The cockpit of any aircraft is an emotionally sterile environment. There is little laughing, anger, or space for high fives. It’s all focus on the job at hand; check lists and clipped language, procedures and clear understanding of what to do if any of a whole range of emergencies occur. Emergency drills are practiced so often that when the crisis comes for real the response is automatic, swift and effective. There is no need or time for emotion. It would just get in the way.
Nowhere is this more true than in a single seat aircraft doing low-level aerobatics or racing. You might imagine that it’s all adrenaline, testosterone and aggression inside that cockpit. All cranking and banking. Pulling G’s, fists pumping the sky, pushing other planes out of the way to an audio track of “Eat my smoke Red Baron!” Just like in the movies. You couldn’t be more wrong. The swagger only comes later, much later, after landing, when the plane is put away, with time to absorb and reflect and maybe a couple of beers too. That’s when pilots talk with their hands, get noisy and become generally intolerable!
Thom’s appeal was ignored, despite the overwhelming evidence, and the substantial US$ prize for coming third was handed to the Seafury, Argonaut. The emotional response, now that we are safely on the ground, was not to return to Reno, to be done with air racing, and to change Precious Metal back into a stock Mustang P51-D. Not quite “stock” but with two seats, a P51-TF and to have her earn her living teaching people to fly, or simply giving rides in a classic Warbird, that once was called Precious Metal, and should have come third at Reno in the Gold final in September 2014.
But that would fix a point in time that was wholly unsatisfactory. It would empower the RARA line cut judge and validate his undocumented, biased, or erroneous decision for all time. In the end the cold, rational and unemotional decision for each of us, no matter what has happened at Reno this year, has to be that we go back – to fly, to race, to win.
Thom had already figured all this out on his own of course – but he’s always a pylon or two ahead. Magnanimous, good natured and charming to a fault. Thanking his fans and encouraging them to get behind Precious Metal once again. Here is how he responded to the disqualification publicly:
Dear Friends and Race fans,
2014 was another exciting race year. Many ups and down’s as usual. The largest, most overwhelming down was the unexpected and tragic loss of Lee Behel in Race #5. The racing community will miss him, an incredibly positive force that did so much for the races.
Our team had some trying times, some maintenance hiccup’s that prevented us from qualifying in time early in the week, but that paled in comparison to 232′s colossal engine failure which destroyed their new engine. We hope 232 will be able to pick up the pieces and return next season.
Another down was Tiger’s engine troubles, which will not be a cheap fix. We fortunately didn’t break anything this year.
On the positive, we advanced further than any other racer in the field. From the bottom of the field, won the Bronze, won the Silver and advanced all the way to third place in the Gold.
The third place would not stand according to RARA as they claimed we crossed the east show line on the second lap. We respectfully disagree with this ruling, but it’s their sandbox and their rules are set. We cannot contest the ruling and therefore it stands. Our cockpit video is inadmissible.
Obviously, my crew was crushed that evening, which is why the PM team forfeited 30 banquet tickets and did not attend the award ceremony. If there was nothing positive to add, it was better to be absent and let everyone else enjoy the evening.
Being an all volunteer, underdog team without a major sponsor, partaking in the races is very difficult. The financial burden is very heavy. How we have pulled it off this far, is little short of a miracle.
The solution to returning next year is of course financial. We will be pursuing various venues to accomplish this goal. The loss of the prize money is a very difficult obstacle, but it’s just an obstacle. We have crossed many of them before.
We appreciate the overwhelming support we have received the last few days, let’s see if we can turn it all in to something positive. With your help, I believe it’s possible.
Some of us may have serious disagreements and high flying feelings about what just happened. But in the end, we all want to continue racing. I ask you to turn all this energy in to something positive and constructive for the PM team, your own sake and for the future of air racing. The show must go on!
Thanks for lending me your ear.