[Headline: A Q&A with two race winners]
For this month’s column, I conducted two question-and-answer sessions with Jim Allen and Matt Fehling. Jim won the Phoenix Q-40 Classic and Matt was the AMA Nats Q-40 winner and 2014 overall champion.
Pylon pilots love talking about racing. I enjoyed these interviews and hope the responses and insights benefit your quest for a “big race” victory.
AJ Seaholm: How did you get started in Pylon Racing?
Jim Allen: Pylon used to get a lot of press in modeling magazines. I was first exposed to it through RC publications. I learned to fly and competed at fun-flys for a while. Pylon looked exciting and I tried it.
Matt Fehling: My dad, Jack Fehling, has been my biggest influence in RC. He flew Pylon before proportional radios were invented. I was lucky to have someone with 30-plus years of experience to guide me. Pylon and RC was our connection.
AJ: Where was your first Pylon race and in which class did you fly?
JA: My first race was a two-pole Sport Pylon event in Peoria, Illinois, in 1980.
MF: My first race was in Sanford, Florida, in 2004, and I flew Q-500 424. It was the first time Dad had flown in 20 years, and he won the 424 race.
AJ: When and where was your first win in Pylon Racing?
JA: My first win was April 1987 at the Arizona Model Aviators Quickie 500 race. I flew in the Calzona class, which used rear-exhaust K&B 6.5 engines, tuned pipes, and modified propellers.
MF: My first win was [in] Mulberry, Florida, in 424—my third race in 2004. I had a perfect day by winning all of my heats and [I] also set the fast time.
AJ: What equipment (model, radio, and engine) did you use for this big win?
JA: The radio was a Futaba 14SG, and the model was a CMAD Racing TooSweet with a Nelson engine.
MF: I flew an H&M Models Strega, with JR Americas radio gear, and a Nelson engine. I became a Team JR sponsored pilot a couple of weeks before the Nats. Harold Sattler pushed me to apply on the company’s website.
AJ: Which heat from the big race stands out the most?
JA: I remember racing Marcus Blanchard and he was pushing us hard. In lap nine, he came around Pylon Three and slammed into the ground because of my bad air. He pushed me the hardest that weekend. Although there were several close races, that one stands out.
MF: During qualifying and the finals, I led every heat except one. The third heat of the finals was the only time we had to play catch-up. Terry Frazer took the early lead. I passed him on the ninth lap at Pylon One. I could hear Terry’s caller, Steve Baker, telling him I was coming during the whole heat.
AJ: Which pilot do you enjoy racing against the most?
JA: Travis Flynn. He holds his line so well and we have a level of respect formed over many years. Travis understands how to avoid bad air and collisions. We just go at it every time we race and have developed an unspoken protocol that the leader gets the low line.
MF: Randy Bridge. He has been the heavy hitter in Florida since I started racing, which was the same year that he moved from to Florida from California. It has been [my] big motivation to mimic, race against, and finally beat someone of that caliber.
AJ: Which competitor is the most difficult for you to beat in head-to-head racing?
JA: Travis Flynn. He is always tough, consistent, and very good. I try to focus on the first lap and get that early lead, whether first or second push.
MF: Mike Helsel—one of the most experienced Pylon racers out there. Mike is like Iceman, the pilot in Top Gun. He has done it so long the he almost seems disinterested at times and never gets rattled. Whether I’m behind or ahead, Mike is always a bit of kryptonite for me.
AJ: What has been your all-time favorite moment in RC Pylon Racing?
JA: My favorite moment was winning the Q-500 Nats for the first time in 1996.
Another memorable moment was January 2009 at the Phoenix Winterfest Q-500 race. My best friend, Ron Saun, passed away the Friday before the race. I struggled with one engine during Friday’s practice and finally found a combination that worked with an APC 8.75 x 8.5N. I went on to win the contest and set the fast time with a 1:05.
While packing up, I noticed an ink mark on the propeller hub, something I never do. Ron had given me his racing gear during his illness. I had unknowingly won the race with one of Ron’s propellers.
MF: My favorite moment was in 2007 in Muncie, Indiana. The FAI World Championship was held there, along with the Nats. It was the first time I was able to see that level of competition. It was a different flying style, but the team and the national pride piece were inspiring. The fact that the USA won overall that year was something that I really enjoyed seeing.
AJ: When you stand around with other racers and tell RC stories, what’s one of your favorites to tell—either about something that happened to you or to someone else?
JA: I usually tell stories about my most recent funny screwup. Here is the current one:
Gary Schmidt talked Travis, me, and others into buying Discus Launch Gliders. One evening, I finished mine. The sun was going down and I hurried out to get some flights in at a local schoolyard.
After a couple of flights and adjustments, I flung it again and heard a thud. It went free flight—just missing a backstop and basketball goal. I had forgotten to put the battery cover back on the transmitter. The thud was my transmitter battery hitting the ground.
MF: The Tangerine, sometime in the early 2000s. Back then we were still using 72 MHz transmitters. “Rocket” Ray Brown lost radio connection with his Q-500 and it looped out of sight. Three minutes later, someone pointed it out, gliding back into view. Ray ran over, grabbed his transmitter, turned it on, pulled out the antenna, got control back, and landed the racer without a scratch—unbelievable.
AJ: What would you like to tell pilots who aspire to be big race winners?
JA: When you get started, you will get tips and suggestions from everyone. Do not try to put different people’s systems together. Start with one person’s package and get good with it, then tweak it from there. The package includes starting line gear, radio, model, engine, and most importantly, setup.
MF: Ask for help. Although racing is competitive, there are many people willing to share what they know.
I was naïve and hardheaded and wanted to do my own thing. Now I use the fundamentals that most have adopted. Get the basics and then put your own spin on it. I flew tail-heavy with a lot of control rates for a long time.
I appreciate the great responses to my questions. Congratulations on your “big race” wins and thank you, Jim and Matt.
In my next column, I will share a Q&A with 2014 National Miniature Pylon Racing Association (NMPRA) Championship winner Chuck Andraka.[dingbat]