Coming of Age at Reno

Parts & recreation.

Becoming LaVelle’s crew chief was never in my post-graduate plans. But what a great experience, in business and in life.

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.

Getting to spend weeks at a time with Jeff LaVelle (left) over the years has been a blast. I’ll never forget the laughs and time spent in the pit, whether it be working on the airplane until 4:00 a.m. or just goofing off. With us is his mechanic, Darryl Lowell.

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.

Ross VanHatten, Sean VanHatten, me and Thomas Windom at the Reno Awards Banquet in 2018. These guys have been my friends since day one. It’s hard to meet people after college but thankfully Reno provided me with many “fast” friends.

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.

Previous articleDecember 2023
Next articlePlug That Hole!
Ariana Rayment
Ariana Rayment is an instrument-rated private pilot from Tacoma, Washington. She discovered her love of flying through her former purchasing role at Glasair Aviation. She loves the Reno Air Races, where she stands alongside Jeff LaVelle as his crew chief and pals around with her friends in Sport Class.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.