For most aviators, air racing is on the Bucket List, somewhere between flying into AirVenture and getting a seaplane rating. The Sport Air Racing League can help you cross that one off the list — and you don’t need a special airplane to do it.
Established in 2006, the Sport Air Race League conducts races all over the country.
As this was written, John Smutny, director for the Great Northwest Air Race, was putting the finishing touches on an event slated for June 21 in the Northwest part of the country.
“The beautiful thing about air racing in the SARL is that you don’t need a special kind of airplane,” said Smutny. “There is a class for everyone. We have everything from J-3 Cubs and Taylorcrafts to warbirds — which we call Heavy Metal — participating.”
The race classes are based on the speed of the aircraft, according to Smutny.
“We start the races with the fastest taking off first to minimize aircraft passing on the course,” he explained. “You take off, then fly over a spot on the airport and a timer is started. The race ends at the same airport. When you fly over the airport at the end of the race the timer stops. The whole course is 180 nautical miles.”
Smutny is a fairly newcomer to the world of air racing. He entered his first race in 2011 in his Pitts.
“It got me hooked on it,” he said. “I did it again in 2012. It’s a kick to be on the course and hear the chatter on the radio to hear that the one behind you is gaining or you are gaining on someone. It really gets the adrenaline going.”
Most people fly in their own airplanes, although rental aircraft are permitted to participate. The Pilot in Command of each aircraft is responsible for determining if it is airworthy.
How the pilot wants to do the race is up to him or her, according to Smutny. There are some who try to set speed records for themselves, while others do detailed flight planning and delight in hitting all the checkpoints at the precise time they planned to.
“It is timed flight, either at full throttle or for efficiency — it is up to the pilot,” Smutny explained.
The races are held at different airports around the country. This year the northwest event will be at Ephrata Municipal Airport, (KEHR), which is some 120 miles east of Spokane. The airport, built in 1939, was used as a training base for bomber crews during World War II. In 1989 parts of the Steven Spielberg film “Always” were shot there.
Race entry fees are $40 to $50 per entry to cover the cost of the trophies and lunch on the day of the race.
Over the years the number of participants in each race have been as few as six and as many as 24.
“A lot of people wait until the last minute to sign up,” said Smutny, adding that there are some people who travel around the country participating in multiple races, which puts them in national race standings.