NASCAR is known for its high speeds, devastating crashes and dramatic finishes, but the racecars won’t be the only vehicle testing the sound barrier before the Sprint Cup STP 500 at Martinsville this weekend.
For the first time the track has enlisted the North Carolina-based Bandit Flight Team to perform a fly-over at the track prior to the race.
Martinsville Track President Clay Campbell first saw the crew at an NC State game, as the team is contracted for fly-overs before every Wolfpack home football game, and wanted to add the experience to the Martinsville race weekend.
“I’m excited to see the Bandit Flight Team perform here for the STP 500,” said Campbell. “I saw them last year at a NC State football game and their timing was perfect at the end of the National Anthem. Soon after that we got in touch with them and got them booked for Martinsville. Since they are all from the Raleigh, NC area it’s an easy flight to Martinsville race morning. I’m confident our fans are going to be impressed!”
This isn’t the team’s first fly-over for a NASCAR event. The Bandit Flight Team has already done a flyover at the Dover International Speedway, in addition to fly-overs at Durham Bulls baseball games, the Rockingham Dragway, the Raleigh Christmas Parade and Rally for the Cure.
The seven-man team will fly a combination of a Nanchang CJ-6 Chinese Air Force Trainer, a Yakovlev Yak-52 Russian Air Force Trainer and a Van’s Aircraft RV7.
While the planes won’t reach the speeds of the military jets some fans are accustomed to, lead pilot Jim Kilpatrick says that’s part of the fun.
“We are slower so they will see us longer, there are more airplanes and we’ll stay on target a little bit longer,” said Kilpatrick. “The crowd really likes that. We have smoke systems on the airplane, so you’ll see smoke come out. It’s a nice mix of smoke and noise that makes for a good show.”
Kilpatrick, a former Air Force pilot, says the point of emphasis for his team is to time their entrance with the ending of the national anthem.
“It’s a punctuation to the national anthem. At the end there just needs to be something there to get you standing up and applauding, and a fly-over does that.”
“When they say, ‘home of the brave,’ and you look up, we’re right there,” said Kilpatrick. “It’s great because the people on the ground are changing their time, and we’re able to change while maneuvering with all these airplanes flying all around. When you coordinate all of that and have it work out, yeah, that’s a lot of fun.”
It takes a lot of preparation to hit that mark, not to mention all the work the team does to fly in perfect formation.
“We fly off each other’s wings – we’re about three feet off each other’s wings,” said Kilpatrick. “We don’t just go out and do this. We’ve been practicing like crazy.”
“At first when you bring [someone new] in, you start flying off the wings straight and level, and when you get comfortable with that you add turns, climbs and banks. If they’re not formation qualified we have one of our guys in the back seat with him till he gets trained. Then we’ll start adding more advanced maneuvers and formations. That takes a lot of practice and a lot of time.”
But it’s not really work for the crew. This is a part-time job that each member does because they love it. For Kilpatrick that love started at a young age, and just grew after his time in the military.
“When I was a young guy at 22 years old flying over the desert in Arizona in a fighter jet at 500 mph, it’s a kick in the pants,” said Kilpatrick. “It’s a big high; it’s wonderful. ”
Kilpatrick says there are other rewards as well.
“When they introduce us at the NC State game we get a standing ovation from 60,000 people,” said Kilpatrick. “That’s really nice, it’s great feedback.”
On Sunday at Martinsville the Bandit Flight Team will get things started with what they expect to be another perfect exclamation point as part of a timeless tradition.