A Story About Air Racing
Recently I read a story of my friend Marilyn Dash’s blog about the Reno Air Race community and a common friend Jay Jones, that I want to share with all of you.
It’s a story that like many others, has its ups and downs. There are heroes and there are lessons. Hopefully you’ll enjoy my story.
First, there was a guy named Jay Jones. Jay loved to fly. He loved to race. He loved to tinker with things to make them go faster. He was also the guy you could always go to if you needed a wrench, a kind word, or someone to fix your wheel pants (Jay’s specialty – it seemed).
When I say Jay loved to fly – I mean he flew his IF1 Cassutt Racer from his home in Buena Vista, Colorado to Oshkosh – several times. That means about 1000 miles each way, in a plane that needs to land about every hour or two. Oh, and there is really no place for luggage. And there are no instruments to fly with – it’s basic stick and rudder flying.
We lost Jay on July 4th. He was returning to his home airport after a fly-in about 100 miles away. His aircraft, a Seawind, had some sort of emergency, he radioed a mayday – but wasn’t specific about what type of trouble he was having.
He ended up trying to land in a small field while avoiding populated areas all around. It is largely believed he deliberately steered away from those more populated areas. Either way, he’s gone – but he’s not. There is much more to his story.
Jay had 2 daughters, Haley and Allison. His daughters were the apples of his eye. We all know Allison as she was part of our racing family and has been to the Races several times before.
Allison Jones was born with a defective leg. Her parents had to make some difficult decisions when she was born to remove her bad leg – knowing she would be better off with a prosthetic device. From that moment, I believe Jay was always coming up with ways to make that prosthetic better for her – whether the idea was to make it faster or more comfortable, his mind was always coming up with better, faster, lighter, smarter.
Allison excelled in sports, mostly skiing and cycling. She will be representing the USA in her 8th Paralympic Games in Rio this summer. Jay was so excited – he wasn’t going to race this year, because he was going to Rio and watch her in her final Paralympic Games.
Now, the story gets even more interesting. Jay meets up with another pilot – a man named Justin Meaders. Justin and Jay had many things in common. They were both skilled craftsmen, pilots and both were touched by disabilities. See, Justin lost the use of his legs in a motorcycle racing incident years ago.
Even as a child, Justin was a bit different. On his 5th birthday, he received his first motorcycle. He learned to ride it that day and never looked back. From that moment on – speed became his drug. He was always looking for ways to make that bike faster or to make it handle better.
Unfortunately, during a motorcycle road racing event, he was launched off his bike, over the handlebars while traveling about 150 mph. The bike then cartwheeled in the air after him – probably pouncing on him several times. He woke up before medical assistance could get to him and knew he was in trouble. But, he certainly didn’t lose his spunk. While flying in the medical helicopter, he asked the pilot if he could ride up front with him. The pilot laughed and said, “Maybe next time”.
His spunk has never left him. While his dad was a pilot, Justin didn’t get around to flying until after his accident. He stumbled onto the International Wheelchair Aviators group and found they were based in TX – where he lived. He drove down and met their president, Mike Smith. Mike helped Justin understand the types of hand controls available for certified airplanes, how to install them and use them. After a few lessons with Mike, Justin then found a school closer to his home which worked with him on his hand control needs.
Through many delays and truckloads of paperwork, he was granted his FAA Medical and now the sky is no longer the limit.
Justin had been following IF1 for several years before. He was introduced to the Air Racing Family in 2013 when he crewed for another Justin – Justin Phillipson. When he started to talk to other IF1 pilots about building his own race plane which could be flown without the use of legs – they were all quite interested – Jay especially.
Justin’s airplane wasn’t going to be ready in time for the Races this year. And since Jay was heading to Brazil to watch Allison – it took Jay about 5 seconds to say – “How about we put your hand controls into my race plane, Quadnickel?!” – And that’s all it took.
The next thing you know, a group of IF1 pilots and crew headed to Midland, TX to the Flyboyz Race Camp to install the hand controls and get Justin ready for PRS – Pylon Racing Seminar – aka “Rookie School”. He probably had more time in Quadnickel than most first time Rookies at PRS. His first flight had everyone at the airport standing by cheering him on. We’re still cheering him on!
Justin Meaders is now a Race Pilot. He is a member of our Racing Family and we are happy to have him and his infectious enthusiasm.
And Jay lives on in our hearts, minds and in the air – with Justin at the controls of his Quadnickel.
That’s my story
© Marilyn Dash.
Many thanks to Marilyn an experienced female Bi-Plane Air Racer.