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'Contact' sport: Reno Air Races crank up

By Kelly Marshall Smoot, CNN
Fans check out the T6 Texans at the National Championship Air Races and Air Show on Saturday.
Fans check out the T6 Texans at the National Championship Air Races and Air Show on Saturday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The National Championship Air Races and Air Show started in September 1964
  • Average attendance for the races is more than 205,000, according to the race organizers
  • The race classifications are Biplanes, Formula 1, Sport, T-6, Jet, and Unlimited
  • Also included are aerobatic exhibitions and demonstrations by military aircraft

Reno, Nevada (CNN) -- The National Championship Air Races and Air Show began their 47th year of competition and performance this week in Reno, Nevada.

"To us, it's like an adult Christmas and we love every minute of the air races," said Catherine Stowell from Phoenix, Arizona.

This is Stowell's 25th year attending the races, and since 1984 she and about 12 family members have gotten a private box that sits just off the flight line -- Box A-23.

"Its not every place you get to see these great warbirds fly," said Stowell. Wearing matching blue T-shirts, Box A-23 allows the group to have a family reunion of sorts every September and they say they will keep coming, "as long as they keep having it."

The Reno Air Races, as the event is more commonly known, started in September 1964. The events and rules have changed a bit over the years, but racing fans and aviation fans such as the Stowells keep coming back.

The average attendance for the races is more than 205,000, according to the race organizers.

Marie Nave and her husband, Larry, drove up from Springville, California, for the races. "It's been 20 years since we last came, and we're wondering why we waited so long," she said.

Winston Elliott, 79 traveled from Salisbury, Maryland, to see the races for the first time.

"I remember the planes from World War II," Elliott said. As much as he was looking forward to seeing the antique planes and listening to their engines as they race by, he said he was even more eager to see the Jet Class racers in action.

The event features six different classes of racing planes, some aerobatic performances, demonstrations by military aircraft, and a special performance by the Canadian Forces Snowbirds demonstration team.

The race classifications are Biplanes, Formula 1, Sport, T-6, Jet, and Unlimited. The distance and number of pylons the planes have to circle varies by class.

The planes fly low around the pylons, which are just about 50 feet tall.

The Biplane course is the shortest, just over 3 miles. Unlimited planes take six laps around the pylons on a nearly eight-and-a-half-mile course, and it is the Unlimited race that most fans come to see.

Unlimited racers include stock or modified World War II fighter planes that have the potential to fly almost 500 mph. Last year's winner, a modified P-51 plane dubbed Strega won the race with a speed of 491.82 mph.

The only spectator who didn't seem interested in the airplanes or the noise of the engines was three-year-old Dean Fieber, who came to the races for the first time with his dad, Brett.

As he stood in line for some candy, the Sacramento toddler said his favorite thing about the races was the helicopter.