Air Race Changes: Different For Pilots, Same Thrills For Spectators

RENO, NV - It was a sight and sound to gladden the heart of pilot and spectator alike.

Fast aircraft racing around the pylons on the course at Stead.

Getting to this point involved investigation and self-examination and some changes.

Most will go unnoticed to all but the staff.

For instance, when the unlimiteds and jets are running, access is limited to the tarmac in front of the runway. Fuel trucks are out of sight.

There are also new inspection protocols designed to find the kind of failure that led to last year's crash.

"Just maybe a little more intense on the inspection," says Bill Destefani, the owner of the P-51, Strega, a crowd favorite. "But that's fine. We welcome that."

Everyone wants a safe race and so we're all doing back flips complying," adds Will Whiteside, the pilot owner of the YAK 3 Steadfast.

Most of all there were changes to the course, it's smaller. The final turn has been softened, but overall it's tighter and apparently more challenging.

"Quicker turns, but more of a constant turn," says Strega pilot Steve Hinton. "In the previous race course there were periods where you cold go wings level for a second or two. At the speeds we're flying we're constantly in a bank. That's not necessarily bad, but it's something we have to adapt to."

The action has been moved further from the stands too, but spectators tell us they can't tell the difference.

"No it does not change the experience of the spectator," says Gary Young, who's attending his 15th year. "Actually I've been here so many years and I've seen the things that happen and I've always questioned that final turn anyway."

"As far as the the excitement and enjoyment I haven't noticed anything. It's still a blast to be out here and fully exciting," says 11 year veteran Jeff Johnson.

Bottom line: It's a new challenge for the pilots. Same show for those in the stands.

Speaking of the fans. Attendance was sparse today,but that's normal for a Wednesday. Organizers admit ticket sales are still lagging, but say they're optimistic about a big walk-in crowd as the week and the races continue.

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