Fifty-five teams of women pilots will be making a pass through Arkadelphia next week as the Dexter B. Florence Memorial Field Airport will be the site of a timing line for the annual Air Race Classic.

Fifty-five teams of women pilots will be making a pass through Arkadelphia next week as the Dexter B. Florence Memorial Field Airport will be the site of a timing line for the annual Air Race Classic.
The pilots and teams are set and ready to take to the skies for the 40th Annual Air Race Classic. This race consists of over 130 women competitors.
This race started back in 1947 when the All Women's Transcontinental Air Race (AWTAR) was discontinued as the Air Race Classic, Ltd. In 2002, the ARC was reincorporated as the Air Race Classic, Inc., which is now a non-profit educational organization. This 501(c)(3) organization encourages and educates current and future women pilots while preserving and promoting the tradition of pioneering women in aviation.
The 40th Annual Air Race Classic will be honoring aviation colleges. The Collegiate Cross Country is the name of this year’s races. There will be 19 teams representing their respective colleges. The other teams consist of families, friends and some companies.
Among the teams competing is 3 Fast 3 Furious team number 46 out of Orlando, Fla. The team consists of Lauren Thompson, Lauren Brown and Jessica Karlsson.
Thompson, the captain, is going into her fourth race, where she won on the collegiate level during her second year racing at Purdue, the same university from which she graduated with her master's degree in aviation and aerospace management.
Although it is Karlsson’s and Brown's first year racing, they are no strangers to flying. Karlsson received her Private Pilot certificate in 2015, instrument rating in 2016 and is currently working on her commercial Pilot certificate, and Brown, a third generation pilot in her family, started taking flight lesson as early as the age of 15. Now a commercial pilot working on obtaining her flight instructor ratings, she cannot wait for this opportunity to compete.
Thompson spoke on how “being around all those women pilots from all different backgrounds” was a great experience, and all women pilots should participate in the races. She also reminisced on a time during her first race at the age of 19 where she met World War II Women Air Force Service Pilot Margaret Ringenberg who was 92 years old at the time.
3 Fast 3 Furious will be flying a 1978 Cessna Skyhawk 172N. The ladies will not have GPS, autopilot or fancy electronics to help them while flying because of the year of plane, but because the race is set up on a handicap system they will not be at a disadvantage. The scoring is not based on who has the fastest plane nor the fastest time but who improves upon their personal best time by the largest margin, and this is to even the playing field for teams with older model planes.
Another team in the races is Mooney Mooney, team number 31. Pilot Alicia Sikes and co-pilot Heather Hill will be competing in their first race together, but this will be Sikes third year in the races.
Hill reminisced about walking out to the races seeing all the women working on their planes.
“I could only imagine how it was back in 1929 when it all started during the powder puff races seeing all the women working on their planes and the early morning sunrise with fog in the air just surreal,” Hill said.
Their team will be flying a Mooney 201 M20J in the race.
Every year the routes change, and since the races are honoring aviation colleges, they will be stoping here in town at the Dexter B. Florence Memorial Field Airport in honor of the Henderson State University Aviation program. Many of these airports are at or near a renowned college or university aviation program.
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is hosting the start and terminus. In between, the course will take the racers to Albuquerque, N.M.; Midland, Texas; Waco, Texas; Arkadelphia; Warrensburg, Mo.; Champaign/Urbana, Ill.; Murfreesboro, Tenn.; and Americus, Ga.
The races can be lucrative with the prizes for the ARC valued at more than $16,500 and include medallions, trophies and cash awards. But for most of the racers its more than just the money.
“Every June, female pilots from across the nation fly the ARC for the competition and camaraderie,” stated Air Race Classic President Lara Gaerte in a press release. “We look forward to welcoming back veteran racers and meeting new competitors at this year’s start, and celebrating the end of a great race together at the terminus.”
The opportunity to be able to travel, fly, meet new people and compete is what makes these races one of a kind.