Saturday, September 7, 2013

50 and Done – Reno’s Last Race?

That’s the word on the street.  Behind the scenes that’s what those in the know are saying and yet on the surface everything is great.  Like everything else in this country, folks have chosen feels good over feels right.
This is the 50th Anniversary of the Reno Air Races and, although you may not have heard it, the notion this could be the last isn’t new.  In fact, for many years racers have occasionally discussed that they just wanted to make it to 50.  Although it was never much of a topic, it was definitely there and being quietly shuffled around.  Then the Galloping Ghost vaporized an area the size of a house.
To begin to understand all you don’t know about the impending downfall of Reno, it helps to understand that the crash of The Galloping Ghost was not a surprise to all.  After the fact there were many racers who, when behind closed doors, would tell you they thought Jimmy shouldn’t have been in that race and that everyone knew the plane had not been properly tested.
Unfortunately, Reno is one of the many places in aviation where those who attend latch onto participants, hoist them upon grand pedestals, and lay at their feet such titles as hero and legend. Ultimately though they are nothing more than pilots who had enough money in the account or draw to their name to be able to put together a ride or get a seat in one.
I’m not implying they are poor pilots or denying some may be outstanding pilots.  I’m merely stating that Reno is one of those places the average pilot in the stands believes it takes some kind of magic to do what they are seeing and in doing so place themselves below those out there on the course.  Yet, the main reason this is a problem is because even the racers fall prey to it.  Therefore, the Galloping Ghost went racing when it should not have.  Nobody said a thing. 
The accident toppled a card.
For a while, there was a debate as to whether or not there would be another race.  In addition to the insurance issue, there was the FAA and the RARA to deal with.  The feds and the RARA wanted to change the course to make it safer but in doing so built a bottle neck into the course that was dangerous.  The Reno Air Racing Association, (RARA) known to many racers as the mafia because of the absolute control they hold over the race, then attempted to strong arm the Unlimited Division (UD).  That’s when the UD put their foot down and said “NO”.

The RARA, being a local board of cronies, was never much for allowing pilot input into the races.  Therefore they made it clear it was their decision, grabbed the hand of the FAA, and for a while stood firm.  Eventually though the UD told those involved the bottle neck would be done away with or there would be no race.  The bottle neck was quietly removed.  This year it came back.
Early in 2013, as meetings were held to discuss the course, things heated up once again.  This time though, it became clear the FAA and the RARA were not going to budge.  That’s when the UD said it was too dangerous and backed out.
UH OH!  Now Reno was without the signature race.  What to do?  Don’t worry, politics and egos have a way of fixing things.
Let’s back up for a second though.  Did you get that?  The Unlimited Division, the most prominent group among the racers, believed the new course was dangerous enough to walk away after all those years.  But in an effort keep a smiling happy face on everything, it all happened very quietly (pay no attention to the man behind the curtain).  That’s when the RARA and some of the more egotistically driven air race pilots cut a deal to create the UWRC.
Someone realized they needed the cash cow and miraculously the UWRC appeared out of nowhere.  It is America after all; if you’re willing to give someone enough glory or money, there will always be a Tiger willing to go along.  In this case, it also means willing to fly a course many believe to be seriously flawed.
Have you heard that anywhere?  Did you not wonder why the Unlimited Division suddenly disappeared after all those years and how a brand new group, THE UWRC, appeared so rapidly?  Strange hu?
Now, take what you have just learned and go to this link.  There you can read the RARA press release about it and better understand some of the more vaguely worded sentences.

When you are done, ask yourself why aviation continues to allow this to happen.  Once again we have chose to ignore the man behind the curtain and instead go forward with what makes us feel good.   Things are never fixed in this manner.  Instead they are bled out.
Six months ago, there were plenty of racers willing to discuss this.  Today, they’ve gone silent.  My guess is that they hope to get “50” accomplished and then hope for the best.  With all my heart, for their sake and aviation’s, I hope there isn’t an accident related to the changes.
Of course if there is nobody will blame the glory seekers who stepped up to create the UWRC and cut the UD off at the knees.  Instead, everything else will be blamed and those who survive will be hoisted upon pedestals and called legends. 

Note:  All that I have discussed here comes from racers who were willing to talk to me about it earlier in the year.  Although highly condensed, I believe it to be the most accurate example of what went down with the UD, UWRC, FAA and RARA since the crash of the Galloping Ghost. Take from it what you want.  I have also been told by two people this will be Rare Bear’s last race.  Maybe it’s just rumor and maybe not.  Will 50 be it?  We're about to find out.

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