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Air Race Classic visits Iowa City, then leaves

BY CONRAD SWANSON | JUNE 22, 2011 7:20 AM

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Minnetta Gardinier refers to the Air Race Classic as her own little summer camp. Unfortunately, the camp activities got rained out on Tuesday.

The annual race of small aircraft was supposed to take off from the Iowa City Municipal Airport on Tuesday morning, which would have been the first time the multi-state race had come through Iowa City and the first time the race had begun in the state of Iowa. Because of inclement weather, however, the race will skip the first several stops and launch in Alliance, Neb., instead of Iowa City.

This news came as a disappointment for Gardinier, an associate dean in the UI Graduate College and associate professor of pharmacology who spent months organizing the race.

“I’m looking forward to the race still, but it’s a little disappointing — especially since the community has done a lot,” she said.

Even if the majority of the work Gardinier put into the event was erased, she said, she will still participate as a pilot.

The all-women airplane race started in 1977 — although it has roots in the 1920s —and typically lasts for four days. The 2011 race was scheduled to make nine refueling stops in eight different states before a final push for the finish line in Mobile, Ala.

The race often has two divisions: a competitive section and a division for pilots who just want flight experience. Gardinier has participated in the race three times before and typically signs up for the competitive section, but she said she doesn’t have any delusions of grandeur. She said she considers the race to be a competition against herself and her time handicap, and her goals are simple.

“My rule of thumb is that I’m going to have fun and be on speaking terms with my copilot by the end of the race,” she said.

She said tensions in the two- to three-person teams can run high and create friction, and Gardinier’s goal is to keep things positive with copilot Charissa Dyer-Kendler.

Gardinier co-owns a 1978 single-engine Cessna Cardinal Classic with Dan Eberl, the director of the UI genetics graduate program, and she hopes to surpass 1,000 hours of flight time during the 2011 race.

Aviation has been in her family for quite a while. Her mother worked for Sky Chefs, a company that provides airplane passengers with food during their flights. Her family was able to fly for free, allowing her early access to pilots and their planes, and Gardinier learned to fly in 2003.

That flying experience eventually drew her to the Air Race Classic, and she volunteered to organize the 2011 event. The race brought 105 women and 50 planes to Iowa City, and Patrick Sheridan, a line manager at the local airport, said the publicity the race brought before the cancellation was beneficial.

“It’s good for us,” he said. “There are a lot of people who don’t even know we exist out here, even though we’re only a mile or so out of town.”

Many of the pilots and copilots were in Iowa City for the first time, and they spent the weekend socializing and attending seminars.

And while the race itself won’t begin in Iowa City, many of the racers said they enjoyed their short time in the area.

“[Iowa City is] full of young people — it’s very alive,” said JoAnne Alcorn, who came to the city from Winter Haven, Fla. “It’s clean, well-kept, and — of course — there’s plenty of beer.”


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