By Skip Holm



Thank you ROLLS ROYCE for  this get together. I also wish to thank Terry for giving me the ride to get to this get together.  I also wish to acknowledge the Dago crew, Dede my wife, my son Sky, and daughter Ashley Brook, better known as Afterburner.

Tonight I will give you a short shapshot of my air racing career and the impact that ROLLS ROYCE engines have had on me and on the fastest motor sport in the world, unlimited air racing.

My history of air racing started in 1981.  To date, and not counting this 2004 air race, I have flown 79 total races to date, placing in the following positions:  1st place 21 times, 2nd place 22 times, 3rd place 13 times, 4th place 10 times, 5th place 8 times, 6th or over place 12 times.  I have flown 12 Gold Sunday Unlimited races, all having ROLLS ROYCE engines, with the following placing:  1st place 6 times, 2nd place 2 times,  3rd place 1 time, 4th place 0 times, 5th place 0 times, did not finish 3 times.  Of the 3 times I did not finish, I did, however, pull out with a blown engine in the first place position.

I know some of you ROLLS ROYCE guys will find this hard to fathom, but I’ve also flown racing aircraft that have engines that suck air in the front and blow it out the back.  And I’ve flown racing aircraft that have big round engines that wheeze, boom and bang!  And sound like Harley motorcycles.  What were they thinking!  Go Figure!  I think it has something to do with that yippy statement of “what goes around, comes around”

I grew up on a farm, in North Dakota.  The song goes:  “With the flowers and the wheat and the folks that can’t be beat.  I say Hello-ta to North Dakota, and I just can’t say goodby”.  My point here was that I did not grow up near aviation.  I did not even see, hear, feel or fly an airplane until I was 18.

In fact, our new age psychologists adamantly declare that we grow up and select careers as the result of our environment or at least as part of our heredity.  However, both of these had no aviation impact on me. I was never associated with any aviation personalities or environmental factors, so I asked myself, if these psychologists are correct, what events in my childhood were responsible for my selection of aviation as a career? 

In looking back, I think that two factors could be interpreted as influencing my drive toward aviation.  The 1st factor was a beanie cap I wore that had a propeller on it. I have been told that I wore this beanie, day and night, to school and play, and no one could take it away from me.  This beanie propeller had a free-wheeling, un-powered prop, so the cap probably did not have a ROLLS ROYCE sticker in it.  The 2nd factor influencing my aviation career was probably all the Lena and Oley jokes that were ever present in this Norwegian community.  For instance, here is an Oley & Lena joke showing how these jokes were responsible for my drive toward aviation.

Oley and Lena had been going together for years.  On one Saturday evening in balmy North Dakota, Oley picks up Lena as he had been doing on each Saturday night as long as he could remember.  As they were driving down the road, Lena looks at Oley and says “Oley, stop the car!”  Oley pulls to the side of the road, and stops the car.  Lena then leans over, puts her hand gently on his inner thigh, and looking deeply into his eyes, says, “Oley, it’s time we go all the way”.  With this new revelation, Oley immediately starts the car, does a 180 degree turn, and goes to Minnesota. 

Like some of you, I too, went to Minnesota. To go all the way.  And was disappointed.  It wasn’t until 1981, on Sunday afternoon, on the 8th lap of the Reno Unlimited Race, on the stretch from pylon #6 to the home pylon, sitting behind a ROLLS ROYCE Merlin pumping out 128 inches of manifold pressure, that I finally realized that this “was going all the way”; just like Lena had said.

My first day on the ramp in 1981 looked much like Reno this year.  I was flying Wiley Sanders’ race plane, named Jeannie 69, a highly modified P-51 Mustang.  Dave Zeuschel, who built Jeannie’s race engine that year, had told me that Phil Barber, a local Reno reporter for the Reno Gazette, was coming over for an interview that morning.  Zeuschel told me to take some time and formulate what I would say for the interview.  I was not the lest bit concerned, for I was the brightest and the best in my jet.  My Air Force trained, steel trap mind already knew what Mr. Barber would ask. He would ask the standard garden variety of questions, such as where had I grown up, what was my Air Force experience, what jets had I flown,  and of course, the one hard question:  What is the minimum range of an AIM-9 Sidewinder boresight shot against a close-in, high-G, maneuvering threat, such as a Mig-29 jet fighter.

I knew all the answers as I saw Phil walking up the ramp.  However, when he got there, he did not say anything, but asked, “So, how fast are you going to qualify today?”  This question took me for a loop, as my less than two hours of total flying time in Jeannie had not prepared me for this tough one.  I was a born in the wool jet fighter pilot, all my time had been in jets with guns and afterburners, except for fifteen hours in a Cessna trainer plane twenty years ago.  I had not ever flown a WWII War Bird or high power prop plane like the Mustang before three days ago.  I was lost for an answer, and I did not want to be the dodo on the ramp.  I looked over at Jeannie, noticing the 432 miles per hour win painted on the side of the aircraft, from the year before, 1980.  Being at a loss for an answer, and hoping the answer was on the side of Jeannie, I looked at the 432 miles per hour number, and realized that the more I looked at the 432 miles per hour number, the more I questioned this number as correct.  I just did not believe that 432 miles per hour was fast enough for this winning racer, recalling that the flaps up speed on the Republic F-105 Thunderchief was 560 knots, or 644 miles per hour.  How could the 432 miles per hour number be true for an aircraft that was clean, with no pylons, not even loaded to go to war?

So I said,  “I’m going to qualify at 450.”  Phil looked at me quizzically, asking me if I was saying I was going to qualify at 450 miles per hour?  I replied yes, I would qualify at 450 miles per hour.  He immediately started laughing, stating that no one had ever gone 450 miles per hour, the timesheets did not even go to 450 miles per hour!!!  Why did I think I would go 450 miles per hour?  My steel trap Air Force trained mind immediately thought of my Hilton room number, and I reached into my pants pocket, drug out my Hilton key, showing him my room number was 450.  He did not even say goodby, just started writing in his book as he walked over to Zeuschel.   I knew we had made the press!

After Phil left, I walked over to Zeuschel, asking how we could make this puppy go 450 miles per hour. Zeuschel did not want to talk about 450 miles per hour, but kept repeating that we only wanted a good qualifying run.  I then asked if I could ask the Lockheed Skunk Works guys how to make Jeannie go 450 miles per hour.  Zeuschel reluctantly said yes, go ahead, but again, we are very busy just getting the engine set up for racing, and all we really want to do is qualify.  I called the Skunk Works engineers of Dick Cantrell, Bob Louske, Pete Law, and Bruce Bowland, quickly getting them data on the engine horsepower, prop gearing, race track dimensions, and expected weather. Expected them to come up with a power solution to go 450 miles per hour.  The next morning, after reading them the article on the new guy who was going to go 450 miles per hour at Reno, the Skunk Works engineers gave me the solution on power, Gs, and wing loading.  They said to set 106 inches of manifold pressure, 3500 engine rpms and hold on.  I told this to Zeuschel and he doubted we would go that fast as Mac had pulled 10 feet of manifold pressure last year and it only resulted in the low 440 miles per hour number.  Zeuschel said that the Skunk Works power was not going to work, but to go ahead anyway, reminding me that we only wanted to qualify.  I saddled up Jeannie, got on the course, set the power, hung on, and went 450.085 miles per hour on the qualifying lap.  As I pulled off the course, I felt somewhat guilty that I had allowed Zeuschel to question the prediction of the Skunk Work engineers.   But, as day follows night, I also thought, engineers are always a little off.

Fast forward to 2000.  I had heard that the Dago Red team was looking for a new driver. I had heard they had asked Brian Sanders, and his only response was to ask his Mom.  I thought, WOW!  If my Mom knew I had been asked to fly a race plane, and had not answered immediately, aggressively saying YES, she would have gone to any expense to send me a nasty note to Get Real!

The problem was that I wanted to answer yes immediately.  I also did not want to spoil the initial offer by sounding anything but excited and humble … the definitive word being humble.  I had gotten a reputation in flying race planes of “breaking em and leaving em”, and this tended to make some owners particularly antsy.  I also never worked on the planes, but would just leave to come back some other day to fly the next shinny version.

I quickly ran this problem through that same Air Force trained steel trap mind, realizing that I did not have the time to structure a decision matrix, a logic tree or any other mechanism to help me approach this decision in the proper manner.  My only hope at this moment was to quickly empathize with an existing situation that had happened in history, trying to blend my problem with a similar one that had been solved in a manner consistent with my desires. 

Some of you have already guessed who I picked, who had a similar situation, who had to

make a similar decision, whose logic tree I could immediately emulate.  If you picked Noah, you are right; it was Noah.  When God asked Noah to build the ark, Noah had a similar decision, but of course, of greater magnitude and consequence in answering God then I had in answering the Dago Red race team. 

None of us have personally known Noah, so some of his decision matrix and tree logic is pure conjecture, but I’m guessing that his first logic statement was “Don’t Miss the Boat”, and his second logic statement would be “There is Only One Boat”.  Well, those steps in this matrix fit me like a glove.  I could identify with “don’t miss the boat and there is only one boat”.  In Noah’s time, there were probably other boats, as there are other race planes.  I am sure that Noah’s neighbors started building their boat as soon as it became apparent that his boat was going to be the biggest one on the block.  This same thing happened to the Zeuschel race team when we were flying Jeannie, for as we improved her, Strega soon came along as a Jeannie clone and then Dago came along as a Jeannie clone.  As for today, and as far as I was concerned, Dago Red was now the only “boat” left of the clones that had sprung from Jeannie.  And Dago Red was a winning machine!

Statement #3 would be “Plan Ahead”.  My history with race planes had been that I would set my answering machine at the end of August to answer “Yes, I’ll be glad to do that” as the answer to all calls, for inevitably someone would call, tell me his pilot could not make the initial flights of his new untested race plane or the entire race week for one of three reasons.  The first reason was that his pilot had joined a candlelight procession honoring some celebrity, had burned his eyes, and so was blind.  The second excuse would generally be that his pilot just noticed that he was getting web feet, had also seen an article in the grocery store Enquirer that proved that some if not all humans were actually humanoids, direct descendents from aliens, and he was waiting for the beam me up call, and consequently could not make the races in September.  The third excuse was always the simple one, where the pilot had accidentally stepped into crazy glue and would not be unstuck until sometime in October.  All in all, I was getting tired of getting the ‘quick to flight test, quick to race, and quicker to explode on fire” planes, and thought it would be nice to have a known race plane months before the actual race.

Statement #4 would be “Don’t Make the Big Guy Angry”.  This was self explanatory for Noah, as he should have been somewhat familiar with who God was, for as I understand the story, Noah did talk with God off and on over the length of his life.  As for me, I did not know Terry, but I had had a lot of experience with race plane owners and always gave them plenty of latitude to act and be anything and anybody they pleased.  I always thought that eccentric acts, like air racing, forgave equally eccentric personalities in owners.  Secondly, most of us have no clue what we are going to do tomorrow.  We say we have a plan, but we wander much as Noah had been doing before God called him to start sawing wood.  And I was in that same mode, having seen much frantic behavior on the ramp here at Reno in the past, so my plan now was to cool it, mellow out, stay calm, go with the flow.  For those of you who do not know, my wife Dede is the niece of Terry.  Now do you think that Dede would be my wife if I had made Terry angry.  Duh!  I don’t think so!  It was hard enough to convince her to marry me, even with Terry’s “go-ahead, what’s the worst thing that could happen” and his two jugs of Canadian Yukon.

Statement #5 would be “Travel in Pairs”.  Actually, this Noah rule tied right in with the Dago Red crew, and worked for us.  We have Dede and myself, Terry and Carol, Clay and Dan, Kerch’s requirement for doubling all work responsibilities, our undeniable dual-dual-dual extreme team personalities, and of course, both of Fogowaga’s dogs, Black and Blue – well, you get the idea.  Plus Terry has two of everything and will share everything, with anybody on the ramp.  The only thing he won’t share is the Gold place trophy.

Statement #6 would be “Speed isn’t Always the Answer”.  This is a tough one, and I think this was just a trick question for Noah and myself, and I think God was just testing us. There may have been a speed requirement for Noah, but the intent for such a requirement could only be speculative, for the earth is round and he had no place to go except to stay somewhere on the round part.  Obviously, speed is the answer for the Dago Team, as that is the measure of how well we do.  This simple statement about speed may have been just a way for God to test us with that statement, his 10 commandments, or the FAA rules.  The 10 commandments are simple and even a dummy can understand all of them.  As for the FAA rules, there are too many, and if you can’t handle all the rules, at least handle one.  That one rule, which I like, is the one that says you may break all the rules to handle an emergency.  As for the speed statement, speed is the answer!

Statement #7 would be “Precision isn’t Always the Answer”.  The ark was built by amateurs and the Titanic was built by experts.  I know the Titanic was built by you Brits, but am satisfied after all these years of flying ROLLS ROYCE engines that there is no direct connection from the Titanic boat boys to the engine shop.  Please tell me again that this is so?!  Obviously, this Noah precision statement relates to our team.  Our team is the epitome, personification, and embodiment of the word precision.  They are the ones who keep the Dago Red team on an even keel, and keep us looking for the problems that they themselves at time to time have initiated to keep us on our feet. 

And of course, Statement #8 would be “Never Fear the Storm, if You have Faith in the Outcome”.  Thanks to Terry and the fabulous Dago crew, we have done the storm now for 5 years in a row, and we have faith in the outcome tomorrow. 



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