UNIONTOWN - For as long as Michael Mundell can remember, airplanes have fascinated him.
Long before graduating from Warren G. Harding High School in 1983, Mundell had his heart set on joining the U.S. Air Force. After serving his six-year enlistment, his passion for flying machines grew even stronger.
"It goes back to when I was too young to remember," Mundell said. "I'm just very passionate about planes."
Warren Harding graduate Michael Mundell stands near “Second Wind” — the Cassutt 3M he will be racing this month in Reno, Nev.
Special to the Tribune Chronicle / Courtesy of Michael Mundell
Now, the 49-year-old is preparing to take his lifelong infatuation to the next level.
Mundell will travel to Reno, Nev., to compete in the National Championship Air Races on Sept. 11 to 15.
"I'm very excited," Mundell said. "This is the first time I've ever done racing with airplanes. I did autocross as a kid, but this is obviously much different. I'm a rookie, for sure."
The event that Bill Stead started in the Nevada desert more than 47 years ago is still going strong.
For the past 47 years, the races have been held in the Nevada desert during the month of September. According to the event's website, the air races represent the last pylon racing event in the world.
Seven classes of aircraft will participate in the event, flying around a unique course from anywhere between 50 to 500 feet above the ground at speeds exceeding 500 mph.
Mundell will be racing in the Formula One classification, which specifies the plane be powered by a Continental O-200 engine. The fastest Formula One aircraft reach almost 250 mph on the 3.12-mile race course in Reno. There are 15 pilots participating in the Formula One race.
"This is truly a world class event," Mundell said. "There are guys who come from Spain, Canada and all over the place who take part."
According to Mundell, the last several months have been spent practicing in his Cassutt 3M airplane, which he calls "Second Wind."
"I bought it from a buddy of mine last June," Mundell said. "It flies great and it fits me like a glove."
While he is a rookie on the pylon racing scene, Mundell is no stranger to the cockpit of an aircraft. After his six years in the Air Force, the Warren native spent decades teaching the art of flying at schools across the country.
"I taught single engine, instrument and commercial instrument at Christian Aviation in Tulsa (Okla.) and I did more teaching in Rockford, Illinois. I've lived all over the place."
At the urging of his wife, Michelle, Mundell decided to tackle his lifelong dream this year.
To be sure, Mundell would like to participate in the pylon racing every year. However, the cost associated with the event can be overwhelming.
"I might need more sponsors next year," Mundell said. "I've funded the majority of it myself. I do have one sponsor who is helping pay and that's Horsepower Racing. But, there are a lot of costs involved.
"You obviously need an airplane and a license, which you have to maintain. The entry fee is only $500 though, so that part of it is pretty cheap."
As for expectations, Mundell knows stepping in against other seasoned pilots for the first time can be a daunting task.
"My goal is to go out there and just compete," Mundell said. "The guys who take part are true professionals. I want to learn as much as I can from them and just be a part of that racing community. I also don't want to embarrass myself.
"The goal really is to just be a part of the group. I always wanted to be a part of the rich history of this kind of racing that goes all the way back to the 1920s."