Reno Air Races debuts new racing class for 50th anniversary

The Reno Air Racing Association (RARA) will unveil the Unlimited Warbird Racing Class at the 50th annual National Championship Air Races this September.

Headquartered in northern Nevada, the Unlimited Warbird Racing Class (UWRC) was formed to take the place of the previous Unlimited Racing Division of the National Air Racing Group.

The UWRC has secured many of the same pilots who usually compete in the races as part of unlimited racing, including crowd favorites and former champions, such as Curt Brown flying “Sawbones,” Tom Richard flying “Precious Metal,” Sherman Smoot flying “Czech Mate,” fan favorite “Voodoo” and John Bagley flying Bob Hoover’s legendary aircraft “Ole Yeller.”

Additionally, RARA announced that Air Race legend and seven-time Unlimited champion, Bill “Tiger” Destefani will serve as the president of the new race class. Any pilot who is currently qualified to race in Unlimited racing will be welcome to participate in the UWRC.

“We think the formation of this new racing class is a positive step toward preserving air racing in Reno for the next 50 years,” said Destefani. “This class will feature former air race champions, aviation legends, space shuttle astronauts and some of the most famous aircraft in the world and will ensure our fans continue to see many of their favorite pilots and planes.”

RARA officials note they have held “several very positive discussions” with the FAA regarding formation of the UWRC and is currently working to become accredited through the FAA’s formal accreditation process.

The establishment of this new racing class is a result of the current Unlimited Racing Division’s inability to reach an agreement with the FAA and RARA on a few very complex issues, officials noted.

“The safety of our pilots and spectators is the absolute priority for the National Championship Air Races and, while we don’t anticipate that any rules will be substantially altered from last year’s very successful event, we continue to work with the FAA to more clearly define certain requirements on the race course and are coordinating efforts to finalize the rules of racing for this year’s event,” said Mike Houghton, president and CEO of RARA. “We understand and support the FAA’s effort to create a more defined set of rules for this historic event and the RARA contest committee, which is an autonomous organization chaired by General (retired) Ron Fogleman, former Chief of Staff for the United States Air Force, welcomes individual class participation in the application of the rules as defined for racing in Reno. We are looking forward to releasing a full list of pilots that will be participating in the Unlimited War Bird Racing Class in the very near future.”

The 50th annual National Championship Air Races take place this year from Sept. 11 through Sept. 15. Tickets are on sale now by phone at 775-972-6663 or online at


  1. Edward C. says

    Bring the T-28 class back.
    and if its safe enough, the jet class too.
    and also,,, no letting over 70 yr old’s fly the Unlimited’s,
    bad health risk.

  2. Jerboy says

    I have been attending (missed only 3 years, not including 2011) since pre-Stead 1964.
    So long as the new class is competitive (e.g. closer races where more than 2-3 racers have even a bit of a chance to win), it might not be such a bad thing. I find it curious that the veteran unlimited pilots are pushing back against rule changes that are meant to enhance safety – due to concerns about the changes causing increased risk.
    So long as I can hear the Merlin’s, P & W’s and Wright’s overture, I will likely continue to attend.

  3. Jerboy says

    I am likely missing something, however I assume that there must be other restrictions in the UWB class, that are not present with the current true unlimited.

  4. Aviator says

    Gerald, in a nutshell, the Unlimited pilots banded together and refused to race this year, citing the 250ft FAA altitude limit at pylon 8 which they say imposes unsafe g-loads on plane and pilot and eliminates necessary safety margins. So RARA came back and formed a new division with the same rules but a different name, basically with the intent of keeping Unlimited racing open. It’s something of a “strikebreaker” situation, with RARA trying to get “scab” pilots to break off and race in the new category.

    Smart, if overly-political move, IMO. Offers lower-rung racers a chance at prize money if the veterans like Strega and Rare Bear stick to their guns and refuse to race in Sept. However, both moves were desperate. Top racers refusing to race on the 50th is pretty extreme and shows how seriously they take this. RARA opening a new class shows how much air racing needs the Unlimiteds. Without Unlimited air racing, the races are dead, and RARA knows that.

  5. Greg W says

    So what happened? Did the Warbird Mafia use the unfortunate crash of the Galloping Ghost in 2011 to help this happen? They already added the 4500 pound restriction to the “unlimited” class. It sure seems that those with the warbird money don’t want there doors blown off by a garage built Lancair. The weight restriction was obvious when it was added as soon as the sport planes were going as fast as the Unlimited Bronze class. This seems to be more of the same. Go fast turn left and don’t let the ground catch you.

  6. Jim Preston says

    What r the so called obstacles between the FEDS n RARA? Why is the new class going to be different? How about a T-28 Class?

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