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Race 71 at the Rocket 100

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Ed. Note: 
Bob sure loves to use the word "passed" in this piece. But considering all that we has done to improve the speed of his RV-6A without any changes to engine or prop (all aerodynamic cleanup) I think he deserves to be able to utter that word as many times as he can. 

I didn't think this race would be a problem since I had flown versions of the course before but this one had a bit of an unanticipated hiccup for me at the start. Over 20 racers were entered but only 19 actually showed up. The accurate forecast of "mostly cloudy" probably had something to do with that.

Before walking over to the airport I called Flight Service and got the latest surface and 3,000 ft. winds. They were 120 at 5 mph and 190 at 16 mph respectively. So my plan was to:
- Fly the first leg at 900 ft until 5 miles from the required 1,400 ft turn point over the Caldwell Airport.
- Maintain that altitude to the next turn over Hearne Airport
- Decend to 900 ft MSL on the third leg to the radome
- Maintain 900 ft on the fourth leg until approaching the Taylor Airport area
- Slowly climb to the 1,100 ft minimum specified for the finish
In the Saturday morning race brief the start line up was given by Race #:


The objective is to launch the fastest plane first and the slowest plane last. I was assigned behind race #729 (Bonanza S35) which I was sure was slower than our RV-6A but there is no time or mechanism to change this. Emphasis is placed on maintaining the launch order at the start to minimize passing and assure the starts times are properly recorded.

I identified the plane I was to follow and got in line behind him in front of RV-4 #888, RV-4 #34, Long-EZ #83, RV-6 #26, Bonanza #77, Grumman Tiger #112, Diamond DA40 # 519 and Cirrus SR-20 #448. Rusty Hall said basically he was running for fun and he would just follow me to the start. There 10 airplanes launching ahead of us in RV-6A #71 so everything seemed orderly.

When we were flagged to start our takeoff roll Bonanza #729 was rotating. I followed him to make sure I didn't pass before the start. We were supposed to go to Ski Lake then turn to pass on the west side of the Hutto water tower. The start line is an imaginary line extending west from the water tower.

#729 Was heading northwest instead of west to Ski Lake. Well I continued to follow him like an obedient pup expecting him to turn at any time. He finally did turn and I glimpsed him disappearing in the distance as I started my turn. At this point I did not know my precise location or the location of the Hutto water tower - not good! My DG had not spun up well enough to provide a stable reference yet and I only knew in general which direction to go. Water towers in this part of Texas are plentiful and identifying the right one and making a good start while avoiding the following racers at 900 ft AGL and 200+ mph was not a trivial task.

I saw a blue water tower ahead and considered it for a few seconds then saw a tan colored water tower. I then saw Ski Lake way off to the left ahead. I heard some of the racers that were supposed to be behind me making start calls at the Hutto water tower so thankfully they weren't following me on this fiasco approach to the start. I lined up on the right side of the water tower and called the start just before the fly-by. As I flew back I saw "Hutto" painted in a wavy line on the side of the tank. I looked at the GPS and it showed me well outside the course line but I could fix that gradually during the first leg.

As we approached turn 1 I saw a "V" tailed Bonanza ahead. We passed Jim Huff in Race #77 shortly after the turn.

As we were approaching turn two I saw a tail dragger RV ahead. I thought it might be Rusty Hall but instead it was Mike Thompson in RV-6, Race #26. We passed Mike shortly after turn two and started the descent to 900 ft.

As we were approaching turn three I saw the Long-EZ (race #83) of David Adams and Chris Murphy's RV-4 race #34. I passed them a little after the turn. Somewhere along the way I passed Race #729 as well but I never saw him.

As I called my finish I saw the large block letters of the Hutto water tower and I knew this was not the water tower I thought was the start point earlier. I full expected to be disqualified for a bad start but Mark Frederick saw me in the distance as I made my start call, way out in the distance but crossing the projected start line. We finished second behind John Huft in the RV Blue Class and I learned a valuable lesson "Fly the start plan and ignore the plane ahead." I knew this already in reallity but I thought I knew this course too well to get serious about the "before start" flying. I suspect the intent of some racers that I observed flying north before the start was gain maximum speed on the run-in. Next year I will be more focused.

Bob Axsom

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