The second annual Sunshine Express 400 ran Sunday, April 3. A strong tailwind helped the 17 racers set fast times on the course from Greenwood County Airport (KGRD) in South Carolina, to Multrie (KKGR), Georgia, then to Winter Haven’s Gilbert Field (KGIF).
The 400 nautical mile race was organized by 71-year-old Pat Purcell, who was a racer in the Air Race Classic in the 1970s and 1980s, and racer Richard Kaczmarek.
Last year the race was called Race to the Sun, but this year, it was renamed. The race is sanctioned by the Sport Air Racing League, whose motto “Racing for the rest of us” truly suited the group who raced this year.The winners earn bragging rights instead of sponsorships or large cash awards.They demonstrated camaraderie and sportsmanship. During the race Kaczmarek experienced an engine out in his Cessna 150 near Multrie.
“When a Cessna 150 is venting fuel from the left tank, you have to find out why,” he noted.
After a dead-stick landing, he told the other racers in Winter Haven it was “one of the best landings I’ve ever had.”
Kaczmarek says the problem was a clogged fuel line. At least one other plane landed after him to check on him. In this race there is no time penalty for stopping at the turning point to refuel. The racers reported that the Multrie FBO treated them very well. Kaczmarek and the others flew the last leg of the race.
The camaraderie continued in Winter Haven as the racers landed, helped each other refuel, and push their aircraft to the tie downs. The racers have become friends through participation in races.
The race has three categories: Experimental, factory built, and heavy metal. No one competed in the heavy metal class this year in this race. The categories have classes within them based on horsepower, landing gear configuration, engine type, and cubic inch displacement.
The pilots came from Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, South Carolina, Utah, and Wisconsin. Most will stay for SUN ‘n FUN. Quite a few said they will participate in the SUN ‘n FUN Sprint Wednesday morning.
Mike Patey won in the Experimental Category and also placed first in the Sport class. He flew a Lancair Legacy (N36XX) with an elapsed time of 1:30:27 and 277.39 knots.
Greg Force, of Woodruff, South Carolina, won first place in the Factory Built Category.
“This is my first race,” he said. “It’s been great fun with great people.”
He flew a white and blue Mooney Rocket (N57323) with an elapsed time of 2:08:28 and 195.31 knots.
Other awards were:
- A special team award was given to Rodney and Samantha DeBord who flew a PA28-140 Cherokee (N5129S) with an elapsed time of 3:06:20 and 134.65 knots.
- Dave Adams won first place in the Sprint class, flying a Long EZ (N83DT) and he carried a passenger, Wendy Lawson. Adams is a Gold Champion in the Sport Air Racing League. Adam’s elapsed time was 2:08:24 and 195.41 knots.
- Don Gates won in the Factory 4RG Class in his Mooney M20-C (N69007) with an elapsed time of 2:30:36 and 166.60 knots.
- In the RV Gold Class, Jim Wilson won in his RV-8 (N2235Z) with an elapsed time of 1:58:53 and 211.05 knots.
- In the RB Gold Class, Jeff Barnes won in his RV-6 (N790DW) with an elapsed time of 1:58:37 and 211.52 knots. Barnes is a Gold Champion in the Sport Air Racing League.
- The Anchor Award went to Dave Thompson, of Greenwood, South Carolina, who flew a Cessna 172.
Patey, a 12,000-hour pilot, said he learned a valuable lesson about pre-flight checks during the race. Having left his gust lock at home in Utah, he improvised the night before the race by folding and placing a light blue paper towel between the tail and the rudder.
“I got interrupted two times during my pre-flight and I touched the rudder but didn’t move it,” he recounted. “I took off on a perfectly calm morning and at 100 knots, at the point of no return, I felt the lack of rudder. That’s when I knew I’ve officially done something stupid.”
One of those interruptions was for a photo, taken by fellow racer Don Gates, just before the race began in Greenwood.
He said at one point on the way he slowed to 15 knots above stall speed to work the rudders to free the towel. No luck.
“When I arrived here,” Patey said, “the wind was between the runways and was 13 gusting to 20.”
After landing, he taxied using the brakes to steer. The towel — shredded on the edges —sat firmly in place.
“I don’t mind sharing this because I’m usually so thorough in my pre-flight,” he said. “All it takes is getting interrupted during the pre-flight to miss something.”
When asked why he races, Patey said, “I’ve been racing everything — snow cross, circle track racing, motorcycle hill climb, you name it. Then I tried flying. I quit everything else because nothing is faster.”
Patey said he flies seven or eight races a year. He competed in Texas on April 2, the Sunshine Express 400 on April 3, and he plans to compete in the Sprint 40 at SUN ‘n FUN before the Bob Axsom Memorial Air Race in Texas on April 16.