As I start this month’s column, it hasn’t fully sunk in that I won’t be going back to Reno, but I still feel a sense of sadness under the denial. My body knows something’s up—it’s the end of an era. I started this journey when I was 23 years old, just a kid in love with Glasair who wanted to learn to fly. Now I’m 30 and engaged to someone who also loves airplanes. We own a beautiful home on an airpark and, as hard as it is to admit, I feel like this last race came at the right time. It will be nice to allot this precious week and a half of vacation time elsewhere, like toward wedding festivities. But it still sucks. I fear I will never experience anything like the National Championship Air Races (NCAR) ever again. How long will I associate September with Reno? Probably forever.
Sure, Sport racing will live on and the NCAR will likely find a new home, but there’s been a lot of other amazing things that came with these last seven years of Reno that will be hard to replicate. First and foremost, the people—I don’t know when or where I’ll meet such an amazing group of like-minded individuals ever again. They have forever changed me and I hope to see them throughout my many walks of life. Next up is independence—crewing for Jeff LaVelle was something I did on my own. It was my thing. I wasn’t following in my brother’s footsteps or tagging along with a boyfriend; I was there because I was ready for a challenge and it felt good to go it alone. Lastly, I’ve gained confidence. Initially I didn’t feel like a real crew chief because I’m not a mechanic, but now I know I was always the right person for the job.
Memories started to flood in as I left the Reno-Stead airport this year. I thought about visiting the NCAR website for the first time when I learned I’d be going to Reno and seeing this flashy orange STIHL airplane. I thought back to when I met Andy Findlay and his wife, Jackie, and her dad, Bob Fair, who was the former general manager of Lancair. I thought about seeing Tom Wilson in my pit and being really jealous that he wrote for KITPLANES®. I thought about the first time I went flying with Jeff in his stock Glasair III, back when he didn’t have a single gray hair on his head. I thought about waving at two very nice Oregon boys, Sean VanHatten and Thomas Windom, and wondering what it might be like to live there.
I close my eyes and picture the Walmart where I bought snacks and energy drinks for our pit and distilled water for the ADI mixture. I see NAPA and Summit. AutoZone and O’Reilly. The restaurants we laughed at and the many hotels we woke up early and partied late into the night at. The purple sky, the orange sky, the pink sky, the blue sky. I see it all so big like Montana, the one place I traveled to as a kid, and yet I see nothing. Dust and dirt. Reno is beautiful and yet it also kind of isn’t. So different from anywhere I ever expected to visit and continue to visit on a yearly basis. I’m really going to miss being there. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had and I wasn’t even the one flying.