Last Monday I had the opportunity to be a small part of history. 50 teams participating in an air race dating back to 1929 were landing at an airport right in my backyard and I had the opportunity to visit and help as they arrived. As the all-female Air Race Classic came to their third stop along the 2,200 NM route, Clark County Airport in Jeffersonville, Indiana, a small army had gathered to welcome them, provide them with food, fuel, and transportation to hotels. I was a volunteer "greeter," meeting the racers as they came into the airport and providing them with answers to any questions that had about operations. Most importantly, I directed them to the restrooms and food.
The Air Race Classic had not been in the area since 1981, so spirits were high as many people worked hard to make this the best stop of their trip. In addition to an abundance of food and desserts provided by UPS, racers were offered complimentary massages and transportation to their hotels. The stop had a Kentucky Derby theme, so several volunteers wore colorful derby hats. The men’s restroom had a sign saying "Fillies (Women); Men’s Restroom Outside," to accommodate the 123 women who would be flying in.
Special accommodations had to be made for the 123 women flying in.
Preparations for this day started almost an entire year ago. Once the route for the race was announced, Honaker Aviation teamed up with several local pilots and organizations to gather volunteers and create a game plan for the day the racers arrived. It was difficult to predict how weather would affect the day from months away, so Stop Chair Amy Bogardus prepared for every possible outcome. An online scheduling system through Sign Up Genius was set up with slots for Timers, Greeters, Transporters, Hospitality, and Stuff to Bring. Time slots were available for each task for Monday-Thursday. The organizers anticipated racers being able to spend the night and leave out Tuesday, but with the unpredictable weather it was best for there to be too many volunteers than too few.
My time slot was from 3:00 pm – 5:00 pm but I ended up staying until 6:00 pm. My younger sister has recently taken an interest in aviation, so I brought her along to meet all of the Ninety-Nines who were volunteering and to experience the race. I had been watching the racers make their way towards our stop since they took off in the morning through the live tracking at Trackleaders.com. Excitement was building as I arrived at the airport and watched the same live tracker from a large TV in the command room. All volunteers were given bright yellow arm bands to identify themselves, and we were ready for racers to begin flying in.
Stop organizers and spectators watched the live feed of aircraft flying in all morning, ready to serve as soon as they arrived.
The first few racers came in at a moderate pace, having left the last airport sooner than the others. After an hour or so of airplanes steadily coming in 10 minutes apart, the bulk of the racers came and it was amazing to see them doing a high speed pass and landing one after another. Because the race is judged on a handicap speed, the only time that the racers had to beat was their own.
The first few arrivals enjoy food provided by UPS.
My sister commented on how young many of the collegiate racers looked, as most of them are in their early 20s. I could see in her face that her dream of becoming a pilot seemed more and more realistic as she saw these shining examples of female pilots casually walking into the airport from their aircraft. It was different for her from hearing about my piloting adventures and actually being at an airport and experiencing the sights and sounds. The entire drive home she excitedly spoke about how she was beginning to find her purpose in life, and that becoming a pilot and flying medical missions was her dream.
I had an amazing experience volunteering at the Air Race Classic, and all racers said that the Clark County stop was well done and efficient. A huge thank you to every single volunteer, organizer, and sponsor for making the day incredible for everyone.