Showdown at the Jackpot Corral

Carl Stevens

Originally published July 1994

The sun rose stealthily over the Nevada landscape of Jackpot, stealing away the cool morning air as it pressed its relentless advance on the night. Songbirds began their daily ablution in the sparse streams and scattered puddles of water. In the usually quiet town there was, this day, an underlying tension that charged the air with expectation.

My boots made a low hollow sound as they descended the hotel stairs and walked down the wooden sidewalk. Only the horned toads, luckless ladies of the evening, and hardened gamblers noticed as I made my way slowly down to where we'd left our mount the previous evening. The top guns were already there, seeing to needs of their steeds. Savier, Aresman, Dickey, and Tackabury, all going over the last details before the shooting began.

Leading edges were being cleaned of bugs and polish was applied to upper and lower surfaces of airfoils. Propellers were inspected, re-torqued, and turned through. Those that had them were removing their saddlebags, er, baggage pods. Tape was judiciously applied to aileron and rudder gaps. GPS positions were fed into hand held units. Anything that had been shown to eke out another tenth of a knot was being done.

Cactus Pete's casino made a welcome gesture by delivering those essential items, coffee and donuts. Soon the pilot's briefing was started and things began to get more serious. I wasn't flying this day but hung around to get the skinny of the course, procedures, and other items of interest and concern. That's my job, I'm a Project Ranger, deputized by the Project Police and authorized to travel out of state. We seek out and reconnoiter hotbeds of homebuilt activity. We report back any information that may be vital for future raids.

My partner for this mission, Norm Howell, was tactfully disguised as a competitor in the super-stock class (O-320 powered Long-EZ). After the briefing the area became a virtual beehive of activity. There were approximately 40 EZ type aircraft on the ramp and many were preparing to launch. Race heats are determined by lot. Norm was to fly in the first heat of the day.

"Carl, want to give me a hand here?", asked Norm.

I replied, "Sí Cisco. Uh, sure Norm", and we pushed the plane over for some petrol.

Fuel burn for max power and expected mission time was quickly calculated and we knew to the gram how much fuel needed to be loaded. This is important as one wants to be as light as possible for the race. After adjusting for VFR reserves and allowing for head winds Norm said, "See these two lines here? Let me know when the gas gets to about where a third line would be, okay?" And with that we loaded N271J to it's optimal race condition. I then helped Norm push to position.

A long string of beautiful Long EZs taxied out to the runway. It was then I realized that I'd left my camera in the back seat. I silently hoped that there wouldn't be enough turbulence to cause it to bean Norm. After takeoff the planes grouped up to the north of the airport and formed a line abreast. They approached the airport at 110 knots. I could almost sense the excitement of the pilots from the ground. At mid-field the chase plane pitched up and the race was on. After watching the aircraft fade quickly out of sight, activity on the ramp slowed a bit as we waited for their return.

In roughly half an hour we could hear the staccato sound of a Long EZ in the distance. Seconds later Paul Tackabury flashed by in his highly modified EZ. The rest of the field followed in short order, with Norm coming in eighth position, a very good showing for a plane that is still in primer.

The Vari EZs raced next. They were followed by the Super modified, the unlimited, and the exhibition class. All races followed the same pattern with a flurry of activity prior and up to launch, followed by a short lull, and then more ado as they came back into site and crossed the line.

After the races there was a ribbon cutting contest. Flushed with his success in the race, Norm figured he'd try that event also. His first pass at the ribbon resulted in a near perfect cut with a four foot length off of the tip separating cleanly from the roll. His second pass cut the strip about a third down. A hint of trouble showed itself at the ribbon looked to be compressing, a sure sign the weight of the roll has been lost. With an expertly maneuvered turn the tassel parted at the mid point on his third pass. Turbulence and thermals caused the three remaining pieces to ball up and Shirl Dickey remarked that Norm was most assuredly done, "It's too bad too, looks like he's only used up 6 or 7 hundred feet."

Little did he know that a Project Police officer does not give up in the mere face of sheer adversity. With a high G turn, the skill of a fighter pilot, and the faith of David, Norm made a pass at one of the descending balls of paper. There was a sudden flash of white and it appeared that a giant had scored a perfect skeet hit. The once quiet crowd on the ground was now was now perking up a bit. Though this was the second to last competitor even Shirl took note, "Great shot Norm," he called on the hand-held. Then he jokingly added, "There's one off to your left there too." "Tally Ho".

Norm dropped into another 4 G turn (and accidentally keyed his mike letting us all hear his g-straining exercise). Spotting the ball he lined up and pressed the throttle forward. POW! Another square blow and the air filled with shreds of white. Murmurs arose in the crowd and more than one person was heard to ask who was flying. Norm looked around, spotted the last major target and prepared for ramming. Silence gripped the crowd as we watched this one plane ballet. More heavy breathing in the turn then KERSPLAT! Another white skeet exploded and Charmin remnants rained to the ground. With a couple hundred feet of altitude before the hard deck Norm was out of targets and was thereby forced to break off the engagement. Six hits placed Norm in a tie for first place.

A missing man formation followed the ribbon cutting, with some spectacular photo opportunities. All the planes were retrieved, and we made ourselves ready for the awards banquet. A special treat for all the attendees was the debut of Weasel Wizz home brewed beer, made by yours truly. Hey, it's something to do while the epoxy cures! All in all, the Jackpot races are a very interesting and fun event. With so many homebuilt aircraft in one place it is definitely deserving of further scrutiny. It is rumored that the same gang also meets in Wendover for the Bonneville speed races over the Labor day weekend. Based on these preliminary findings, I would recommend a volunteer expedition of highly motivated personnel be deputized as Project Rangers and inserted covertly into this convocation of EZ builders and pilots. After reviewing their findings a joint decision can be made as to any necessary further action.

Final Race results for the 125 mile Jackpot race were as follows:

Sam KreidelLimo-EZ33.899221.24
Shirl DickeyV8 E Racer34.498217.40
Jim Hayes360 E Racer36.376206.24
Super Stock
Paul Tackabury320 Long EZ33.299255.32
Barry Webber320 Long EZ33.807221.85
Gus Sabo320 Long EZ34.255218.95
Vern Simon320 Long EZ34.611216.69
Dave Lind320 Long EZ34.716216.04
Steve Irvin320 Long EZ35.349212.17
Ken Francis320 Long EZ35.486211.35
Norm Howell320 Long EZ36.343206.37
Jeff Glynn320 Cozy36.523205.35
Van Snow320 Long EZ36.543205.24
Gordon Jones320 Long EZ36.72205.24
Mike Rhodes320 Long EZ37.199201.62
Eric Cobb320 Long EZ39.155191.55
Super Modified
Klaus SavierO-2-Bad Vari EZ35.019226.87
Charles Aresman235 Vari EZ33.058214.17
David Orr235 Long EZ45.741163.97
Stock Long-EZ
Mike Stolle235 Long EZ38.818193.21
Rick Reuland235 Long EZ40.519185.10
Dale Martin235 Long EZ40.700184.28
Mike Stevens235 Long EZ42.469177.43
Ken Flaig235 Long EZ45.067166.42
Stock Varieze
Bob Martinson200 Vari EZ38.135196.67
Tom Hubbard200 Vari EZ38.575194.43
Gil Hutchison200 Vari EZ40.257186.30
Bill Ingram200 Vari EZ40.553184.94
Dan Lee200 Vari EZ41.097181.50
Will Morgan200 Vari EZ45.503164.82
Bryan DevendorfGlasair-III29.766251.97
(25 gph)

Vern Simon of EAA Chapter 11 makes a high speed pass at Jackpot!

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Revised -- 22 February 1997