10 Tips and Tricks for Attending Pylon Racing Seminar
Whether you are a seasoned National Championship Air Race competitor or first-time rookie, the Pylon Racing Seminar (PRS) is a great opportunity to prepare, practice, and become certified in the STIHL National Championship Air Races. Last year’s Sport Class Bronze winner, Elliot Seguin, shares his secrets to help you survive and thrive this June at Reno-Stead.
1. Stay healthy.
Keep hydrated, nourished, and well-rested during PRS. Bring your reusable water bottle! Limit caffeine intake and avoid the temptation to indulge at the hotel bar during informal evening debriefs.
2. Arrive with a foundation.
Don’t expect PRS to take you from zero to hero. Make sure you’ve read and understood both the general RARA and class-specific standard operating procedures before you arrive. Reach out to your class leaders if the documentation is unclear, and perhaps, find a nearby racer to fly with before the event. Youtube is a great source for cockpit footage from the different racecourses. Practice counting pylons using the videos and then use Google Earth to confirm valuable landmarks. Print out presentations ahead of time and bring a pen, so you’re ready to take notes.
3. Be proficient in your race plane.
PRS is about learning to race, not basic aircraft pilotage or formation; you should have those other skills sharp before you arrive. Managing your aircraft’s quirks and temperamental race engine should be second nature, so you have the bandwidth to learn. Fly enough to be as proficient as possible in your race plane before you get to PRS…and then go fly some more.
4. Know your engine and emergency procedures.
Practice engine failures before PRS. Arrive having already run your engine in race mode with simulated flame out experience. PRS is not the place to attempt an SFO for the first time in years. If your aircraft has a wide range of engine failure glide slopes, you should be comfortable with them all and able to consistently re-assess your current energy quickly and accurately.
5. Study formation flight.
Familiarize yourself with formation procedures. During the course of a week, you will move from conventional cooperative formation to air racing specific non-conventional formation. This jump is challenging for everyone, but a solid foundation of conventional formation skills will allow you to focus on new material being presented.
6. Make sure your plane is as ready as you are.
PRS is no place for maintenance. Get your preventative work done ahead of time. “The seminar schedule is challenging, but can be managed if your plane is healthy; the time crunch can get daunting when you need to change a tire partway through the week," says Seguin.
7. Bring a friend.
PRS doesn’t offer much down time. Small tasks can clobber your schedule and add unnecessary stress to the week. “Having a friend to lean on can help a lot,” Seguin notes, “Especially if they know their way around your airplane and your toolbox.”
8. Organize your tools ahead of time.
Chances are, your race plane doesn't fly as often as it will at PRS. When was the last time your gloves were still wet with sweat from your last flight as you climbed into the cockpit? Hot starts, hot brakes, and the long tow from the hangar to the ramp will take their toll. Have a tool bag at the ready for any maintenance surprises, but don’t get too carried away. As Seguin points out, “heavy tools can likely be borrowed on site.”
9. Try out your race gear.
If you have a new helmet and boots, "have you flown in them three times in the same day?” Seguin asks. “Helmet clearance may seem adequate during an easy lap around the home pattern, but Reno-Stead has some nasty afternoon turbulence. When you are number six in the flight, it might be hard to talk lead into staying away from the rotors. After a week of the canopy hitting your helmet back, you may be sick of it.” Rigorously fly in all of the gear you’re planning to use at PRS, including flight suits, gloves, and Method Seven pilot sunglasses.
10. Check your ego at the door.
Accept criticism from your instructors. They are here to help you become a safer and faster pilot. Don’t be intimidated by more experienced racers. “At the end of the day, we’re all going around the same course together,” says Seguin. Connect with your classmates and ask questions, as they will appreciate your willingness to learn.
We look forward to seeing you at PRS in June! Fly low, fly fast, and start PRS prep now!