Posted by: Blair Camp | February 25, 2011

Hilton Racing

Chronologically, my next adventure was a coast to coast run to Boston in a twin engine Piper Aztec.  Since we just did a coast to coast gig to the Caribbean, I thought you’d like to go racing for “a change of pace”.

I first met John Hilton at a Carmel Christmas party in 1958.  10 years later, John walks into San Jose Piper where I am a flight instructor.  I think I recognize him.

 “Aren’t you John Hilton, from Carmel?”

He stared at me for a second, “Blair Camp…what are you doing here?”

“I’m instructing, while attending San Jose State.  Are you still in the Navy?”

“I got out 6 years ago.  I’m selling Fords and working with dad’s racing team.  Do you follow racing?”

“I followed it at Riverside and Laguna Seca, but lately, I’ve been too busy with college and flying.”

“Last year Hilton Racing won the USRRC (United States Road Racing Championship) series with a McLaren Chevrolet and this year we have a Mustang in the new Trans Am series.”

“Does Ford sponsor your car?” I asked.

“We are sure that some of the teams are getting factory help, but so far we are independent.  I’m planning to fly to Willow Springs Raceway next Thursday for a practice session.”

“Where is Willow Springs?” I asked.

“It’s just west Edwards Air Force Base.  I’m thinking of using Rosamond Sky Park which is 5 miles from the track.”

I handed John a rental application. 

“You can fill this out in the classroom there.  How ‘bout a cup of coffee?”

“Black, please.” John responded.

“I’ll be your check pilot today, so let me know if you have any questions?”

“Thanks, Blair.”

While John finished the application, I refilled his cup and got one for myself.

Just then…the sales manager, Larry Hannan, stepped in to re-fill his cup.

I made the introduction.  “Larry, this is my friend, John Hilton, from Carmel.”

They shook hands.  “John wants to rent a Cherokee and fly to Willow Springs Raceway where they are testing the Hilton Racing Mustang.”

Larry asked, “Is Ford racing Mustangs now?”

“They are quietly involved with one or two teams in Trans Am series, but our team is independent.”

Larry never missed an opportunity to sell an airplane.

“Have you thought about owning instead of renting?” Larry asked.

John smiled, “I’ve been working on my dad, but he’s not very receptive on the idea.”

“We have new, used, singles and twins.” Larry said. “We have an opening for a Comanche lease-back which might be a good fit for Hilton Racing.”

“That could be the ticket.” John said.  “Give me the numbers, and I’ll show them to dad.”

While John finished his application the intercom phone rang and Larry summoned me to his office.

“I’ve got a plan.”  Larry said.  “You and John take the used Comanche to Willow Springs.  We’ll call it a sales demo and rent it at cost.”

“I’m sure he’ll go for that.” I said. “The Cherokee rental verses the faster Comanche deal will end up costing about the same for him.”

“That’s it.” Larry said. “Tell John that we’ll credit the charges against any future purchase.”

I presented the “plan” to John and said that the time would count toward his future check-out in the Comanche.

“Sounds good.” Said John.  “I still want to check me out in the Cherokee today.  I’m a bit rusty.”

“I’ll have you signed off in an hour.  Next week we’ll work on getting you qualified in the Comanche.”

Since they had exclusive use of the track, Mr. Hilton suggested that we land on the pit straight adjacent to the stands.  John had never flown a Comanche, and I had never landed on a race track, so I took the left seat to Willow Springs, and told John that he could drive home. 

We made a low pass to announce our arrival.  While flying low and slow, I checked for obstacles (wires) that could make things sticky for us.  The blue Mustang, #10 was sitting in the pit area.  I flew a wide downwind and turned a long final to give me plenty of time to adjust the power and get trimmed up for my short-field landing.  With nothing obstructing the straightaway, I was able to cut the power, flare, and touchdown at the entrance to the straight.  I had the flaps up and started breaking before the start/finish line.  Fifty yards later, with two hundred yards to spare, we turned around and taxied back to the pits.  Mr. Hilton gave us a thumbs up for the landing.  I shut down and climbed out to meet John’s dad and the driver, Ron Dykes.  John and his dad didn’t waste any time getting Ron on the track and timing his progress.

I had the whole place to myself.  I first checked the far end of the straight for obstructions.  The terrain had a gentle rise to the west into the wind.  If the wind didn’t change, our departure would definitely be to the west.  I walked the perimeter of the track and observed Ron squealing through the turns and flying down the straights.  While I had often wondered about driving race cars, I decided that flying airplanes was easier and safer.

When the testing ended, Mr. Hilton showed his appreciation for the airplane arrangement by offering me a hot lap with Ron Dykes.  The 425 hp Shelby Group II Racer pinned me to my seat as we accelerated down the straight.  Ron didn’t slow into the first turn, but momentarily let up on the gas.  Half way through the turn, he stomped it as we climbed back to the right.  After that I lost track of things and just held on.  Ron used the whole track and then some.  At times it looked like we were just off the track, but the wheels never lost traction.  I’m sure that we were out there for two minutes, but the ride was over before I could catch my breath.  It was a once in a lifetime run and the fastest I ever traveled on the ground.

  As we agreed, John took left seat for the return flight to San Jose.  The Comanche was his first retractable (landing gear) experience.  He flew it like a pro and made a smooth landing back at San Jose. 

“Good landing.” I said.  “Most pilots aren’t that smooth on their first landing in the Comanche.”

We settled up and John said that he would be in touch about the up-coming Trans Am race at Crows Landing Airport near Modesto.


  1. Crow’s landing next ? What fun ! MSB

    • Thanks Muggins,

      I was lucky, and the airplanes never let me down.


  2. Awesome, man. Sounded like so much fun. I can’t imagine getting blasted into your seat in the Shelby. Must have felt like a roller coaster… I’m heading to Gardnerville this weekend to kick it with Fred and get some turns in at Kirkwood. Hopefully these storms stay cool…like you!


    • Thanks Jack,

      It’s cold here today, and I think it will stay that way through the weekend. Another storm due in on Wednesday or Thrusday.

      Have fun and say hi to Freddie for me.


  3. Great job with the links, also.

  4. Good stuff Blair….Please send a link to the track so I can get a visual on Google.


    • Hi Dennis,

      For some reason I can’t get the link Wiki’s Willow Springs Motorpark site. I’ll send it to you via email.


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