Soaring above the pack
Nick Macy has taken a childhood passion and turned it into an national championship winning pastime
H&N Regional Editor
When Nick Macy talks about racing so fast that he’s flying, he’s not kidding.
Macy’s racing vehicle is an AT-6, a single-engine World War II era airplane nicknamed the “pilot maker” because of the plane’s role in preparing military pilots for combat.
His 1949 plane, which he named Six-Cat, has been in the Macy family since 1966. That’s the year his father, Paul, bought Macy’s Flying Service, the Newell-based crop duster airplane service.
“I started flying with my dad when I was real little,” says the 50-year-old Macy. “I couldn’t reach the pedals.”
For the past 20 years, Macy has put the pedal to the metal. He and Six-Cat, which was retooled for speed, are regulars at the annual Reno Air Races each September. This past year Macy won his fourth national championship in the AT-6 division.
“I get all the glory but the crew does all the work,” he says of winning, crediting crew chief Gary Hemphill, cousin Tom Macy and other Tulelake Basin family members and friends who donate time and skills. “They’re helping me achieve. It’s their victory, too. It’s a team effort.”
Macy — who previously won top honors in 1999, 2000 and 2003 — now has the second most wins in the AT-6 division. In this year’s race, which as always had six other finalists, Macy literally flew away from the field, covering the five-mile circular course in about a minute and 17 seconds. He had an average air speed of nearly 236 mph, 6 mph faster than the second-place finisher.
“It’s kind of my hobby and I enjoy it,” he says. “I’m very much blessed to be doing something like this.”
Macy’s desire to fly started as a small boy, and so did his dream of winning at Reno, which he terms the “grand-daddy” of airplane races.
“I went to my first race at age 10 and I fell in love with it. I dreamed of doing it and winning, and I am,” he says.
His wife, Beth, admits the races are difficult for her to watch because planes fly in tight formations at high speeds. The element of danger is omnipresent. She may have reason for future concerns. Their daughter, Marilyn, 13, and sons, Nolan, 16, and Gus, 8, have shown an interest in flying.
“There might be somebody else to carry it on,” Macy says.
The Reno air races are a family affair, involving relatives, Tulelake Basin friends and others Macy met while earning a degree in agricultural science-pest management at the University of Nevada at Reno.
Macy earned his pilot’s license at age 18. After college, he spent 20 years flying a crop duster. In more recent years he’s been managing the company, “so I really savor the chance to fly at Reno.”
During an average year, the company’s three crop duster pilots may put in 600 to 700 hours applying herbicides and fungicides on fields growing potatoes, onions, alfalfa, small grains, rice and peppermint.
The flying area focuses on the Klamath Basin, but reaches north into Southern Oregon, east to Nevada and south to Susanville, Calif.
“Good pilots seem to make it look easy,” Macy says. “It’s not a very easy job. We have a lot of environmental pressures, a lot of restrictions. We’re out there to help the farmer raise a better crop. It’s nice to go out there and get the job done.”
Macy also makes racing — his event takes less than 80 seconds — look easy, but most people aren’t aware of the months spent fine-tuning the plane and seeking ways to gain speed.
“It’s like a stock car race,” he explains. “We can’t modify the wing span, we can’t change anything structurally on the plane. The engine has to be stock.”
Over the years, Macy and his crew have reduced Six-Pack’s weight — the 35-foot long plane has a 42-foot wing span and weighs about 3,800 pounds — and increased its speed 20 to 25 mph. He says the current cost for a “good, fast and clean” AT-6 is about $180,000.
“Before the race we’re doing a lot of test flying ... different variations to see if we can get more speed,” Macy says, noting there are other challenges. “I have to be mentally prepared as much as anything else.”
He loves flying, and has no plans to retire.
The struggle to stay No. 1
“Every year is a struggle to stay in the No. 1 spot. There’s a lot of good airplanes, a lot of good pilots,” Macy says. “As I get older I enjoy it more. As long as I enjoy (competing) I would like to continue. I think it comes to capabilities, and enjoying it for what it is.”