Reno Air Racing: Strega Returns!

STREGA: update

08/11/99 "Inside Air Racing" UPDATE

Reno '98.... What a great year! A fast field, new airplanes, good competition... What more could a race fan ask for? A couple of things come to mind pretty easily in asking this question.... Strega and Rare bear mixing it up for the Unlimited Gold would begin to fill out our dream field nicely. Already containing the likes of Dreadnougt, Dago Red, Miss Ashley II and many others, this dream Unlimited field is certainly coming together!

We've looked in on the Rare Bear camp in a couple of earlier features here at AAFO.COM's "Inside Air Racing". From all indications, the Bear is ready and willing to take a few bites out of whoever shows up to play! Now... how about the Strega boys, just how bad was the damage suffered at Reno '97? Will she be ready? Due to limited staffing and time constraints, we've been keeping our Inside Air Racing features short and to the point this year, so let's not waste any time here... The answer is .... YOU BET!.....

We checked in at "Warbirds Unlimited" last week and again a few days ago. We got the good word from the man closest to this airplane we all love to see at Reno, Bill "Tiger" Destefani.

The first thing we wanted to know was just how badly the racer was damaged during the prop strike incident at Reno '97..... Early indications from former Crew Chief, Bill Kerchenfaut, were pretty bleak. A twist in the airframe being the worst case scenario. "Kerch" felt certain there was enough evidence of major damage to warrant a complete teardown to have a look. The only problem with this situation: the airplane, deemed unsafe to fly, sitting stranded at Reno Stead Airport. The difficulties involved with getting a sufficient crew back up to Reno to disassemble the racer for trucking back to Strega HQ in Shafter, California delayed the project until well into winter and the terrible road conditions it brings.

Enter Voodoo (formerly Voodoo Chile). Her owner, Bob Button, decided he wanted to go balls out and make his already promising racer even more so. Button contracted with "Tiger's" shop, Warbirds Unlimited, to make the changes. Work on Voodoo began before Strega could be returned to the hanger from Reno. The Button project turned out to be so time consuming, all other work at "Warbirds Unlimited" had to be postponed... No Strega for Reno '98.

Though there was no Strega at Reno '98, her pilot, most certainly was there, watching from the ramp. Very much like a duck out of water, "Tiger" was determined not to see the race from the pits another year. The airplane would be race ready for Reno '99. With the Voodoo project complete, work on Strega began in earnest after the team returned from Reno. The "Witch" and her pilot would not miss another race! .... It's been nearly a year since beginning work on Strega, Let's hear what "Tiger" has to say about the progress on the airplane, her new paint "scheme" and much more.

Inside AR: So, how badly was the Red and White "Witch" damaged? Was there any major air frame damage, as earlier indicated...

Tiger: "There wasn't any of that stuff, it [prop strike] got the propeller, it got the nose case on the engine and a couple of more things engine-wise. The airframe was pretty much straight forward. We took it completely apart inspected everything, really didn't find any major stuff..... "

Inside AR: The prop really looked bad after the '97 incident, we've heard a lot about your props being a pretty efficient design... Who does the work on them?

Tiger: "US Propeller provides us with our props, they have worked really well for us."

Inside AR: The down time last year, not being able to field an entry, your crew from past races, has for the most part, moved on to other teams.... Who is in the line-up for "Team Strega" for the 1999 event?

Tiger: "We have LD Hughes as team manager, Dwight Thorne as our major engine man. Also, Baron Leonberg, Dave Long, Tony Corbo, Chuck Leonberg (Baron Leonberg's father, over from the Huntress Crew)"....We don't have a big crew anymore but we're doing fine"

Inside AR: When we spoke to you last week, you were in the process of "blowing on the Red" of your new "paint scheme"... We've seen some pretty wild artist renditions of what might be the new look for the "witch" ... Any hints to what she'll look like when we see her on the Ramp this year for the first time?

Tiger: "The airplane will be red and white, with a little blue."

Inside AR: Quite a buzz going on over those pictures.... A couple of versions have been circulating.. Probably the one that created the biggest stir is the wild witch version... Looked really cool!

Tiger: That was just out there for a tease....According to you guys, we're in a paint war...so we can't be throwing everything out there like it really is. That's all bitchin, but if you were to put that on there...where would you put any sponsors? It's different, totally different, same basic colors we just rearranged it all...The airplane is looking really slick..."

Inside AR: You've piqued our interest..... Guess we'll just have to wait to see her at Reno! Speaking of sponsors, we understand just how important this is to a racing effort... Who's names will we see on the racer this year?

Tiger: "Candlewood Hotels is our major sponsor.....Our fuel is supplied by Inland Crop Dusters. Others are, RB Aero Systems, The Wax Shop, Dave's Radiator and, of course, Champion Spark Plugs and Aeroshell."

Inside AR: Last week you indicated the engine was not in as yet.... How's the progress on that coming?

Tiger: "We're puttin' it in as we speak"

Inside AR: Great! So, when do you fly her again? Sometime next week?

Tiger: "we figure, I don't know positively, but about the middle of the week or so .... We're re-doing everything, so everything is a new fit and it takes more time. If we were just doing an engine change we could do it in, maybe, eight-ten hours. We're in no giant hurry... we put all new rubber in the airplane, every hose has been replaced. It all has to be timed correctly for the engine to fit correctly, it just takes more time."

Inside AR: Sounds good..... Besides the new paint and the new Dwight Thorne engine, what else might we expect to see new for the 1999 version of Strega?

Tiger: The only other thing I can tell you, we've done a lot of modifications...Unfortunately, you won't be able to see 'em!

Inside AR:... Hummn.. Inside the scoop??

Tiger:... no no..... Just..."stuff"

Inside AR:... Not even a hint.....

Tiger: <grinning> "Just Stuff"

Inside AR: Ok.... we give up <laughing> This brings us to the new Unlimited course layout.... Have you heard much about it?

Tiger: "I've seen the map on the web, I've talked to a couple of guys that flew it at the seminar. Of course, I haven't flown it. I've got pretty much in my mind how it's laid out now. Is it going to slow us down? Is it going to speed it up? It seems to me, losing almost a mile off that thing, the straights were already pretty short, if there's any roll out now it's going to be very brief and you're right back in another turn. At the speed we're going, it will be almost a complete oval, that's going to hurt speed. Any time you're laying g's on an airplane, it's slowing down. If you don't have the straightaway to pick that speed up, we'll lose anywhere from 30 to 50 miles an hour, that's quite a bit."

Inside AR: We've also heard a few things about the new course... some tricky places between the pylons that were moved..... It will be very interesting this year, indeed!

One thing for sure.... the 1999 Reno National Championship Air Races is going to be ONE TO REMEMBER! The last race of the millennium! We can hardly wait!

[correction: we regret having reported Dwight Thorne as crew chief in the original publishing of this article, LD Hughes is in place as Team Manager and Dwight Thorne is the engine builder and major engine man on Team Strega -ed-]

We would like to sincerely thank Bill "Tiger" Destefani for taking time out of a very busy schedule to share with us the progress and outlook for Team Strega and Reno '99! Like all of the teams involved in this wonderful, amazing sport, this one has a very large amount of work lying behind it.... and a lot ahead of them to bring their entry to Reno... We wish them and all of the competitors working hard to get ready for racing, a hearty GOOD LUCK!

[editors note: We've got a bunch more team updates to get out before the action begins at Reno '99! We'll bang the keys till they smoke and keep the scanner humming until we get 'em all out to you. Staffing difficulties this year have limited our progress, to date, in getting all the information we have on file out to you... We'll knock them out... proof em and send them up.... just as soon as we can....See you at the races!]

The 1999 Reno National Championship Air Races Will Be Held September 16-19 At Stead Field, Reno Nevada. Qualifying and Practice Events Run September 13-15 And Offers Some Of The Most Exciting Action Of The Entire Week. For Ticket And Lodging Information go to:
http://www.airrace.org

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