50 Years of Air Racing
Over half a century, a devoted few created the unique culture of Reno.
- By Linda Shiner and Caroline Sheen
- Air & Space magazine, August 2013
In 2003, hotshot pilot Skip Holm flew the modified P-51 Dago Red to a Gold win and a course record of 507 mph. Dago Red’s crew chief that year was Bill Kerchenfaut, but don’t ask him about that race. “The only race I care about is the next one,” says Kerch, as he’s known among Reno insiders. Maybe that’s why he has more Unlimited wins—13—than any other crew chief in the history of air racing.
Kerchenfaut’s next race is the 2013 return of the Mustang Voodoo, whose team he has led since 2009. That year Team Voodoo was headed for a second place finish when the engine quit. In 2010, the team had a good chance for a win, but high winds cancelled the race (a first in Reno history). The following year was the Leeward crash, and in 2012, owner Bob Button had put the Mustang up for sale. For Kerchenfaut the four-year string of events “was very frustrating, because we never got the chance to try what we thought would work.” This year, they get the chance.
Voodoo’s cooling system was designed by Pete Law, a Lockheed Skunk Works thermodynamics engineer who was enlisted by Darryl Greenamyer to work on his Bearcat and on his 1969 speed record attempt (see “Secret Pete,” Sept. 2012). That’s when Law and Kerchenfaut met, and they’ve teamed up at Reno ever since. Of Greenamyer, Kerchenfaut says, “I learned so much from that guy. What a leader. He’d get everybody in the crew together and say, ‘We need to go this much faster. How do we do it?’ He knew how to utilize his people. He was interested in everybody’s ideas. Isn’t that what a team is about?”
Kerchenfaut points out that it takes more than a great airplane and a great pilot to win an air race; it takes a great crew. “The relationship of the team members, how everybody works together toward the goal—that’s really important,” he says. The only reason to put in hundreds of hours on a race team, says Kerchenfaut: the people.