High speed: reservist represents at 172 mph

  • Published
  • By Brannen Parrish
  • 931st Air Refueling Group Public Affairs
Calling an Airman "high speed" is a figure of speech that goes hand-in-hand with phrases like "sharp troop," "go-getter," and "on-the-ball," but when someone says Tech Sgt. John Fitzpatrick is "high speed," the compliment is literal.

Fitzpatrick, an aircraft structural craftsman with the 931st Maintenance Squadron, is one of three Air Force Reservists who race with sponsorship from Air Force Reserve Command.
The command sponsors two race cars, one in Illinois and one in California, but Fitzpatrick is the only AFRC-sponsored motorcycle racer.

"For the money you pay on a bike, you can go a lot faster than you can in a car," Fitzpatrick said. "It's an adrenaline rush. It's probably similar to what a fighter pilot feels in the cockpit."

In November, Fitzpatrick competed in the Manufacturers' Cup in Valdosta, Ga., his first race as an AFRC-sponsored rider. He reached the quarterfinals of the Super Comp 8.9 Index race.

To those unfamiliar with drag racing, index racing may appear counterintuitive. Riders compete to reach the finish line first but they cannot finish in less than 8.9 seconds.
Arriving even one-hundredth of a second ahead of schedule will result in the rider's disqualification. It requires a combination of control and intuition, and levels the playing field for those who lack the resources to put the fastest bike on the track.

Unfortunately, Fitzpatrick was too high speed in his quarterfinal race. He crossed the line in 8.89 seconds, resulting in a disqualification.

"Index racing is all about consistency," Fitzpatrick said. "If you don't shift at the right time you can run too fast or too slow."

In exchange for sponsorship, Fitzpatrick provides recruiters with passes to races and participates in public appearances. He also has Air Force Reserve logos on his bike and trailer. During racing trips, thousands of people see the words "Air Force Reserve" accompanied by the Recruiting Service's phone number.

"I'm kind of like a travelling billboard for the Air Force Reserve," Fitzpatrick said.

According to Chief Master Sgt. Glen Barnes, Chief of Advertising for the AFRC Recruiting Service, recruiting has become increasingly challenging as 75 percent of Americans in the 18 to 34 year-old age demographic are ineligible for military service. One of the typical challenges recruiters encounter is locating and gaining face-to-face contact with individuals who are willing and eligible to consider military service.

Barnes said sponsoring a Reservist who races provides a level of legitimacy that a full-time professional auto or motorcycle racer can't attain with potential accessions.

"When you have a non-Reservist the connection stops at, 'I do this professionally and the Air Force Reserve sponsors me,'" Barnes said. "When you have a Reservist you have a connection and a story to tell. He can say, 'Not only do I do this but I'm in the Air Force Reserve. You can have interests outside of your Air Force Reserve commitment,' so there is more of a connection."

In the Midwest, where a demand exists for cutting-edge, technical careers, recruiters need mechanically-inclined individuals. Barnes said that's where access to races comes in handy.

"We find that racing fans tend to be mechanically inclined," said Barnes. "Those are the individuals we want and need for those cutting-edge career fields."

Fitzpatrick proudly refers to this demographic as the "grease monkey" crowd, and he agreed that racers and racing fans tend to be mechanically inclined. When most of the racers he knows aren't on the track, they are either fine tuning their bikes or bench racing.

"We sit around and talk about our races and what we tried and how it worked and compare notes," said Fitzpatrick. "Almost all of my friends are racers; we're grease monkeys. We get as much enjoyment from rebuilding an engine and tinkering around with engines as anything else."

With the assistance from AFRC, Fitzpatrick can afford to tinker with better equipment and participate in more races. With every race Fitzpatrick attends, more people are exposed to the Air Force Reserve.

"It's taken a lot of financial burden off of me because I can make the races and represent the Air Force Reserve," said Fitzpatrick. "It's a great opportunity to be able to do what I do racing-wise and to represent the Air Force Reserve and to help the Reserve gain recruits."