|We lost a very good
friend this afternoon. Long-time air racing veteran Gary
Levitz, a furniture executive from Grand Prairie, Texas,
was lost when his custom built P-51R racer "Miss
Ashley II" crashed at the Reno National Championship
Air Races. % Levitz was running in fifth place at the time.
Initial reports indicate a massive catastrophic failure
of the airframe as Levitz rounded the number 1 pylon on
the first lap of the Gold Unlimited Heat Race. Several
pieces of the wreckage landed nearby in Lemon Valley. At
least two houses and a travel trailer were struck by the
debris, however reports confirm that there were no
injuries on the ground. RARA and FAA officials are
continuing to investigate the incident.
"Miss Ashley II", race 38, was one of the most highly modified racers ever to appear at Reno. Constructed over a several year period by Levitz and partner Bill Rogers, "Miss Ashley II" sported a modified Lear Jet wing, Rolls Royce Griffon engine and counter-rotating propellers. The racer had suffered numerous teething problems since it's debut in 1997, but seemed to improve performance and speed during every race.
Gary Levitz was a long time member of the air racing, and warbird community. First appearing at the Mojave 1000 in 1970 in his P-38 "Double Trouble", Levitz soon became a popular race pilot. While Levitz never won a championship race, he maintained a constant presence, racing such aircraft as "Double Trouble", the late John Sandberg's P-63 "Tipsy Miss", his P-51 racers "Precious Metal" and "Miss Ashley", and for the last several years, "Miss Ashley II". Levitz also was a prominent member of the Confederate Air Force during the 1960's and 70's. In 1989, he played a major role in assisting John Sandberg's attempt at the 3 km speed record in "Tsunami".
After the incident, the remainder of the show schedule, including the U.S Air Force Thunderbirds was cancelled. However, RARA Chairman Jack Walther stated that tomorrow's races will continue as scheduled. In our hearts, we know Gary would have wanted it that way.
As this report is being written at 5:30 on Saturday afternoon, the entire extended air racing family is grieving for Gary's loss. Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to the Levitz family, members of the Levitz-Rogers Racing Team, and racing fans everywhere. Gary's loss leaves a hole in our hearts that no one will be able to fill.
Blue skies forever, Gary.......
(we gratefully acknowledge the efforts of Brad Haskin in his tearful writing of this story during a very difficult time dealing with this loss. ed.)