Thursday, September 15, 2016

Reno Air Races - Remembering the Nemesis

It's too quiet for her in the Udvar-Hazy center. She was always surrounded by giants, that's not new, but it's too quiet here on the floor, with just the murmur of voices and shuffle of feet. It's too cool as well.

I remember her when the sun beat down, when the heat of Nevada in September forced pilots to battle density altitude for every scrap of performance. I remember Nemesis as I saw her race, with Jon Sharp starting near the back of the pack in the Formula 1 racehorse start, then slowly reeling in the field until he'd finish half a lap ahead of the nearest competitor, and more than a lap behind the rest of the field.

Nemesis on display
Over a nine year span, Nemesis and her designer/pilot Jon Sharp won 45 of the 48 races they entered, including nine straight Formula 1 Gold titles at the Reno Air Races. I saw three of them at Reno over that time span.

This, however, came from a race in Jon Sharp's backyard,
Lancaster, CA.
Definitely one of my prize possessions.

After the 1999 season, Jon Sharp retired Nemesis to its much deserved place in a museum, first at the EAA headquarters, then at the Smithsonian. The follow-up to Nemesis, the NXT, is a Sport-Class racer with room for a passenger and a (small) overnight bag. And while Jon and the Nemesis NXT  have retired from air racing (but not from setting records), this year will mark the return to Reno of Relentless, another NXT racer that will hopefully give the Lancairs and Glasairs of the Sport Class Gold race a serious run for their money.

Relentless in 2007. I know I've posted this shot before, but I don't care because it's a gorgeous aircraft.

Do airplanes dream? When the lights go out, and the crowds go home, do the old air racers talk among themselves? Does Conquest I tell tales of the Unlimited circuit at Reno in the '70s, when mechanics (allegedly) picked sagebrush out of the airscoops of White Lightning? Does Sorceress tell about her career as the fastest biplane on the circuit, so fast that the rules had to be changed to ban her design all together? And does Miss Champion finally tire of the young pups talking about their exploits in the desert, and so silence them with a tale of winning the 1938 National Air Races in Cleveland?

Nemesis is where she belongs, nestled under the wing of the Boeing Dash-80 that broke open the jet age, and sitting with the other record breakers. But in my head, I'll always remember little white wings screaming around pylons at Reno, leaving everything else far behind to take another checkered flag.

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