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Top five similaritiesTop five similarities

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Chase Elliott (24), shown during practice for the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida, Feb. 20, 2016, is a pilot. Photo by David Tulis/AOPA.
Xfinity Series driver and Phoenix Air Group owner Mark Thompson (13) prepares to qualify for NASCAR
Xfinity Series driver and Phoenix Air Group owner Mark Thompson (13) prepares to qualify for NASCAR's Xfinity Series Powershares QQQ300 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida, Feb. 20, 2016. Photo by David Tulis.

Phoenix Air Group charter operator, pilot, and NASCAR race car driver Mark Thompson explored the similarities between flying and automobile racing.

Thompson began his aviation career as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam and now organizes and executes sensitive aircraft missions around the globe from his Cartersville, Georgia, headquarters. Phoenix’s military air contracting division assists the U.S. Department of Defense, NATO, and other worldwide clients.

The Atlanta native was the 2015 Automobile Racing Club of America pole winner at Daytona International Speedway and also races in select NASCAR Xfinity Series events.

Here are the top five similarities Thompson finds between flying and racing.

Preparation: Thompson that said before his race car enters the track, it’s “pretty well prepped out already by the crew.” Prior to taking the controls of an aircraft, however, he will “think out the mission” before he flies it.

 Accuracy: Thompson said “racing is all about precision” and he flies with that same level of accuracy, whether it’s a rotory-wing or fixed-wing aircraft.

 Anticipation: “Racing is more akin to playing chess” by planning a couple of moves down the road and playing what-if scenarios before they unfold. When flying a Gulfstream or a Learjet, Thompson said he “anticipates center giving me whatever is coming up,” so there are no surprises.

Stamina: “Race car drivers have to be mentally alert” while steering their vehicles through hours of high-speed G forces, dehydration, and muscle strain, he said. Pilots need stamina to stay on top of their game particularly “when hand-flying an airplane in bad weather.” 

Thinking: “Racing is a thinking man’s game,” Thompson said, especially for passing maneuvers, steering clear of pileups, and calculating fuel requirements. Pilots must “think well ahead of yourself by considering weather, routes, and comfort.”

Driver Jamie McMurray (1) races his No. 1 McDonald
Driver Jamie McMurray (1) races his No. 1 McDonald's/Cessna Chevrolet against Jimmie Johnson (48), and Kyle Larson (42) at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida, Feb. 21, 2016. Photo by David Tulis.
David Tulis

David Tulis

Associate Editor Web/ePilot
AOPA Associate Editor Web/ePilot David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a seaplane-rated private pilot who enjoys vintage aircraft, aerobatic flying, and photography.
Topics: Pilots

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