Over its first eighteen years of running, the AirVenture Cup Cross-Country Air Race has seen many rare and interesting aircraft, many family racing teams, many successful rookie campaigns, and many breathtakingly close “photo finishes.” It’s hard to say, however, if the AVC has ever seen all these elements combined in quite the way we saw in 2015, when the Pruitt Brothers raced a rare Meyers 200D in their first AirVenture Cup and won the FAC1RG class by an astonishing two seconds.
Jamon and Dane Pruitt, respectively of Springdale and Alexander, Arkansas grew up with aviation in their blood. Their father, Jimmy Pruitt, owned a Cessna 120 in which he often took the boys flying (as seen here in the early 1970s). Jamon, in fact, took lessons and soloed in high school, but later quit flying during college and med school en route to becoming a successful cardiologist. It wasn’t until 2009 that he again found the time and money to revisit his first love – and then he picked up right where he left off, buying a C-120 just like the one his dad used to own and restoring it over the next two years. Dane, meanwhile, stayed closer to aviation, becoming the manager of the Saline County Regional Airport (KSUZ), but it wasn’t until his older brother got back into flying that he began flight training, ultimately earning his PPL in 2014.
“Until a couple years ago, I’d never even heard of a Meyers,” Jamon notes. “One night I couldn’t sleep so I was surfing ‘airplane porn’ – barnstormers.com – and came across an ad for a Meyers 200. It was such a good looking plane, I emailed the owner at 3:10am.” By the following afternoon, Jamon and the owner had agreed to a deal, and two days later he was in Greenville, MS, inspecting the plane with the help of Ed Turnage and getting checked out “on a little duster strip in a cotton field.” He fell in love with the airplane immediately. One month later, in July 2014, Jamon, Dane and Jimmy flew the Meyers to Oshkosh for their third trip to AirVenture, where they camped in Vintage Aircraft Camping.
With such a notably speedy airplane and intentions to return to Oshkosh a second time, it’s only natural that the Pruitts ended up racing in the AVC. “It was Jamon’s idea – he’s the insomniac internet surfer!” laughs Dane. “We were going back to OSH regardless.” It was both Pruitt brothers’ first introduction to racing, and they arrived in Mt. Vernon eager to learn from the old hands. “It probably didn’t help that I was hauling 400 lbs of camping equipment!” notes Jamon. It very nearly cost them first place in the FAC1RG class, as a mere tenth of a mph – adding up to only two seconds of elapsed time – separated the 202.95 mph Pruitt Brothers from second place finishers Bob & Annelise Bennett in their Beechcraft S35 Bonanza (note: Mr. Bennett was tragically killed several months later when the Bonanza suffered an engine failure en route to a SARL race in Colorado).
Since the AirVenture Cup, Jamon’s been hard at work making sure his next AirVenture Cup victory doesn’t hang by so slender a thread. His new AVC friends Harry Hinkley, Keith Phillips and sons Mike and Tim, and John Secord of “Dirty Girl” fame are helping him find ways to make the Meyers faster. “They gave me a ‘gig list’ of things to improve speed,” says Jamon. “Things like getting the rigging in trim, the flaps and ailerons especially. I replaced the big rotating beacon hanging down with a slimmer LED…sealed the holes in the airframe.” So far, Jamon has milked an extra 7 mph out of the plane in races like the Texoma 100. “You look back at the old races with the factory demonstrators, they were running 220-222 mph,” Jamon notes. He is now overhauling the propeller and magnetos in hopes of achieving a smoother-running and more powerful installation. That’s probably for the best with AVC 2016 approaching: rumor has it that this year John Secord will be leaving his outrageous pink Glasair at home in favor of his newly acquired Meyers 200C…and there may be a few others of the rare breed in attendance, too. With every one of the fewer than 200 airframes having been hand-built in Al Meyers’ workshop, it’s hard to say which are fastest until they’re pitted against each other.
Future AVCs could even find the Pruitt Brothers racing different Meyers models: Dane recently convinced Jamon to “invest” in an ultra-rare Meyers 145, one of only 19 built (“The financial markets weren’t doing anything…this is rarer than a Ferrari 250 GTO and more fun than stock certificates….” – if only such arguments worked on spouses as well as brothers!). Modified by legendary former owner Budd Davisson and repowered with a 200 hp Continental, this is a Meyers 145 that could redefine the FAC3RG class.
But not this year. The Meyers 145 is getting some needed attention to the panel, and in the meantime Dane is going back to where it all began: flying with his Dad in the family Cessna 120, visiting Mitchell, SD for the first time and racing in the Vintage class. “I don’t know that we’ll be the fastest with a C-85,” Dane chuckles. “Maybe the AVC should give away a ‘slow pig award’!” Regardless of speed – or lack thereof – the Brothers Pruitt are looking forward to their second AirVenture Cup and beyond; we expect them and their rare, pretty Meyers birds to be a force to be reckoned with in the factory classes for years to come.