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Written by Tim Lampe
It's a pylon thing ...
Digital-exclusive content from the RC Pylon Racing column in the January 2016 issue of
Model Aviation Digital.

Anxiety, fun, a nightmare, and a fairytale

It’s been three days since my first Q-40 Pylon race, and I still can’t stop dreaming about the fairytale I was living in during the event. The exhilaration and camaraderie of Pylon Racing is unmatched and almost unexplainable.

I try to avoid corny expressions, but this one comes to mind: “It’s a Pylon thing; you wouldn’t understand.” But that’s a little insulting—as though you couldn’t understand if you were offered an explanation. So here it goes …

It’s primarily centered around the Mike Tallman Legacy Q-40 Pylon Race that was presented by the Heartland Speed Freakz at the Lake Afton flying field, near Wichita, Kansas. It began with a lot of work and preparation, then a 10-hour drive to Kansas, some anxiety, and some fun. Then it turned into a nightmare, and then a fairytale.

But my experience is only one example of the same kinds of things that happen to Pylon racers all of the time.

I still consider myself relatively new to Pylon Racing. I remember my first race four years ago. I had befriended veteran Pylon racer and rock star Dan Kane on the internet. Dan must have told a couple of other veteran Pylon racers to help the new pilot.

When I arrived at AMA’s International Aeromodeling Center in Muncie, Indiana, for my first race, there was a man standing there waiting for me—like a welcoming committee! That was Bernie Vanderleest. Bernie and Jim Nikodem basically held my hand and showed me the ropes during my entire first season. I wanted to get my Proud Bird in and out of there without destroying it!

Fast-forward to today and I now have a couple of seasons of AMA 426 (Super Sport Quickie 500) under my belt, as well as an occasional win here and there. But I had been eyeing those slick Q-40 airplanes for a long time and wanted to run with the big dogs, so I got my first Q-40 airplane in summer 2016.

I had a rough season this past year. Despite some great racing, plenty of fun, and some good finishes, I lost four airplanes—three in midairs and one in a pylon strike. “Hey, that’s racing,” they say. Just how many times do you have to pick yourself up and dust yourself off?

So, I was a little gun-shy when I headed to Wichita for my first Q-40 race. I had the same goal as I did for my first race—I just wanted to get in some clean laps, gain some experience, and get the heck out of there with an intact airplane. But that’s not how it happened. Well, actually it was …

A morning rain delay for Friday’s practice gave me the opportunity to get some pointers from Lonnie Finch, Duane Hulen, Duane Gall, and a few other pilots. When the rain finally ended later in the afternoon, I got my Too Sweet airborne under the coaching of Duane Hulen.

Duane Hulen prepares his Too Sweet for Friday practice as the rain begins to let up.

Tim’s Too Sweet is ready for its maiden flight!

After some trim passes and large, gentle pylon laps, I cut the engine, brought the airplane around for a dead-stick landing over the middle of the runway, and my Too Sweet coasted to a stop approximately 10 feet away. What was all the fuss about?

Tim’s caller, Mike DeNeve, preps Tim’s Too Sweet. Mike was gracious and patient while he needled the engine and launched the airplane for each race.

As the day progressed, engine problems and an odd vibration prompted me to take up Lonnie Finch’s offer to borrow his spare engine. A Q-40 engine isn’t a common, mass-produced sport engine. These are precisely machined jewels that are handmade by Pylon racers in the US. It takes time, love, and care to break one in, so I understood the gravity of Lonnie’s gesture. But he treated it like it was nothing. “Fly it like you stole it,” Lonnie said.

Ken VanTuyl (L) consults Lonnie Finch for some expert advice.

The engine seemed to cure everything and I got in four good, clean races and landings. (Another concern was landing on top of or taxiing into another airplane already on the runway; once a Q-40 touches down, there is little steering, so you have to get the landing right from the start.) I felt like I fit right in, until … it happened.

During the fifth and final race on Saturday, something went “wonky” with my Too Sweet and it was over in a matter of seconds. I had to pull Lonnie’s engine out of the ground by the muffler. The one thing I hoped—needed—to avoid had just happened.

Back in the pits, my new best buddy, Danny Coe, came over and said, “Here, fly my backup plane. No strings attached.” But the only thing on my mind was how early the next morning I should start my drive home.

Flying someone else’s airplane was something I really didn’t want to do—especially there and then, but Danny and I had already sparked a relationship when we realized that we both had motorcycle racing in our backgrounds. He competed in the same circuit as other professional racers that I used to read about in magazines! I guess I’m supposed to be a tough guy because I used to race motorcycles. And I didn’t want to wimp out on Danny, so I accepted his offer.

One of the heroes of the weekend, Danny Coe (L), loaned Tim his Sweet Vee. Duane Hulen also mentored Tim throughout the weekend.

Danny prepped his Sweet Vee so that I could get in a few flights Saturday evening before it was too late, but the sun was becoming low, so we waited for it to go below the horizon. (This just keeps getting better!)

Everything went okay and I put in a nice flight, but on the second takeoff, I didn’t give enough up-elevator and Danny’s Sweet Vee skimmed along the ground, ripping out the landing gear. He was unfazed and grabbed the airplane for repairs. This was not turning out to be the confidence builder that I was looking for.

Want to learn more about RC Pylon Racing?

Check out this great video that explains the basics and introduces you to the 2016 NMPRA Q40 Championship race! (Plays at Vimeo)

Fast-forward to Sunday morning and Danny had the airplane ready to go for a few more last-second trim flights. I got in two good flights—the second even better than the first—then flew three nice races and even won one of them!

The loss of my Too Sweet seemed like a long time ago, and I was high off the thrill and success of a new day. It seemed to lift the spirits of other Pylon racers because everybody likes to see a new competitor have a little success.

Here’s where the fairytale ramps up.

The weekend’s crescendo was that a grand prize would be raffled off to all of the pilots who had entered the race. It was a “turnkey” Lyle Larson Vendetta Q-40 racer that was outfitted with JR servos and a Jett Q-40 engine. The icing on the cake was a professional building and paint job by Lonnie Finch (the same man who loaned me his engine!). After the trophies and awards were presented to the top finishers, it was time for the drawing.

And the winner is … AJ Seaholm! AJ is another top, well-known pilot. AJ had befriended me the evening before when he was trying to help diagnose my engine troubles. His success is equal to his quiet and subtle nature.

AJ thanked the organizers for the Vendetta and then gave the airplane to me! The moment was more than merely a selfless gesture. Now that I think of it, I don’t really know why he gave me that airplane. I wasn’t the only person who lost an aircraft that weekend—by far!

Sure, Pylon racers want to perpetuate Pylon Racing, but there has to be more to it than that. I think Pylon Racing is so specialized and demanding that what keeps you in it is the passion. You can’t keep that kind of passion contained. It’s impossible not to share and I think that’s why I ended up with the Vendetta.

A.J. Seaholm (L) and Tim Lampe pose with the Lyle Larson Vendetta. Its Jett engine was built by Lonnie Finch.

AJ’s gesture cast a blanket of good feelings throughout the pits. It seemed as though many of the other pilots wanted me to win that Vendetta as much as they wanted to win it—a few of them even told me so!

It’s fine if this is an advertisement for Pylon Racing, but to me, this is really a story about the people who share the passion and regularly offer tips, share speed secrets, and even loan and give away airplanes to keep other pilots going. I think about Pylon Racing all of the time, and I can’t wait to get to the next race to share my passion with my fellow racing friends.

Teammates for a weekend (L-R): Mike Deneve, Tim Lampe, and Chuck Andraka.

Mike Tallman Tribute

The Heartland Speed Freakz held its first Q-40 race in tribute to the legacy of Mike Tallman, who passed away from cancer in September 2015. I met Mike once or twice, but only briefly. I do remember one moment when Mike approached me and said, “Hello, Tim; your flying is coming along well.” I’d seen Mike at some of the races, but had never spoken with him. I was a little stunned and taken aback that a veteran racer of his stature even knew my name.

Digging a little deeper, people from the Pylon Racing community shared with me their own accounts about Mike’s wit, his warm, casual personality, and his extraordinary generosity.

Here’s an unsolicited story about Mike, told to me by Lonnie Finch:

“Unfortunately, it wasn’t a very long relationship with Mike. I met him about seven years ago when I first started racing. Similar to you, Mike walked right up to me and introduced himself. From that point on, it was like I’d known him my whole life.

“What AJ did was exactly what Mike always did. He would help a new guy in any way possible, including giving out airplanes. In fact, I’ll give you one quick story now.

“The first 426 race that I’d gone to, I ended up crashing my only plane in practice. Mike insisted that I fly his plane. I wasn’t fond of the idea, but he basically made me do it. He delivered the airplane, showed me all the ‘tricks’ (I was using his radio, so he had to show me dual rates and all of that), and said, ‘Go have fun and whatever happens to the plane, happens to the plane.’

“Well, as you can imagine, I was somewhat tentative [during] the first couple of races. One, because it was my first ‘fast’ plane, and two, it wasn’t even my plane. But by the third race, I was pretty comfortable and getting lower and closer to the poles. I ended up winning that race, mainly because I was the only one who got off the ground for every heat and it was all due to Mike making me use his plane.

“Mike called me later that night (from his daughter’s wedding reception—that’s why he wasn’t at the race) to see how it went. Basically, if he thought that giving you the shirt off his back would help you in racing, he’d give it to you.”

After reading Lonnie’s account and others like it, it’s easy to see why the Heartland Speed Freakz named its race to honor Mike Tallman’s legacy.




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Model Aviation Digital


Great article, Tim! See ya' at the Tallman memorial race next month!

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