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The Provo Municipal Airport got busy Tuesday morning when 50 women pilots touched down their airplanes to refuel after the first leg of a transcontinental air race.

The 2,723.2-mile Air Race Classic Ltd., an all-woman event, began Tuesday morning in Bullhead City, Ariz. Racers, after stops in such obscure towns as Worland, Wyo., Phillip, S.D., and Minocqua-Woodruff, Wis., are to fly into Huntsville, Ala., on Friday to conclude the journey.Among the 100 pilots and co-pilots are Utahns Fran Rieck, Lehi, and Dot Strate, Sandy. The pair arrived at Provo in their 1969 Piper Arrow just before noon Tuesday.

"This is so exciting. This is unreal," said Strate as she stepped from her plane. It's Strate's and Rieck's first time in the competition.

Each aircraft is given a miles-per-hour handicap based on horsepower, year and model. The idea is to average a speed faster than the handicap for the length of the course. The pilots who exceed the handicap by the greatest margin win the race. The winner is not known until the last plane crosses the finish line before sundown June 28.

"It's a lot of fun to fly the airplane for a long distance," said Diane Winn, Los Angeles, dressed in an outfit to match the purple and sparkling lavender trim of her white Beechcraft. The entire trip will take about 181/2 hours.

Winn and co-pilot Evelyn Buss traveled in style. Their plane contained a 10-stack compact disc player.

Joan Steinberger, 61, and Jenny Wright, 62, both of Santa Barabara, Calif., were having a great time in their Piper Dakota.

"You're busy the whole time and all of sudden you're here," said Steinberger, who has been flying for 38 years. The leg to Provo covered 381.5 miles.

Pilots and co-pilots spend much of their time navigating, calculating the altitude at which they could get maximum speed and checking weather conditions. There's no time to be bored, they said.

The race is under the direction of Paulene Glasson, Corpus Christi, Texas, who flew the first classic in 1977. Now 82 years old, Glasson is an active flight instructor who flys daily. She is competing in the 1991 race in a Cessna 172N.

The racers were welcomed to Provo by two city firefighters who were asking the pilots to autograph their photographs in the race program.