submitted by Marilyn Dash
Honoring my commitment to cover all of the Race Classes at Reno, not just the Unlimiteds, I wanted to introduce you to Jeff LaVelle, the 2012 Sport Class Gold Champion and his Glasair III. A seemingly mild mannered Glasair III, one that looks remarkably like the others you may see each weekend flying to the next $100 Hamburger location. However, this one is special --- very special. But, all that is special is on the inside. Jeff LaVelle, like so many other Race Pilots, started out racing something else, for him it was Motorcycles. He always had competitive spirit that made him look for ways to improve. He became a pilot about 20 years ago and later attended the Reno Air Races, setting his sights on competing there.
He founded a company in 1989 in aerospace manufacturing providing products to industry giants including Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrup Grumman. Watching and learning and finally taking some of his ideas for his clients probably helped him create his plan of attack at Reno.
He purchased a Glasair kit in 1998 and his focus turned to the brand new Sport Class. This provided him the perfect opportunity to use his piloting skills, his love for speed, and his knowledge of mechanical things. He attended PRS in 2007 and won Rookie of the Year for the Sport Class that year.
His first qualifying time in 2007 was 292.193 – over 100 mph less than this year. Now, that is serious improvement. By 2008, he was already making incredible strides qualifying at 335.180 mph that year. In 2009 his number was 357.863 and another smaller improvement in 2010 to 362.481.
A much larger difference was made by 2011. He qualified FIRST at an amazing 396.730 and really turned some heads. Unfortunately, the Races were canceled and he never got a chance to back up that number with a win. John Parker was crowned the Winner in 2011 based on the Sport Class Heat 2A Results on Friday. Jeff performed a precautionary landing during that race, based on an errant radio call. He assumed he had the weekend to make up ground, but things didn’t work out that way.
The changes he has made include turbochargers, a larger engine with more horsepower, different propellers and some aerodynamic changes. He says they do something each year, trying to make those modifications pay off. And they finally did.
This year, he wanted to win. He has been making changes over the years and this was his time. He won Fastest Type, Fastest Qualifier, every Heat Race and then the final championship race on Sunday.
He is missing only two records at this point: fastest qualifying time (409.297) for the class and the championship race record (402.896) – both records currently held by Jon Sharp with his NemesisNXT. Jeff has a new engine ready to be put on the Glasair for next year and he has a few other changes up his sleeve. I believe he will capture Jon Sharp’s records next year. And, I will be happy to cheer him on and wish him luck.
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See you next year!