The Connie Racer -
What Might Have Been

 


 

The Connie Racer had its genesis at the California 1000 Mile Air Race at Mojave on 15th November 1970. Never before had an unlimited race been held over such a long distance on a closed course. The race course was laid out in the Mojave Desert around ten pylons with a lap distance of approximately 15 miles. With a planned race duration of 66 laps, the crews of the unlimited warbird racers were faced with a major rethink! Most crews accepted that pit stops would be necessary, while others experimented with "wet" wings and drop tanks. The most novel entry came from Clay Lacy, the President of the Professional Race Pilots Association, who entered a DC-7B freighter! Lacy was no stranger to unlimited air racing but his usual mount was a purple Mustang. (More recently, Clay Lacy has become well known as the supplier of camera equipped Learjets which roam the world filming the latest aircraft for the publicity departments of the world's airlines.) Lacy's "only in America" solution was not entirely flippant, for it was reasoned that the DC-7 would possess ample endurance to complete the race non-stop while also generating publicity for the event and for the sport in general. For such a large aircraft to compete, it was necessary to waive the usual 21,000 pound gross weight limitation on unlimited racers. The aircraft chosen was an ex American Airlines DC-7BF N759Z (msn 45233) which belonged to Allen Paulson of California Airmotive. For the race, the DC-7 was painted with Lacy's usual race number 64 plus the name "Super Snoopy" on the nose. A large rendition of the famous beagle in a Superman suit adorned the rudder while sponsors' logos complemented the race markings. The aircraft was co-captained by Clay Lacy and Allen Paulson and the flight engineer was Joe Matos. One writer observed during the race that the DC-7 flew lower than some of the single-engined aircraft and that it flew faster and made better pylon turns than a competing Douglas A-26 Invader. The DC-7 finished in a commendable sixth place in a field of twenty and still had 1,500 gallons of fuel remaining. (For the record, the race was won by a Sea Fury in 2 hours 52 minutes and 38 seconds at an average speed of 344.08 mph). Clay Lacy was quoted at the time:

"We used METO power (Maximum Except Take-Off) and flew at an indicated airspeed of 355 mph. Speed averaged about 325 mph because of time lost on the pylons. The G load was limited to 2.2 and we used an average 60-70 degree bank. The aircraft consumed 4,100 gallons of 145 octane fuel and 80 gallons of 70 SAE Pennzoil!"

Clearly, Lacy figured that with racing propliners he was on to a good thing, for when a second 1000 mile race was scheduled for Brown Field near San Diego, California on 18th July 1971, Lacy had arranged some competition for his DC-7. Enter the Connie Racer!

Lockheed L-1049G Super Constellation N9723C, which once served Qantas as VH-EAP "Southern Zephyr", was prepared for the San Diego race by its owner Allen Paulson, President of California Airmotive Inc. In addition to the race number 64c, the Connie carried the name "Red Baron" on the nose and a large black iron cross on the rear fuselage. The logos of sponsors, Pennzoil and Omni (an aircraft broker) complemented the race markings. The Connie was crewed by Allen Paulson and famed Lockheed test pilot Herman "Fish" Salmon. The flight engineer was Chuck Mercer (an experienced Lockheed engineer). The "Red Baron" qualified for the race, rounding the pylons at 200 feet. There are varying reports of what transpired when race day arrived. One report suggests that several pilots who had been beaten by the DC-7 at Mojave the previous year objected to the presence of the DC-7 and the Connie, ostensibly on the grounds of wake turbulence, and that both aircraft were scratched. Other reports suggest that Lacy and Salmon elected not to race, although Lacy did demonstrate the DC-7 in a race with a dragster!

Chuck Mercer, the Flight Engineer on the 'Red Baron', recalled in August 2005:

"ALL the pilots of the 'small' aircraft held a meeting the night prior to the race, and advised Darryl Greenamyer, who was in charge of the race arrangements, that if the two big airplanes participated... then they wouldn't! As a result - Fish Salmon and I, together with the Snoopy folks, watched the race from the 'pits'. We subsequently enjoyed the big dinner at the Hotel Coronado and the good-natured kidding that took place".

Sadly, the ultimate propliner spectacle was never to be, and we are left wondering what might have been.





References

"Racing Planes and Air Races" 1971 & 1972
by Reed Kinert (Aero Publishers)
"Directory of Unlimited Class Pylon Air Racers"
by Jim Larsen (American Air Museum)
"Air Progress" December 1971
"The Lockheed Constellation Series"
by Peter Marson (Air-Britain)


Issue Date Remarks
2 15AUG05
Added Chuck Mercer's recollections of the reason why the Connie and the DC-7 did not race.
1 13JAN00
Original Issue





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