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Food For Thought

In the pre-race briefing Cam Benton welcomed me back after a one year absence from racing, then to the group he gave us the altimeter setting of 29.83, went through the course, describing exactly where we were to make the turns, the altitude requirements (almost none), the in-flight radio calls to be made, the frequencies to be used, the rules on passing, emergency procedures and finally the start order with the fastest plane first.

There were a lot more RVs than I had seen at any race except the AirVenture Cup Race and I was assigned to take off before all but John Huft in his super fast RV-8. I had seen the RVs on the ramp and I was concerned that my placement in the takeoff order might not be justified.

I had used Google Earth to get images of the turn points, made up a detail race checklist including copies of the turn images, programed the race course into the GPS so I felt I was going to be OK even though I had just flown in that morning and had never seen the course itself.

We were allowed to start our engines when we wanted but we could not taxi until directed to do so by the ramp marshall. I taxied out behind the Bonanza of Chester Jurskis who I had beaten before and felt I could do it again. We could start the take off roll when we wanted so I was leisurely about starting to avoid the need to pass and slow down as a result.

I called "Race 71 start", advanced the throttle and released the brakes. The actual start was at the far end of the runway so I stayed low, accelerated until the end, then turned left off of runway 22 to 124 degrees and climbed a few 100 feet above ground level.

The first turn was 26 miles away and it was around the right side of a plateau sitting in a canyon with an outbound heading of 067 degrees. At low altitudes it is hard to get a good overall perspective and picking up natural turn points can be a problem but I saw the lead in canyon and some manmade details and the plateau itself well before the turn. I heard the planes ahead calling the turn and I was making a ground speed in the 180 knot range so everything seemed in order. Not too long after race 18 and 729 made their turn 1 calls I banked around the plateau, called "Race 71 turn 1" and headed off toward turn 2. Not long afterward I heard Race 391 make his turn 1 call - "he is not far behind" occurred to me.

I had checked the winds aloft and decided for this race to just stay low and not try for a tailwind gain at a higher altitude. Turn 2 was a dirt strip 26 miles from turn 1 and the elevation dropped from turn 1's 3,084 ft to 2,415 ft at turn 2. So, I drifted down with the terrain. The ground speed picked up to between 190 and 200 knots and I knew all was well in that regard but I had to find this dirt strip with nothing but a north south road and a house by the strip as visual aids. There was a 10 minute penalty for not making the turns as specified (cutting a pylon) and as the distance remaining rapidly decremented below 5 miles I became more and more concerned and started a slight drift to the right to keep the turn on my side of the airplane and the airplane to the right of the turn point.

Well inside a mile I saw the house and the dirt strip just off to the left a little wide but it was a very tight turn from 067 back to an outbound heading of 264 degrees so I thought I could come in tight outbound and all would be well but the turn around the house over the dirt strip was wider than I would have liked. I made my "Race 71 turn 2 call" and almost immediately I heard "Race 391 turn 2". He was obviously ahead of me as far as race time was concerned.

As I rolled out of the turn and fine tuned the heading to turn 3, I had to think of what I could do to maximize my speed. The ground elevation of turn 3 is 3,187 ft so I decide to hold my low altitude back over the higher ground and come up to clear Floydada runway south of the central buildings as late as practical.

The Speed to turn 3 dropped off to the low 170 knot range. The distance to turn 3 was 25 miles and I expected to have no trouble picking up the paved runway of Floydada - I was wrong! As I got closer I began to really sweat it and since this was a slight right turn to 290 degrees I needed to be on the left side of the turn point, putting it on the semi-blind side of the airplane. Inside of 5 miles I saw some low structures off to the left. I debated with myself but turned to put the airplane off to the left or south of those structures if they were the turn point. As I raced in that direction I saw the airport well off to the right and turned back to the real turn point. I had seen nothing of Race 391 but just as I was getting ready to transmit my turn 3 call I heard "Race 391 turn 3". As I made my turn 3 call I saw him low and off to the right.

The plane was streaking hot and beautiful. I was higher but it was like I was tied to him. I eased out the mixture trying for more speed and saw the EGT creep up to 1326 F degrees on cylinder #4 but the speed decayed slightly and I could sense that the distance between us was growing. I eased the mixture back into what felt like a sweet spot below 1300 F degrees and the speed came back and we were locked by an invisible bond again racing to the finish. Race 391 called his finish and then I called "Race 71 Finish" knowing that I had been beaten but feeling OK about the effort.

In the post race briefing I learned that Jason Rovey had beaten me by 21 seconds in his 180 hp RV-8 at 207.04 mph. Me and the Blue Bird (RV-6A) averaged 204.89 mph with its 180 hp - not bad and if I had held up my end a little better the speed would have been higher. I will probably not soon forget the moment I spotted the blue and white RV-8 streaking across the the ground low to the right and in front of my plane.

- Bob Axsom

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