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Not a pilot, but still flying

Jeff Wendling, 721st Communications Squadron video subject matter expert, and former master sergeant with the 302nd Airlift Wing, prepares to race his car against the clock June 17, 2017 at the Colorado Springs Airport, Colorado.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Jeff Wendling, 721st Communications Squadron video subject matter expert, and former master sergeant with the 302nd Airlift Wing, prepares to race his car against the clock June 17, 2017 at the Colorado Springs Airport, Colorado. He topped 100 mph, but damaged his engine and couldn’t continue racing. (Courtesy photo)

Jeff Wendling, 721st Communications Squadron video subject matter expert, and former master sergeant with the 302nd Airlift Wing, prepares to race his car against the clock June 17, 2017 at the Colorado Springs Airport, Colorado.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Jeff Wendling, 721st Communications Squadron video subject matter expert, and former master sergeant with the 302nd Airlift Wing, and his current race car June 17, 2017 at the Colorado Springs Airport, Colorado. Wendling began racing as an active duty Airman and continues to enjoy the sport in his free time. (Courtesy photo)

CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN AIR FORCE STATION, Colo. -- -- Fact sheets on the U.S. Air Force web site show several fighter aircraft capable of flying more than 1,000 mph. NASA notes that rockets fly about twice that speed and, according to Air Force Space Command data, satellites cruise around the globe at about 17,000 mph.

Jeff Wendling, 721st Communications Squadron video subject matter expert, and former master sergeant with the 302nd Airlift Wing assigned to Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, for two decades, found early on that he can fly low by racing automobiles.

His hobby may be a way to occupy himself after work hours, but it isn’t without its hazardous side. Wendling participated in the Pikes Peak Airstrip Attack June 17-18, 2017, as part of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb speed week events in Colorado Springs. He hoped to take his newest car down the track at about 170 mph, but a parts failure ended his weekend early with a run of 109 mph.

“I got into racing when I was on active duty at 18 years old,” said Wendling. “I got into drag racing while I was (stationed) at Grissom (Joint Air Reserve Base) in Indiana.”

He has been into cars since his youth. It began during high school when he bought a green 1968 automobile with a 340 cubic inch engine from a co-worker. Wendling made slight alterations to the vehicle making it a little more like a hot rod and he was hooked on cars, he said.

“I am really into cars,” said Wendling. “I like doing anything that has to do with cars and (with) other car people. You don’t have to be the fastest and you can still race your car.”

He said the racing community he has been part of for so many decades is like that military community he has been around for 40 years. The camaraderie connects him to both worlds.

“I like the people (involved in cars) they really draw me,” he said. “I really enjoy the people who are doing it, it is similar to the military like that. There is always someone with a story; someone with an experience.”

Most of the people he started in the military with are “car guys,” he said and they are still in touch. The racing community is made of down to earth people. If someone cannot afford the most expensive vehicles or equipment they can still race their car and have fun.

“Unless you’ve been in the military you won’t understand,” Wendling said. “The military is a family and racing is like that.”

During his first time on a road course, racing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, he came into his cooldown lap too fast and, at 130 mph, realized his brakes were not working. He went off the track into gravel and was certain his car would flip. Fortunately it did not and Wendling got away with only ruining his wheels.

That day he learned the importance of driving within one’s capabilities.

“Speed isn’t everything if you don’t make it out,” he said.

Drag racing is fun for a while, but he is getting more into road-type racing. He likes the opportunity it provides to get more seat time and learn how to really drive the car. He is also more involved in touring, or long-haul, driving from state to state now as he nears retirement.

“It’s so much fun,” he said. “It’s what my wife and I are going to do after retirement.”