The climax came at the Breitling Unlimited Gold race Sunday, when a young lion piloted a 10-time winning aircraft to his third national championship.
"It's a lot of hard work and lots of guys put their heart and soul into the airplane," Steven Hinton said after piloting Strega to the victory. "The airplane has a lot left in it and our strategy was to take it strong and we had more if we needed it. I need to thank my whole crew, you know I'm one guy but I'm one in a team of many."
During qualifying earlier in the week, it appeared Strega, the P-51 Hinton racer that's owned by seven-time champion Bill "Tiger" Destefani, and the Rare Bear, flown by Stewart Dawson were headed for a showdown.
Unfortunately, heating problems in the motor derailed the Bear's plans.
Four of the six classes use an air start where the field heads toward the course line abreast off a pace plane. Once properly lined up toward the course, and in a shallow dive, they're turned loose.
Hinton quickly rocketed to the lead and began to pull away from the pack. Behind him, Dawson, flying the Bear, and former Shuttle commander Robert "Hoot" Gibson, flying September Fury, began an almost race long duel for second.
First to drop out was Precious Metal, whose pilot, Thom Richard, was warned by another competitor one of the landing gear doors was coming ajar. Still under power, Richard just stayed clear of the course.
On his first pass by the home pylon, Hinton turned a speed 504.47 mph, then slowed a bit for a race average of 477.523 mph at the finish.
Behind him, Dawson and Gibson disputed second place until after taking the white flag. Then the Bear was overheating too much and Dawson had to mayday out of the event so he could cool the plane's motor.
This handed Gibson second place, followed by Dennis Sanders, flying Dreadnought, and another former shuttle commander, Curt Brown, piloting Sawbones.
When Hinton stopped on the ramp, crew chief David "LD" Hughes jumped up on the wing to greet him.
Later Hughes said, "I've been crew chief on Strega for 10 years. Steven's a hell of a pilot and wrench and we're all very proud of him, proud of the airplane and its accomplishments and this means the world to all of us."
Then owner and seven-time champion, Destefani said, "He's getting up there and when he gets six I've got to get back in as I can't let him catch me."
Back on the ramp, Gibson said, "It looked to me that I was going to pass him (Dawson) several times and he either came up on the power or I pulled a bad turn or something but I still had a little bit of power left that I was allowed to use. I would have used that in the valley of speed for the final burst to the finish line. My plane ran as smooth as could be and just purred at that power setting."
While the Unlimiteds are the stars of the show, the Jet class is the fastest. Former Nevada Air Guard pilot Rick Vandam just ran away with their Gold race and posted a 490.69 mph average speed.
Taking a distant second was Phil Fogg, followed by another former Air Guard pilot, Jeff Turney.
Next in the big plane class are the T-6 aircraft. These WWII vintage trainers are so evenly matched that the pole position is critical for winning their race.
When the pace plane turned the T-6 field loose, Nick Macy in "Six-Cat," took off with Dennis Buehn and John Lohmar in hot pursuit. At the end, all three finished as they started.
Macy flew to victory while setting a new record of 247.317 mph and notching is sixth class championship.
After parking his aircraft Macy said, "The race was wild and I liked it because I was in the front the whole time. The pole position is everything and I knew how close Buehn was to me so I never backed out so he didn't come up on my side. It was windy and rough out there and I need to thank my crew as they got me here."
The smallest aircraft using an air start are in the Sport Class. These airplanes are still in production and can either be used for racing or just personal transport.
They also feature several different engine types, including one that used a small block Chevrolet motor adapted for aviation use.
Once the race started, Jeff LaVelle took off and left everyone in his wake. While Reno pilot John Parker tried to make it a race, he had to settle for second.
Both the Biplanes and Formula One racers use a ground start where they are lined up in rows along the main runway.
When the flagman drops the green flag everyone pushes their throttles forward and away they go. They also use the shortest course, which is just over 3 miles in length.
In the biplane gold race Tom Aberle grabbed the lead early and led the field around the first Pylon. From that point on it was his race as he cruised to an unchallenged victory.
While it appeared to be an easy run in calm air, it wasn't it and Aberle said, "When there is wind, the turbulence is blown off course but when there is no wind like this, it sits there and accumulates a bit so that's why I went up a bit. I need to thank my entire crew, two sons, daughter-in-law, the support we get from RARA and the spectators, as without them we wouldn't be here."
The Formula One class began Sunday's racing with their Gold event. When the green dropped, Justin Phillipson grabbed first followed by Steve Senegal.
By the time they went past the home pylon, Senegal had taken the lead and flew away to the victory. Phillipson did finish second, but only after holding off a late-race challenge by Vito Wypraechtiger, who comes all the way from Switzerland to compete.
It was great, awesome conditions, the air was smooth and it was a good race," Senegal said later. "Most airplanes accelerate faster than we do but we in fact pick up speed as we go around the course and the more times we go around the faster it goes. I need to thank my wife, Rita, my crew chief Cash Copeland, the rest of my crew and Lycon that makes it happen."
Once back on the ground Phillipson said, "It was good, I got the hold shot on the start and led for the first half or three quarters of a lap then just waited for him to reel us in. I tried my best to stay in front of everybody but Vito came up on the last lap and gave me a good run and made me work towards the end."
Then he thanked sponsors Flix Chip, Aero Surfaces, Woodside Capital Partners as they helped fun his trip to Reno then he added his whole crew.
All the aircraft at the races are put into one of three groups depending on their speeds; they are Bronze, Silver or Gold. But a pilot can bump his way into the next faster class during the heat races.
Due to doubts about the event happening several aircraft weren't here this year but are expected next time around. While ticket sales were good the crowd might have been slightly down from what was hoped for.
There were also two special events during the races and one of them was awarding the newly renamed Neil A. Armstrong National Aviation Heritage Invitational Trophy to one of the fully restored aircraft on display.
This year's winner of the grand prize was a 1944 OY-1 Consolidated Vultee Stinson aircraft.
Around noon Sunday, Mike Houghton, RARA's CEO, led a memorial service for those that lost their lives in last year's crash that brought last year's event to an early close.
Now plans are going forward for the 2013, which will be the 50th anniversary of the Air Races.
•Lovelock Speedway ended it season Saturday and Jeffery Macedo won the 360 Sprint Cars. Full results listed below.
OTHER RACING NEWS
•This Saturday starting around 4 p.m. at Desert Park Raceway the Northern Nevada Kart Club ends its season with the annual night race. Then at 6 p.m. Rattlesnake Raceway closes its regular season with the action beginning at 6 p.m.
Sunday's action is at the Honey Lake Motocross Park as the second round of the Livfast series takes to this technical course around 10 a.m.
•The Busch brothers from Las Vegas spent the weekend at the Chicagoland Speedway. In Saturday's Nationwide event Kyle almost pulled off the win, but had to settle for the runner-up spot.
In Sunday's Sprint Cup event Kyle came from 21st to finish fourth while brother Kurt wound up 32nd and T.J. Bell was 30th.
49th annual Travel Nevada.Com Reno National Championship Air Races presented by Breitling.
Reno-Stead, Sept. 16
Bronze - 1. Brant Seghetti, "Sparky," 2. John Currenti, 3. Rob Gordon, 4. Korey Wells
Silver - 1. Will Whiteside,"Steadfast," 2. Korey Wells, 3. Brian Sanders, 4. Stewart Dawson, 5. Doug Matthews
Breitling Gold -1. Steven Hinton, "Strega," 2. Robert "Hoot" Gibson, 3. Dennis Sanders, 4. Curt Brown, 5. Brent Hisey
Silver - 1. Mark Pracy, "Blank Czech," 2. Cliff Magee, 3. Mike Mangold, 4. Joe Gano, 5. Lee Behel
Gold - 1. Rick Vandam, "American Spirit," 2. Phil Fogg, 3. Jeff Turney, 4. Larry Lee, 5.ScottKrause
Bronze (Sept. 15) 1. Rob Sandberg, "Honest Entry," 2. Ralph Rina, 3. Michael Pfleger, 4. Lee Oman, 5. Nathan Harnagel
Silver - 1. Joey "Gordo," Sanders, "Big Red," 2. Greg McNeely, 3. Vic McMann, 4. John Krawczyk, 5. Keith McMann
Gold - 1. Nick Macy, "Six-Cat," 2. Dennis Buehn, 3. John Lohmar, 4. Lee Oman, 5. Chris Rushing
Bronze - 1. Rick Vandam, "Greenstreak," 2. Bob Mills, 3. Peter Malone, 4. Miguel Carrera, 5. Steve Senegal
Silver - 1. Ernie Sutter, "Jus Pass'n Thru," 2. Bob Wolstenholme, 3. Vicky Benzing, 4. Alan Crawford, 5. Pete Zaccagnino
Gold - 1. Jeff LaVelle, "Glasair III," 2. John Parker, 3. Lynn Farnsworth, 4. Lee Behel, 5. David Sterling
Silver (Sept. 15) - 1. Stephen Patridge-Hicks "Miss USA," 2. David Roelofs, 3. Tom Watkins, 4. Brian Reberry, 5. Kevin Anderson
Gold - 1. Steve Senegal, "Endeavor," 2. Justin Phillipson, 3. Vito Wypraechtiger, 4. Brian Reberry, 5. Steve Temple
Silver (Sept. 15) - 1. Chris Schaich "Herrin," 2. Casey Erickson, 3. Marilyn Dash, 4. Robert Caster, 5. Earl Allen
Gold - 1. Tom Aberle, "Phantom," 2. Karl Grove, 3. Jake Stewart, 4. Kirk Murphy, 5. Eric Zine
•Lovelock Speedway, Sept. 15
Main (15 Laps) - 1. Michael Ellison*, 2. Tim Russell, 3. Audie Peterson, 4. Rick Ellison, 5. Ashley Egbert
Main (15 Laps) - 1. Chad Christiansen, 2. Loren Bianchi*, 3 Dickie Souza, 4. Damon Tupa, 5. Shirley Reeves
Main (12 Laps) - 1. Bobby Gibson*, 2. Cody Gibson, 3. Bob Cooney
Main (15 Laps) - 1. Jeffrey Macedo, 2. Robert Cooney, 3. Bob Cooney*, 5. Larry Oliviera.
* - Class Champions.