine? Who would be on the fire truck?
Greenamyer, with skill and precision, retook the lead from Parker. And in the air, on the last lap, the fastest plane finished first. It was Darryl Greenamyer.
I felt a stinging feeling as Parker streaked across the line second, less than 2.2 seconds behind Greenamyer. I heard the cheers from Chiavetta and the rest of Greenamyer's crew. I had wanted it so bad, but it was not to be, not this year.
We congratulated Chiavetta and Greenamyer’s crew as they struggled to contain their joy. Most of the other race crews went toward the flightline to meet their pilots. I stayed behind.
Suddenly I found myself overjoyed as Parker pulled off the runway. It had been a long, emotional week, and now it was over. In fact, it had been more than a week. A whole year had been spent leading up to the last race. We did it, we finished the race. And it was one hell of a race. There was nothing to feel bad about anymore. There was no disappointment, only happiness.
I joined the rest of the crew as Parker got out of Blue Thunder. Tom Taylor, Fred Roscher, Perry Johnson, and everyone else were all smiles. Parker was met by his wife Jan, and after a quick round of hugs with watery eyes, I asked Parker if he had had any problems.
“Other than being the first loser, everything went fine. We just got beat.” Parker smiled.
“Well you did good. It was a hell of a race and a hell of a week.” I replied to the grinning Parker.
The crew began to move the plane to the ERA hangar with the rest of the sport class racers as I walked with Parker to the crowd line. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted something big and red; it was the fire truck.
Greenamyer, Chiavetta and the rest of the crew were just boarding the truck for their “victory ride”. John saw it too.
“I think I’ll go over there and congratulate them.” he said as he turned for the truck.
Chiavetta was climbing up the back of the truck as we approached. He took one look at us and jumped down.
“That was one hell of a race.” He exclaimed as he walked towards Parker with an outstretched hand. “That was incredible.”
“Yeah it was pretty neat.” Parker replied as they shook hands.
Movement came from the fire truck. A lone figure stood and moved toward the back, then hopped down. It was Darryl Greenamyer.
“John,” Greenamyer said as he approached Parker with a smile, “that was amazing! I want you to ride on the truck with me John. Come ride on the truck!” he said as he took Parker’s arm.
Chiavetta, Greenamyer, and Parker climbed aboard the fire truck as it started down the crowd line. “He got his Sunday fire truck ride after all,” I thought.
At that moment, I realized the simplest definition for the Sport Class — Champions!
 

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