“If it was easy, they’d calling it ‘winning,’ ” says Matt Jackson, who has flown more Unlimited raceplanes than any other pilot in the history of Reno. He’s talking about 2012. “I had a top contender last year in Furias”—an estimable Sea Fury. “And to have that gear problem and to have to tear it up to get it down, it was a heartbreaker.” Furias is not returning this year.
Jackson, who owns a restoration and aviation maintenance business at Van Nuys Airport in California, started coming to the races when his dad was a mechanic for a Formula One team. He was six years old. In 50 years of racing, he has missed only four. “I’ve had the privilege of flying some of the greatest raceplanes of all time,” he says, including Rare Bear, when it was owned by Lyle Shelton, and the belly scoop-less Mustang Stiletto. “The owners are my friends,” says Jackson, who doesn’t get paid for racing. “We’d show up for the two weeks in September, even if they didn’t have a race. It’s like family.”
A father of eight (he thinks he has at least two future pilots in the brood), Jackson brings his children to the races just like his dad brought him. “They all come to Reno during race week,” says Jackson. “If Daddy’s in the hunt, they all show up. Especially if I’m in the Gold race on Sunday.”
This year, the kids will have good reason to come watch. Daddy’s flying Strega.
“Here’s my golden opportunity,” he says. “The number one contender at Reno.”