FORT WAYNE — When 1st Lt. Michael Graham was a kid, he like many other young Hoosiers attended the Brickyard 400 and the Indianapolis 500.
Like many of those other youngsters, he too was awed by the focus and speed he observed while in the stands. He envied their daring and dreamed of doing it himself one day.
Except, Graham wasn’t thinking about the drivers or their cars on the track. He was enamored with the pilots guiding the majestic jets through the sky and over the speedway for the flyover before the race.
“I’ve always wanted to fly,” the National Guardsman said. “And I always wanted to do a flyover. I just didn’t envision it happening for me so soon.”
Graham, a New Palestine graduate and a member of the 163rd Fighter Squadron in the 122nd Fighter Wing at the Fort Wayne Air National Guard Base, recently was afforded the opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream.
He flew an A-10 Thunderbolt II, a twin-engine, straight-wing jet over Indianapolis Motor Speedway before Sunday’s Brickyard 400.
Graham has been flying since his college days at Indiana State University, but Sunday was his first flyover. He spoke with The Daily Reporter about the experience.
How did it come to be that you would be the one doing the flyover?
In all honestly, it was just a scheduling thing. I was available to do it. They asked me, and I jumped all over it. It was just the right place and the right time. I’m pretty lucky.
What’s the first thing you did when you found out you were doing the flyover?
Well, I only found out days ahead, and I tried not to get too worked up and excited because it might not happen. You never know. Schedules change all the time. But once (it was confirmed), I called my family and told them, ‘I’m going to Indy to do the flyby. You might want to get some tickets.’
What was it like to fly over that sort of raucous crowd? Did you see everyone cheering?
Actually no. I never even saw the track (laughs). I was the No. 2 guy, the trail guy, so my job is to watch him and make sure I don’t hit him. I am, no kidding, just staring at a certain spot on his jet and making sure it doesn’t move. He might have been looking around, but I wasn’t.
Plus, the speed we were going (around 250 mph), there wasn’t a lot of time to take it all in and embrace it. You’re there and, boom, you’re gone.
What was the most challenging part of doing the flyover?
The timing. … We’re trying to hit our target time (at the end of the national anthem), and that is difficult, because we didn’t know exactly when she was going to end. Kellie Pickler … sent us a rehearsal time, so we had something to work with, but she might sing it differently this time, you never know. I think we did all right. No one told us we didn’t (laughs).
Did you get a chance to watch the race? Were you cheering for anyone?
We landed 4.3 miles away at the Indianapolis National Airport, and we were driven to the track, so I got to watch the second half of it. … The best part was all the fans who came up to me and thanked me for my service. That’s pretty rewarding. As for who I was cheering for, I know it was (Jeff) Gordon’s last race, so I wanted him to do well.
What would be the most thrilling event for you to do a flyover?
It would be the Colts playing in the Super Bowl in Indianapolis. … Of course, I would love to do the Indy 500 or the Brickyard again, because those are such big events for our state.
Name: Michael Graham
Hometown: New Palestine
Position: Pilot at Fort Wayne Air National Guard Base
Rank: First Lieutenant
Unit: 163rd Fighter Squadron in 122nd Fighter Wing
Family: Kathryn (wife); Madelyn (daughter)
High school: New Palestine (Class of 2005)
Sports in high school: Tennis, baseball and basketball
College: Indiana State University (Class of 2009)