SAN ANGELO, TX — Jeff Zaltman, the CEO of AirRace1, wants to build a series of high performance airplane races across the U.S. and he’s hammering the first stake of his dream into the ground here in San Angelo. If successful, San Angelo will become the hub for the new air race series, or league.
Modern air racing comes in a few flavors. One of those flavors, Formula 1 air racing, has strict specifications. The planes, which are kit planes, or experimental custom homebuilts, have a specified engine — a 100 hp Continental 0-200 carbureted engine. Engineers and technicians must figure out how to make their plane more performant and aerodynamic. The skills and weight of the race pilot also play probably the most pivotal roles.
Zaltman said the San Angelo air race scheduled for October 30 and 31 at the San Angelo Regional Airport — Mathis Field will be the first race of a future U.S. series. At a press conference held in the hangar of local FBO Skyline Aviation, Zaltman said this is also the first formula 1 air race ever held in Texas. The sport has a 75 year history in the U.S. and the format is the only class of racing where the aircraft are specifically built for racing. Interspersed with interruptions of jet noise from T-1A Jayhawk aircraft performing touch and go landings on the main runway, Zaltman described the sport.
“Eight aircraft line up on the runway and takeoff,” Zaltman said. The race track is close to the race runway, planned to be Mathis’ north-south primary runway 18/36. The race planes fly around an oval track designated by pylons on the ground. The speeds top 280 mph and the planes are flown at around 50 feet above the ground. Zaltman said the race will be held in four heats per day. He anticipates eight to 12 race teams will participate. The race format is a spectator sport as viewers on the ground will be able to see the planes all the way around the race course.
The $100,000 race operation has already been seeded with a guaranteed grant of $40,000 from the San Angelo Visitors and Conventions Bureau. The rest of the revenue will be raised by CVB at the Chamber of Commerce in partnership with San Angelo Lions Club Charities. The two entities will seek local sponsors and grants. Airrace1 will seek national sponsors. The event will also make revenue from sales at the gate and for parking for spectators. Keith Perrine, principal of the San Angelo Lions Charities, has the contract to host the concessions and ground show. Suzanna Valenzuela at the Chamber of Commerce is heading up the local fundraising efforts. She said she is confident she will be able to raise the $60,000.
San Angelo Mayor Brenda Gunter said the event will showcase San Angelo’s airport as part of a broader economic development push to attract aviation-related businesses to relocate to San Angelo. More immediately, the event will fill the hotels and boost the local hospitality businesses.
“We know being the first year of an event like this we don’t know what the economic impact is, but we do know if we get 10,000-15,000 people here there will be an economic impact. Will people come and stay in our hotels? We hope so. Will people come and spend money in the city when they’re not out here? We hope so. And when we say “hope,” obviously, that always happens.”
The mayor also stressed the visibility the event can bring to San Angelo.
“It puts us on the map. With this being the only race like this in the United States, it says something about putting a stake in the ground,” Gunter said.
The planning for the air races started about 12 months ago. Diann Bayes, Executive Director of the CVB, orchestrated bringing the stakeholders together and gathered the initial seed money through her board of directors.