formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

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February 23, 2010 Sport Air Racing League

The Liberty Gazette
February 23, 2010

The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely

"It's a big country - you need a fast airplane" are the words emblazoned on the home page of Sport Air Racing League. “All pilots have dreams of being in the cockpit of a P-51 crossing a pylon at 30 feet and 400 MPH, but very few actually live the dream due to lack of money, serious danger to life and limb, money, and actually owning a P-51, which goes back to money,” says Mike Thompson, President of SARL. “The answer to satisfying the competitive instincts in many pilots is cross country air racing.” But even that has been dying a quiet death due to increasing event insurance requirements, fear of lawsuits and perceived high expenses required to host a race.

So Mike Thompson founded SARL on the principle that “anyone can race, insurance companies are the enemy, and we can do it all on a shoestring if we have volunteers and don't award high dollar prizes–a fact that also keeps the undesirables away (for the most part). We race for the glory, the education and the camaraderie. At any given race no one remembers who won what class the last time, only that they are going to win their class this time.”

For instance, the SARL Founder is right now researching the phenomenon of “exhaust pumping” with the intent on making a modification to his Vans RV6 to implement it. He says other racers have made “multitudinous modifications and reported their varying success, with everyone happily stealing what worked.”

Linda: Much like my experience racing in the Air Race Classic, SARL events are as much about the trip to the race, greeting old friends, making new friends, and the after-race “glow” that any racer will tell you permeates the entire crowd. That 30 to 50 minutes of actual race time is but a part of the event; an important part, to be sure, but only a part of the experience.

Not one air racer will deny the thrill of pushing the aircraft to its mechanical and aerodynamic limits, and maybe a little bit beyond, at an altitude where a successful emergency landing is highly doubtful. There is a danger when we're out on the course. It's always in the back of our minds...and we keep it there.

Long term, the goal of SARL is to bring cross country air racing to the public. “Technology can make that possible,” says our guru, “but the technology costs money, and so far sponsors have proven elusive in this economy.” So Mike Thompson is taking baby steps.

“We have already dipped our toe using live video streaming on Justin TV. Members of our organization are working on the telemetry problems that covering an event that itself covers 100 to 300 miles, poses. The end goal there is to have GPS tracking around the course to be presented on digital projector as an overlay to Google Maps. Then we will combine the tracks for a near-real-time simultaneous ‘race’ around the course.”

SARL is an all-volunteer organization, from Mike T. running the League, to race hosts, to skunk works techies. Right now, everyone operates at a loss, but, says Mike, “I like it this way. Only the seriously interested take part.” Touche, Mike.

Mike and Linda can be reached at

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