Rider R-4 Firecracker

Keith Rider had a new small racer at the 1936 Nationals. This was the R-4 and was a departure from the former Rider racers. His earlier racers were monocoque construction and the R-4 was steel tubing, with wood fairing covered with fabric. The plywood. covered wing used a symmetrical airfoil and the landing gear had a wide tread and folded inwardly with a manual retracting mechanism.

The racer had an 18 ft. wing span and a length of 19 ft. 6 in. It weighed 925 lbs. empty and 1325 Ibs. loaded. Painted a bright yellow, it carried license number NR-261Y, race number 70 and was powered by a Menasco B6S Buccaneer 489 cu. in. displacement engine. Roger Don Rae, who had raced the Rider R-1, was pilot of the new job. Roger, as always, turned in an impressive performance at the 1936 Nationals. He won the 550 cu. in. Shell Speed Dashes with a speed of 225.544 mph, and then really polished the pylons to finish third in the Thompson Trophy Race with a speed of 236.559 mph. He finished fifth and sixth in two 550 cu. in. Greve Events with speeds of 212.325 mph and 218.155 mph.

The Firecracker on exhibit at the Planes of Fame, Chino, CA

Bill Schoenfeldt acquired the R-4 in late 1936 and hired the original crew who had built her to rebuild the racer. He replaced the B6S Buccaneer engine with a new Menasco C6S-4 Super Buccaneer. This was a six cylinder 544 cu. in. displacement engine built for racing. Many cooling problems were experienced as the crew was not satisfied with the engine and wanted it to wrap even tighter than the factory had set it up. The engine itself was longer and presented a CG problem. These were all worked out and the engine was tuned to turn 3500 rpms. The racer was renamed the "Schoenfeldt Firecracker" and had its first taste of competition at the 1937 International Air Races in St. Louis. With Gus Gotch as the pilot, the racer placed second behind Marion McKeen and the Brown "Miss Los Angeles". Their speeds were 239.9 mph and 240.0 mph . . . almost a dead heat.

After this race Gus nosed the plane over during the landing roll. This eliminated the racer from the next day's races, but Schoenfeldt had a prop sent from the Story-Gawley Co. in Los Angeles. The prop was the most serious part damaged and one was flown in during the night. However, when the prop arrived it was found that it was drilled for the older Buccaneer engine. Ole Fahlin, of the Fahlin Propeller Co., was at the races and came to the rescue. He flew the prop to his plant at Marshall, Missouri, and had it re-drilled and balanced. So with the bent cowl and air scoops the number 70 was ready for the last day of the races. This was May 30 . . . Memorial Day . . . and the race was the feature race . . . the Missouri Brewer's Association Trophy Race.

Gotch got off to a slow start and loafed for a few laps then opened the throttle on the "Firecracker" and went on to win the event with a speed of 251.6 mph. A few of the laps he turned at 260 mph. After the race the R-4 was returned to Los Angeles where the damage to the cowling and air scoop were repaired and an extra tank for the Thompson Trophy Race added. At the Nationals Gotch had further troubles but managed to pick up a third in the Greve Race (231.59 mph), and seventh in the Thompson at 217.81 mph.

During 1938 the "Firecracker" was again reworked and made a fine showing at the International Air Races in Oakland, California. Tony LeVier raced home winner in two events and third in another. His best pylon speed was 260.762 mph. LeVier was now ready for the competition at the Nationals and hoped for wins in both the Thompson and Greve races. He won the Greve Race moving around the pylons at a speed of 250.89 mph.

Art Chester in the "Goon" finished only five seconds behind him. It had been a see-saw battle all the way and the lead had changed many times. Elated by his winning. Tony landed downwind and at his approach speed of 150 mph, he overshot the main runway and hit a cross runway. The racer nosed up and the impact broke both wing spars splitting the plywood covering from tip to tip. This eliminated the "Firecracker" from the Thompson Trophy Race.

It was back to the shop and another rebuild job. But plenty of time existed before the 1939 Nationals. By the time the big show for 1939 rolled around the racer was .again in top shape. It still retained its yellow paint job, race number 70, and Tony LeVier as pilot. During and before the Greve many mishaps narrowed the race field. The race ended up being a contest between Chester and LeVier. The "Firecracker" engine began to misfire on the 11th lap and Tony was forced to withdraw. This was not the end of his trouble. During the Thompson, LeVier had taken the lead on the fifth lap but was unaware of this and throttled back when Turner passed him. Tony thought Turner was lapping him and he wanted to save the engine. Had he not throttled back he could have won the Thompson. He did finish second with a speed of 272.588 mph as opposed to Turner's 282.586 mph.

The "Firecracker" went into storage at the start of World War II and has since been cannibalised for parts needed for other aircraft.