The Liberty Gazette
December 29, 2015Ely Air Lines
by Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: A few years into the Facebook craze I happened upon a couple who had been good friends of my father’s. We reconnected, nearly 40 years later, each of us with grandchildren and life stories to share to fill in that huge gap of time.
Jeff and Linda Bloom have always lived in Michigan, but I was hopeful I could see them again, soon. It was a pleasant surprise to learn that Jeff, a professional race car driver, was still racing throughout the midwest, and still winning, as he always did, and still carrying the same race number - #26. He’s been a formidable competitor all his life, a hard-charging racer who has earned great respect from fellow drivers because he drives a clean race and wins on amazing skill. It’s like he wears the race cars he drives, or maybe even the tracks on which he makes them glide. So when Linda Bloom shared the Must See RacingTV race schedule where I could watch Jeff race on TV, I was eager to find an opportunity to watch him race again - but I’d prefer in person.
The opportunity came in the summer of 2012 when I’d flown to Indianapolis to see family. The Blooms would be just a quick flight to the south in Salem, Indiana at the Salem Speedway, a high-banked half-mile asphalt track I had been to dozens of times as a kid. The Salem Municipal Airport is right next to the speedway, so all I had to do was land, tie down, and walk over.
Landing offered the first challenge. Not that a 2,700’ runway should be that difficult for a Grumman Cheetah, but I was a bit out of practice on shorter runways. The Liberty Municipal Airport’s current length is 1,100’ longer than Salem’s.
After circling above the track to see some action from the air, I entered the traffic pattern but came in a little hot on final and used up most of the runway getting stopped without slamming on the brakes. No one was in sight so I just tied the airplane using the ropes in an open tie-down spot, and trudged across the weedy, rough ground between airport and speedway.
Race ticket prices have gone up in the last 40 years, but the money collected contributes to the purse so I didn’t mind. The pit pass I purchased allowed me to cross the track - literally - which gave me a chuckle as I reminisced walking across that track at that same spot so many years ago. A guy who stands at the guardrail-gate lets people cross when the cars are between practice sessions.
Making my way across the sloped track to pit row I searched for the older versions of a couple who had been very dear to me for most of my life. Soon I spotted Jeff, and then Linda, and the reunion was almost surreal, having been so long coming.
Jeff had mechanical problems that day, and my time there was much too brief as I had to return to Indy, but we made the most of what we had and I am so glad I made that flight down to southern Indiana that day.
One month after that quick visit Jeff was in a terrible, fiery racing accident that gave him broken bones and third-degree burns. Tough fighter that he is, and believer in prayer, Jeff recovered and was back racing seven months later, and inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame, which is exactly where he belongs. My father knew that many years ago, when Jeff was a young 20-something. Dad used to say, "Now there’s a real race driver."
I miss my dad, so when the Blooms mailed a gift to me, it was extra-special, a symbol of relationships that last: the last Christmas card my dad had sent them before he passed away, which they had saved for 15 years.
How time flies.