To launch this venture, Diamandis turned to Whitelaw, who was a venture capitalist as well as an auto-racing pro. He and Diamandis became friends in 2000, when Diamandis joined a technology think tank co-founded by Whitelaw called TrendSphere. Soon afterward, Whitelaw took Diamandis to his first auto race, the Indy 500, and that night, in animated discussion, they sketched out the ideas behind rocket racing. But it wasn't until after Burt Rutan's com-pany, Scaled Composites, won the Ansari X Prize with SpaceShipOne in 2004, and Diamandis had established the X Prize Cup, that he and Whitelaw got down to work in earnest.
Their challenges were legion-creating not only a new racing league but an entirely new class of racing is
a once-a-century undertaking. They needed to develop safe, reliable rocket technology for the aircraft, establish truly competitive racing for the "skytracks," develop new ways for spectators to experience the races, and convince fans and sponsors to buy into the idea.
First things first, though: Get some rocket planes. Fortunately, they had a head start in a rocket-powered airplane built by XCOR Aerospace. Based in Mojave, California (like Scaled Composites), XCOR was working on a suborbital spaceship of its own and had rocketized a homebuilt Rutan design, the Long-EZ airplane, as a technology demonstrator-the EZ-Rocket. Soup
it up with a more powerful, longer-
running rocket engine, change the fuel to kerosene for a bright orange-and- yellow exhaust plume, give it the
ability to rapidly refuel at pit stops, update it with a state-of-the-art GPS race-navigation system, and you'd have an IndyCar of the skies. An X-Racer.
Diamandis and Whitelaw brought XCOR into their new venture and hired Searfoss, already employed as XCOR's test pilot, as their chief pilot. The team decided on a Long-EZ-based aircraft from small manufacturer Velocity
Aircraft in Sebastian, Florida, as the airframe for the X-Racers. Though larger than the Long-EZ, the Velocity planes are also pushers, with the prop in the rear instead of at the front. Replace the engine and prop with a rocket motor, and it's perfect for the X-Racers.
There was just one problem: The engineers at XCOR didn't know if a viable rocket racer could even be built. "We were afraid we might have a law-of-physics problem," admits XCOR president Jeff Greason-specifically, a niggling concern about the feasibility of refueling the rockets rapidly enough to turn them around four or more times during a single hour-long race. The success of the Rocket Racing League depends on the X-Racers landing and making pit stops, just like their four-wheeled counterparts. Diamandis and Whitelaw figure the X-Racers should spend less than 10 minutes at a pit stop, and preferably no more than 5. Greason had to laugh when he heard that; the EZ-Rocket ordinarily needs two to three hours of prep time between flights, including half an hour to 45 minutes just to load the liquid oxygen (LOX) that the rocket fuel needs to burn.