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Air Race stops in Owatonna

jeri barrientos, mary mcmahon, air race, owatonna
Co-pilots Jeri Barrientos, left, and Mary McMahon, right, participated in the 47th ARC Air Race Classic June 18-21. They made a stop at Owatonna’s Degner Airport along the route. Staff photo by Raeghen Murry
Raeghen Murry, Staff Writer

Pilots taking part in a cross-country air race made a stop last week at Owatonna’s Degner Regional Airport.

Two-time racer Jeri Barrientos from Collinsville, Okla., and her co-pilot, three-time racer Mary McMahon from Winchester, Calif., both took part in the 47th ARC Air Race Classic June 18-21. Racers from across the country touched down in Owatonna, their fifth stop on the route, to get food and fuel for the next leg.

Airport Manager Dave Beaver said, “It’s really fun to see the community come together. We’ve got some hotels participating in with some discounts, and we’d really love to see some of the racers stay and see what Owatonna has to offer, what we’re all about, but to be selected as a stop in the race, it is an honor.”  

Barrientos is a private pilot with high-performance and tailwheel endorsement and 650 hours logged flying. McMahon holds both private pilot certifications and a current instrument rating, with high-performance and complex endorsement, and has 970 hours of flying in her logbook.  

“I am highly competitive against myself and want to achieve greater things in this life that is bigger than oneself,” Barrientos said. “I love a challenge, meeting new women aviators, and mentoring others. And I would love to take over the world while helping others learn about aviation. The sky is our playground.”

A third-generation pilot on her father’s side, Barrientos grew up around planes with her dad and grandfather. She has been flying all her life, so she feels like she should be a pilot because she grew up on an airstrip.

Her favorite part of flying, Barrientos said, is “being closer to my father and just that level of freedom and flying and carrying on the legacy.”   

McMahon grew up in southern Illinois and has been flying since 2006. She is a general aviation pilot and just got her instrument rating. She said her grandfather had always wanted to be a pilot, but he has poor hearing. However, at the age of 64, he went out and got a pilot’s license.

McMahon remembers thinking, “well if he can do it, I can too.” Her brother also got his license, which challenged her to go ahead and get hers as well.  

Patti Sandusky, a 2011 Air Race pilot, has worked for Air Races as a head timer. This year, she volunteered to be at the stop chair, while helping the racers get fuel in their tanks and telling them where they should put their planes.

Sandusky, the first and only pilot in her family, said her favorite part about her job “is the fact that I’d flown it before, I know what the racers are doing, many of these racers were in my race, so I know them. So, it’s fun to see them coming through. It’s always fun and exciting to watch the flybys.”

“I think so many of us that become pilots, (it’s) something we’ve always wanted to do,” she added. “I dreamt about it as a child. At some point in your life, you finally decide there’s nothing more liberating except building your confidence as getting your pilot’s license and learning to fly.” 

The Air Race process is very long, starting about three days prior to the race when all the airplanes are inspected. Planes are impounded at the airport and checked by a maintenance crew.  When the racers fly, they must pass the timers at a white tent, where the timeline is. All the racers need to know where the timeline is at all the designated airports. They fly as fast as their planes can fly, full throttle past the timeline.

Each airport has certain requirements. Racers must fly between 200 feet and 400 feet over the runway for Owatonna Degner Regional airport. The pilot gets to decide if they want to land or to keep going in the race until the next airport stop.

Most planes land in Owatonna because the leg before and the one after are the two longest legs of the race. If the pilot decides to land, they must fly the entire length of the runway past the timing line. The timers will be notified that the plane wants to land, and they will stop their clocks.

Pilots receive multiple weather reports, but it is always the pilot’s decision whether they want to fly or not.

“This is the first year we’ve sponsored this race, and they move it around to different locations every year. So, they can have different locations to fly to and all the participants can see different things and communities to get exposed to across the country,” Beaver said.

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