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The Day I Raced in the Atlanta 500 — Sort Of

May 30, 2011

On race day during my freshman year at Georgia Tech, a pilot friend of mine offered to take me flying if I helped pay for gas. He rented a Cessna 150 at the Fulton County Airport not far from downtown Atlanta. I had time in a Cessna 140, a tail dragger version of the 150, but had never flown a 150 before, so I sat in the right seat.

Pre-1964 Cessna 150

A short 30 mile flight later we were on top of the Atlanta International Raceway (now the much faster sounding Atlanta Motor Speedway) just as the Atlanta 500 race was starting. Once there, the pilot decided to let me fly. I, like any normal young male very full of himself, decided we should race the cars.  And so we did.

Other planes started arriving, but we were the first ones there, and so the rest had to orbit further away from the track, while we had the prime spot for the race action – directly over the track.

Although the two-seat Cessna had a cruise speed of only 123 mph, it had a Vne, never exceed speed, of 162 mph, and I found that by putting the plane’s nose down on the straightaway, I could safely race the cars at 150 mph, which pretty well allowed me to keep up with them. On the turn I threw the wing over and maintained position over the track. After the 180° turn, I’d climb back up so I’d have altitude to speed down the track on the next straightaway.

We did several turns like that before deciding it was time to fly off for more adventure.

And to think, I wasn’t even a pilot yet!

(Disclaimer: It you pulled that stunt today you’d be escorted away by a pair of F-16s, have the plane impounded, and lose your license – forever! So don’t even think about it.)

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