The Liberty Gazette
February 7, 2012Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: Since its inception in 2007 all season point winners in the Sport Air Racing League were men. So AnnElise Bennett set her sights on what she calls the “Man Trophy,” vowing to claim one for her own. Trophies for the most accumulated points are awarded at the last race each year. In her rookie year AnnElise finished 13th in points out of over 100 racers, winning second place in her class. A fellow flying a Cirrus won the First Place Overall National Champion Trophy. AnnElise says that giant wood trophy “made the angels sing in my head, ‘ooohhh, girl, you gotta get one of "those!’” No female pilot had before been to the National Championship podium. There are no monetary prizes, we race for trophies and bragging rights. For AnnElise, that trophy, those bragging rights were priceless in the male-dominated world of aviation. The only way she’d have a chance at the top spot would be to race as many races in the season as possible, accumulating points.
AnnElise: Over the next few weeks, I worked on the Man Trophy Plan in my head. Since we couldn’t afford to go to every race in two airplanes I proposed in 2010 we would fly my airplane to as many of the far away races as we could manage, so I could win a Man Trophy, and 2011 would be Bobby’s year. It was crucial to my goal to do it by myself, in my airplane, so that I was solely responsible for winning (or losing) that big, beautiful piece of wood – and the aforementioned priceless bragging rights.
Linda: But AnnElise’s mother had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and early in 2010 her health took a turn for the worse. She wasn’t afraid of dying, but feared how her death would affect friends and family. She wanted them to live life to the fullest, and AnnElise knew that meant grabbing every experience and adventure she could, to show her mother she would be okay.
AnnElise: Mom was hospitalized several times. My sister and I took turns spending 24-hour shifts with her. And while she wasn’t an “airplane person,” she appreciated that I was, and in spite of declining health she encouraged me not to miss a single race.
2010 started out according to the trophy plan, with races in Taylor, Sherman, and Plainview, Texas; and Cecil County, Maryland. The next race, in Mesquite, would be the fourth time “X-ray” and I raced against my friend Louise Scudieri and her bird, “41Mike.” We start in speed-order, fastest first, and because my speeds had been faster than hers, I took off before she did. We were neck-and-neck around the course, and every time I called a turn, she called her turn, closer and closer, and by the time we crossed the finish line, she’d managed to creep up on me, finishing just seconds behind me – but that’s all it takes.
Mike: Louise won in Mesquite, and AnnElise congratulated her for a very tight race. After the race, however, confusion about mileage and times brought adjustments to the final standings, placing AnnElise in first place. In view of her quest for the Man Trophy, she needed those points, but she had heard Louise’s turn point radio calls and knew her rival was the winner. Being a true competitor, AnnElise declined the first-place points. If the National Championship was to be hers, it would be hers fair and square. We’ll tell you next week what happened. Until then, blue skies.