In this short video of the start of the 2012 Gold Unlimited Race at Reno, you're in the cockpit of the P-51 Mustang Strega with pilot Steven Hinton. (Spoiler alert: Strega wins.) With the runways of Reno-Stead Airport in view, you hear a voice saying, "Gentleman, you have a race!" That's the pace plane pilot (who happens to be Hinton's dad). He has just led the raceplanes in a wide orbit around the field, giving them time to join up in a formation abreast.
The airplane with the fastest qualifying speed earns the inside position; the slowest takes the outside. In the audio, the pace plane pilot, satisfied that all are in a safe formation (with no pilot jumping out in front), tells the field they're looking good and releases them, in Reno parlance, "down the chute."
As Unlimited racers scream around the pylons, it's rare for one to overtake another. Ordinarily, it's an endurance race. Can the engines run all out for the eight minutes (or so) it takes to fly eight laps around the course? Pilots follow the leader as close as they can on the chance that an engine will overheat and that airplane will pull up and out of the race. That's just what happened with the two aircraft you see chasing Strega: an F8F Bearcat, Rare Bear, followed by the Sea Fury 232. Fans were primed for a repeat performance of the Saturday race thrill, when the Sea Fury passed the Bearcat. But on Sunday, pilot Stew Dawson had to pull up with an overheated engine, handing second place to Hoot Gibson in 232.
To see more of the 2012 races, visit JustPlaneFunVideos.com. (0:30