The Team Ryan Northwest Flying Clown Race plane that turned 345 laps at the 2010 Northwest Regionals. All photos by Todd Ryan.

345 laps: A Clown Race record

By Todd Ryan

At the 2010 Northwest Regionals, a massive milestone was finally crossed for our team. Our best performance in 20+ years of racing for this event was accomplished on Saturday as we performed a whopping 345 laps to break the Northwest Clown record for the 15-minute final.


Since the creation of clown racing in 1990 by our club, the Columbia Basin Balsa Bashers, it has become a favorite not only amongst ourselves but for many across the country as well. It has been flown at the Nationals many times as well as many other areas of the US.

Dad (Mac Ryan) and I have spent more time working on this event probably than all of the other ones combined. Its unique performance requirements of not only speed but mileage allow for an infinite variety of configurations for its competitors. Over the past 20 years, we've seen teams use anything from 1/2a's up to and including .19 diesels.

Similar to Gibeault's love for Mouse racing, this is our preferred event. As a team, our best performances have come using Moki 15's and have given a team best performance at 326 laps for the feature race.

Not to be outdone, three years ago Les Akre and myself set an incredible best lap count at 340 laps using his modified Moki engine and one of my models at the NW Regionals. This was during the time my dad was recovering from his heart troubles. Since this was an unheard of performance no one thought it would be beat or even duplicated, some even questioned its legality.

For proof and affirmation, together Les and I traveled to the Cabin Fever contest in Tucson, AZ the following spring and against the reigning National Champions, we won the event at 332 laps. Flying under their judges and head-to-head conditions, we prevailed. At that point, the performance spoke for itself.

However, during that contest, I was also trying out a new system for my individual entry. I had heard of people using car engines for this event and were having some success so I purchased one from Tower Hobbies and had it broken-in for Tucson. After a small amount of practice and tweaking, it's first heat race performance of 169 laps matched the best time I had ever turned in a race previous to that. This was accomplished with very little tuning and even without my dad pitting so I knew the possibility for a tremendous output was there.

After returning home, dad and I set out to see what could be done and setup a couple systems to tune. In practice, we found out what these were capable of but without any upcoming contests for a year, we couldn't try it. So we waited until 2010 Regionals weekend.

Two views of the business end of the Ryan Clown racer.

The Model

The model we used started life back in 2003 as one of my dad's kits. While I was in college, I assembled it on my kitchen table and let's just say, it has had an interesting time ever since. Over its life, it has been lent on several occasions to Les Akre and subsequently had the fuselage broken in half due to a blistering catch or falling off of a table. After I repaired that and making sure to never let Les forget it, I broke the elevator around the control horn while loading into our truck to travel to a Portland race. After that was fixed, it was used to midair Joe Just's entry flown by Mark Conner at the Fall Follies contest in October on a takeoff. After refinishing yet again, it was mid-aired yet again in 2008 at the NW Regionals by Paul Gibeault during a heat.

Now, either everyone hated this model or knew something we didn't. Either way it was refinished again and prepped for racing.

So, basically it's had a tough life. But it also goes to show that even a model with multiple repairs can still perform. Overall model weight is now around 18 oz. and has been completely refinished three different times. Our previous best model, Bonzo, had the wing covering changed out about 4 times so I guess we're right on par for model maintenance.

The leadouts were position with the front leadout a 1/4" behind the leading edge (on the CG) and the rear leadout 1/2" behind that. In hindsight, this may be a little far forward and requires a "team race" style take-off technique for safely getting the model airborne. The landing gear is positioned vertically from the front of the leading edge downward and uses 1-1/4" wheels made by Perfect. I like to use tip-weight in my models and the clowns all receive a 1/2oz.

All incidences are set to 0 degrees based off of the motor thrust-line. The model's flat surfaces were finished in House-of-Kolor 2-stage urethane paint with automotive clear coat and the wings were covered in Monokote.

The O.S. .18 TZ-TX car engine, in stock configuration at right and ready for Clown Race at left.

The Engine

The engine used was an OS .18 TZ-TX car engine (Tower # LXHLV9) with OS rear cover plate (Tower # LXJPZ5). The timing was left at the stock configuration with crank timing at 35-60 (205 duration) and exhaust at 158 deg. The only modifications were to grind away the drive pin from the crankshaft that is used for the pull-starter and then fitting the engine with my head-clamp and venturi. The venturi diameter was 0.169" with peripheral holes of about .020" diameter.

The NVA was a stock Nelson unit with the extra needle "L" material removed and a piece of brass tubing with the end flattened was soldered on to make tuning easier and prevent bending while pitting.

The tank was made by myself out of K&S easy solder material with 1/8" brass tubing. Identical to my previous tank building article, Staybrite solder with acid flux was used for construction. Its configuration is of the uniflow type with an alligator clip on the overflow for sealing. Tank volume is 30.5cc's. For tuning, there are some popsicle sticks epoxied to the front of the tank to act as a heat shield since the engine is of rear-exhaust configuration. Without this, the model had a lean-to-rich tendency throughout the flight as the fuel was being heated up.

Prop used was a stock APC 6.5"x5.5" (Landing Products LP06555). The flashing was removed using a knife to scrape the sharpness away. I don't think it was ever balanced but no vibration was felt on startup.

The manufacturer provided plug, OS#3 (Very Hot) was changed to an OS#6 (Hot) as there was some prop ratcheting experienced during testing years ago. This is usually caused by the plug igniting the gasses trapped in the cylinder and costs considerable time if experienced during a race. An alternative method is to turn down the starting battery but since we use nicd batteries for starting, it isn't possible.

Through extensive testing, I have found 10% nitro, 20% all-castor fuel to be superior to the 10% nitro/ 10% castor/ 10% synthetic fuel for both consistency and performance. The all-castor fuel just runs more stable over the tank and is actually a tenth or so faster in airspeed for 8 laps. My regular cleaning routine alleviates any carbon buildup issues so is something I don't have to worry about.

The head-clearance used was set at .018" which could probably be considerably reduced but my goal was consistency rather than all out speed when dealing with 8-10 starts and 15 minutes of running per race.


Equipment used was a 4 oz. squeeze-bulb with the old Kustom Kraftsmanship style tapered nylon filler end. We drill out the end of the plastic to just under an 1/8" and use a piece of silicon tubing on the tank tube to seal while filling. The glow-lighter used was a 1.5v McDaniel Ni-starter (Sonictronics McD #101). I've used other methods for ignition but this unit prevents any hang-ups due to wires getting tangled with the model.


I flew the model using a team-race style takeoff taught to me by Aaron Ascher years ago. What this involves and how it varies from the AMA styling is that your feet are positioned in parallel to the lines and the whip is focused toward the center of the circle instead of propelling the model forward. This is used to take up slack on takeoff instead of initially increasing airspeed and helps greatly in windy conditions or when the model is very light on the lines during takeoff.

The Race

The record race began for us by putting the lighter on at the go-signal. Since the bullhorn wasn't working, Dave Green had to call out times making it difficult for us to hear during the countdown. That was our own fault for not being prepped though so no excuses can be made.

I was flying against Mark Scarborough and had to pass his Fox 15 powered entry every 3-5 laps over the 15 minute race. The airspeed differential (25+ mph) made the race actually pretty dangerous for us since I had only about 1 second to see where Mark was at and adjust my flying height from the maximum of 12 feet to clear him when I got within a quarter lap of his model. It's something I knew to expect but after 100+ times of passing another model in a race, there is quite a bit of fatigue and lots of opportunity for catastrophic failure.

Towards the end of the race, I had to remind myself to focus and not make a mistake. When he was below the 12-foot elevation, I wouldn't adjust my model's location and would leave it at 12 feet so that I didn't add extra distance by transitioning up and down during each pass. I think that also helped in keeping the plug preserved for the duration of the race by not cycling the setting by climbing and diving constantly. This resulted in many passes with about 1 foot of clearance between the models but Mark was very consistent in his flying height and there was enough room that I felt comfortable enough to pass this way.

There were no whipping or high-flying penalties given during the race and was carefully watched by Event Director Dave Green. Actually, he never did give me a warning throughout the entire weekend but almost threw out two other pilots for different fouls including high-flying and whipping. I'm sure people wanted to debate about what they were doing but none of us are brave enough to question his judgment so there were no protests.

Deceleration/landing resulted in 2 pits that were less than 1/2 lap shutdowns, 2 or 3 that were around 3/4 laps, and a couple that were between 1 to 1-1/4 lappers. It all depended on when the model quit since shutoffs are not allowed in this event. We found the model to be drifting into the center on touchdown, probably a result of either improper wheel alignment or lead-out placement. This resulted in a couple pits 6" inside the line and one pit that had to be retrieved by about a foot. Some of this is also due to the recent change of the internal pitting line to a diameter of 14' instead of the previous 15' circle. All in all, I counted about 2-3 laps we were passed during that time loss so probably about 6 seconds overall could be improved.

As far as pitting goes it was fluid in motion. Dad has got this down to an art and his hands-on time was around 5-7 seconds where half of that was filling the tank. He performed 7 pit stops total during the race with the first half being 2-3 flips and the remainder down to 2 or 1. He commented flipping completely through the rotation made the difference instead of just snapping at the blade. Acceleration was hard enough upon release that if the other model was airborne and between 3/8's to 1/2 lap of overtaking, they wouldn't pass us.


Looking at the race results, if we take an average of 12 seconds per pit (deceleration, hands-on, and acceleration) plus the initial start, it gives an average overall airspeed of around 18.8sec/8laps (95.7mph) with around 45 laps per tank. Practice times showed anything from 18.6 to 19 seconds/8 laps depending on weather conditions and setting so this was reassuring. Best airspeed I've ever seen by changing venturies and props was at 17.8/8laps or 101mph but the mileage was too low to realize a good performance.

A couple years ago, I wrote an excel spreadsheet to show various performances based on airspeed, mileage, acceleration, deceleration, and hands-on time and this was used to set this model up as well. From those calculations and trends, I could see where the lap increases could be made based on my figures.

I learned a lot of things from this program and it has allowed me to really refine my time when practicing and tuning as well as give me ideas for race strategy.


On a final note, this performance was done as a team and is something I'm glad we accomplished. But let's face it, 345 laps is just too much. I flew one final immediately before this race at 278 laps and was given about 10 minutes rest in between. Even with that break this was about the only time I can remember where dad said he could tell I was physically tired. I'm glad and proud we accomplished this but a performance requirement like this is not what our dwindling group of racers needs to be at.

Going forward, I'm going to put a few systems together that give between 225-275 laps out of the box so that anyone can take the information, purchase the components, and fly. Previously , we have done this consistently with the Fox .15 but over the recent years the level of quality and consistency has been pretty poor for this motor so may not be the best choice. Will probably look at some of the OS series engines as there seems to be a lot of potential and the manufacturing consistency is very good.

Once this is established, I may make a proposal to reduce the event to a couple different engines that give this range of performance but will know more once the testing is complete.

Hope this article helps anyone that wants to go out there and take their performance to the limit. It was a lot of fun and hearing that engine unload made it all worth the effort.

This page was upated June 9, 2010

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