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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November 30, 2010 TVAR III

The Liberty Gazette
November 30, 2010
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: The Tennessee Valley Pumpkin Dash and Air Race at Courtland, Alabama coincided with our Cheetah’s annual inspection, grounding us for about a week. Since Mike was working that weekend I thought I might catch a ride with Reno Air Racer Ernie Sutter, who keeps his 300+ mph Lancair Legacy at the Conroe airport, but Ernie was leaving a few days early and had business along the way so Sport Air Racing League founder and Chairman, Mike Thompson, flew his RV-6 down from Taylor, Texas to pick me up. In return, I would handle the Internet broadcast of the race, live on It would be the next best thing to racing, and on a more personal level, reminded me of my dad, who stopped racing automobiles when my mother said, “It’s either children or racing, but not both,” and opened up a public relations business, representing the United States Auto Club for many years. Several childhood summers were spent traveling from one car race to another, my daddy’s shadow. Now I would get a shot at the microphone. A day and a half notice wasn’t enough for Dad’s longtime friend, retired ESPN race broadcaster Gary Lee, to join me but it piqued his interest and I expect he’ll join us in the future.
Chief Thompson and I planned to meet at the Anahuac airport and leave at 9 a.m., but due to starter problems we didn’t leave until 5 p.m. Taxiing up to the hangar in Courtland a few hours later, tired and hungry, race host, airline pilot and sport air racer Chris Murphy was a welcome sight with plenty of eats there waiting for us.
The next day’s events began with an all-out speed dash straight down the runway. With FAA speed and altitude waivers granted retired veterinarian Tony Crawford clocked fastest time in his Questair Venture at 308.16 mph. The top eight speedsters exceeded 250 mph.
Next came the 125.2 nautical mile race with 23 airplanes entered. At the pre-race briefing racers were instructed to pause in front of the camera while I said something about them and their airplane. Chief Thompson’s idea to broadcast was a big hit with racers’ spouses, children, grandchildren and other family members and friends watching. Pre- and post-race interviews brought insight from the racer’s perspective.
The final event of the day was the “Punkin Chunkin” contest. Chris Murphy placed the target–a port-a-potty–way out in the grass between the two runways, far away from everything on the airport. Everyone grabbed pumpkins from a huge pile–one guy loaded his Navajo Chieftain with extra large pumpkins for carpet bombing–and one by one pumpkins smashed on the ground. Airline mechanic Bobby Bennett’s understanding of trajectory as an experienced skydiver gave him the closest drop but no one hit the target.
After all the participants had taken their shots I asked if I could try. Someone shoved a pumpkin in my hands and ushered me to a waiting Cessna 150, a pilot ready to take me up for the shot. That story might appear in this space next week. Till then, blue skies.

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