“Honest to God, I’m still thrilled by it,” says Allmon. “Every time I start it and hear the crack of the exhaust, I’m speechless.” Though his crowded business calendar has restricted NACA 127’s airshow appearances in recent years, Allmon is making room for the Gathering of Mustangs. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” he says.
Steve and Brant Seghetti
Before they were objets d’art in museums, before they cricked the necks of worshipful airshow spectators, postwar P-51s were bare-metal racers. Widely available at surplus prices in the late 1940s and ’50s, the combination of a 12-cylinder Rolls-Royce engine and combat-grade maneuverability made P-51s a natural for pylon-shaving.
The competitive tradition persists today. In Vacaville, California, Steve Seghetti and his son Brant are owners/operators of Sparky, a Reno racer that took second place in its class in 2006. “Dad was bit at a really early age,” Brant explains. “He decided that someday he had to have a Mustang.”
The Seghettis acquired Sparky in 1984, “strictly as a VFR pleasure plane,” says Brant. But 10 years later, the Mustang racing gene asserted itself in Sparky, and father and son took the aircraft to Reno. While the Nevada race includes classes for highly modified vintage airplanes, Steve and Brant opted to keep Sparky in the class reserved for standard-issue warbirds. “It’s purely a stock airplane, and we’re proud of that,” says Brant. “We don’t want to modify it. We want to race it original, finish well enough to put some money in the airplane kitty, and fly it back home Monday morning.”
In a P-51, even standard-issue flight is electrifying. “It’s absolutely the most fun you can have with other people watching,” says the younger Seghetti, who pilots a Cessna Citation charter jet for a living. “Sparky flies every bit as good as it looks.”
The P-51’s boffo paint scheme was designed by the Jelly Belly candy company, which sponsors Sparky by underwriting fuel and other expenses. “This is not a poor man’s airplane, not anymore,” says Brant.
Despite swelling prize purses, the community of owners/racers retains a relaxed camaraderie. “That’s one thing that keeps us going back to Reno every year,” says Brant. “It’s really like the reunion of a big, extended family.”
A last-minute weather change quashed plans to fly Sparky to the 1999 Gathering of Mustangs, but the Seghetti family team is committed to the 2,400-mile trip to Columbus this fall. Brant doesn’t rule out desperate measures. “Even if I have to buy a ticket on an airline to get there, there’s no way I’m missing it this time,” he says.