The North American P-51 Mustang
P-51 Mustang at Reno 2005
The Pits
story and photos by Curtis Fowles

If you want the inside scoop on the health of the racers, get inside the pit fence. You can see for yourself who is working on what. Crews don't just take the prop off an unlimited racer for fun. Something is up.

After you walk through the main gate, go towards the back of the grandstands, turn left before you walk under the grandstands and straight ahead is the booth where you will find that pit pass with your name on it.

Lighten your wallet a bit and you are in. Inside the pit area is all of the racing aircraft, many vendor displays, oh yeah food and drink too. The crews are always working, fixing or just cleaning and waxing. The pilots are hanging around, some working on their aircraft with the crew. Everyone is friendly, talking and working.

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Standard ops are removing all plugs and checking the oil screens, cleaning all the oil off the aircraft, checking for coolant leaks, oil leaks (other than normal) after a run-up or race. Gear problems come and go. Keeping a slick coat of wax covering the racer is high on the list as well. The unlimiteds are 60 years old, even the non-racing equipment fails. The crews have to be ready to fix anything and everything.

You will usually get to see much more than standard ops race work. Engine swaps, prop removal, gear swings, sometimes body repairs all happen each year in someone's pit area. Many crews help each other out with parts, tools, hangar space and the like. This year we saw Tiger Destefani loan his secret prop from Strega to Dan Martin in Ridge Runnner III for Sunday's Gold. Yes, it helped Dan go faster. That's awesome, but I heard Dan gave it back :(

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The pits get real crowded on Saturday and Sunday. The crews do a good job getting all the aircraft to and from their pit area and the hot ramp without rubbing fans, vehicles and other racers. You can be just inches away from the aircraft. All you need to do is be aware that the crews have a job to do and sometimes that includes you getting out of the way.

If you like to get up early, you can almost always catch a morning run-up or flight by one of the big guys. After the races each day there is activity in the pits and the ramp area like further race testing and basic warbird rides. The Planes of Fame P-51 was flying every evening with several smiling fans in the back (not at the same time of course). So don't just stand there and think about it, eat Cheerios for breakfast and dinner if you have to, but get that pit pass, we're waiting for you inside.

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