THRILL SEEKING? FLY IN AND OUT OF GAINESVILLE

Joining the “mile high club” may be a flying club some seek to join, but two clubs were created this weekend for members of the drag racing community headed to the NHRA Gatornationals didn’t particularly care to join. The common denominator was flying in and out of Gainesville Regional airport with Delta Airlines.

Thursday marked the inauguration of the “Delta Hot Lap” club while Monday morning marked the first flight of the “Delta One-Prop” clan.

Delta Flight 4790 from Atlanta opened with a jovial group of racers and crewmembers coaxing a flight attendant into welcoming Pro Stock engine builder Roy Johnson back after a heart attack in Phoenix. The regional jet also featured the likes of Mike Sullivan of Wayne County Speed Shop fame, painter extra-ordinaire and all-around do-everything Brian Olson and Hoosier Tire’s Faron Lubbers just to name a few.

Upon approach to Gainesville airport, the jet was still moving at a high rate of horsepower and was within an estimated 20 feet of touch down when the pilot nailed the throttle and pulled the plane up. Eyewitness reports pointed out that nearly every passenger looked at one another and not a word was uttered. The silence was compounded when the plane circled out over a large body of water before landing on the opposite end of the runway running only slightly slower than the initial approach.

The pilot came over the PA and informed the puckered up passenger that dangerous winds was the factor in his decision to land from the other side. One passenger was overheard saying, “Poor Roy Johnson, survived a heart attack to bite the bullet on an airplane.”

Then came Monday’s debacle. Delta’s flight 4246 featured a line-up of Matco Tools’ John Torok, ESPN’s Dave Rieff, qualifying sheet co-ordinator Chris Winters, David Powers Motorsports PR rep Ted Yerzik, Pro Stock team owners Bart and Donna Price as well as the parents of Top Fuel sensation JR Todd among others. Lubbers, the Hoosier Racing rep who was on Delta 4790 on Thursday, showed up for 4246 but was bumped off for the next flight. That was lucky for him.

About 20 minutes into the uneventful journey from Gainesville to Atlanta, the pilot of the turbo-prop plane came over the PA to notify passengers, “Ladies and gentlemen, if you look out the left side of the plane you have probably noticed that one of our engines has stopped. There is no need to worry because these planes are built to fly in the event of a failed engine.”

The pilot couldn’t leave well-enough alone.

“We have notified ahead to Hartsfield Airport that we are in an emergency situation and we will be landing in about 15 minutes.”

Fifteen minutes of silence followed and a bumpy ride added to the tension. Upon approach to Atlanta, the passengers couldn’t help but notice a regimented line of fire trucks and ambulances preparing for their landing. The landing, although not one of the smoothest, generated a round of applause of from the passengers.

A visibly shaken stewardess came over the speaker and conveyed, “We’d like to welcome you to Atlanta and thank God for allowing us to land safely. I’d like to thank you for remaining cool.”

The deplaning process took only half the time of a normal flight.

Rieff’s parting comment on the situation was, “I keep an Excel spread sheet of my flight experiences and as long as I am able to keep updating it…I’m happy.”

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