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Jack Roush, on the loss of very close flying buddy Jimmy Leeward

  Jack Roush has been flying P-51 Warbirds since 1994. His is named 'Old Crow,' after Triple-Ace Bud Anderson's WWII P-51. (Photo: Jack Roush)

   By Mike Mulhern


   JOLIET, Ill.
   Jimmy Leeward and Jack Roush have been real good buds over the years, both P-51 aficionados to the nth-degree.
   So Leeward's tragic crash in Friday's air show in Reno, Nevada, is a very, very personal loss for the veteran NASCAR team owner.
   "I've known Jimmy Leeward since 1985," Roush said Sunday morning, in painful anguish. "We've always been close, very close.

   "When I had my problem in 2002 in Alabama (crashing an experimental lightweight), he was the first non-family member I looked across the foot of the hospital bed and saw in Birmingham.
   "And when I had my problem in Oshkosh (last summer), he consoled me. And, two months later, when it was time for me to get back the airplane, Jimmy was the first one to fly with me.
   "He's someone I've always looked up to in aviation. He had a great deal to do with getting me organized so I could operate the airplane safely. And I'd talk with him a couple times a week."
   Including just a few days ago, when the two talked about Leeward's game plans for flying in this year's running of the annual Reno Air Show championships, held there since 1964. ( http://bit.ly/qs7Slz is a pre-race video advancing the air show.)
    In air races like this one, pilots, generally in Warbirds, fly around a closed course at speeds up to 500 mph. And Roush typically is in Reno for the races, to help his friends with technical issues.
    "I consider myself to be an advocate of the air races…. and there are a lot of excesses in air race, as in car racing, where you can go over the edge in the effort to make horsepower," Roush said.
   "I went there in 2009; and the friends I know I try to help with their hardware. But I wasn't there this year for Jimmy….."
   Leeward's plane apparently lost a key part of the rear stabilizer, triggering a crash that killed him and at least nine people on the ground.
   "When you have a problem like that, you usually do a 'Mayday' (maneuver) by converting your speed into altitude," Roush said.
   "And then once you get up in the 'crow's nest,' you can look down and figure out how to glide back in.
   "But without that trim-tab control, as he exercises his 'Mayday' and went up, I think the thing had a G-force surge that blacked him out.
   "So he banged his head, or became unconscious…and then he was just a passenger."
   Roush himself, though not racing his own P-51s, is a major player in the world of Warbirds ( http://www.roushaviation.com/home.aspx ). In fact it was Leeward -- an air racer since the 1970s, and a movie stunt pilot, living in Florida -- who helped Roush join the exotic P-51 world in 1994.



  Left: Jack Roush and WWII ace Bud Anderson, with Roush's P-51, at the 1999 Oshkosh air show. (Photo: Jack Roush). Right: Jimmy Leeward (L) and Roush (Photo: Jimmy Leeward)




I first met Jimmy Leeward when I was invited out to his Air Ranch to train my Civil Air Patrol Cadets. One night he flew in in his P-51 and taxied up to our training area and came over to me and ask if the cadets would like to see his P-51. They loved it. After that he would take off and fly over my home and circle and wave to me.
Jimmy was one great guy. God Bless you Jimmy!
Former CAP Captain Klinka

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