Tuesday, June 21, 2016

NASCAR's Carl Edwards flying high to better life

BOSTON — NASCAR driver Carl Edwards tries to have a normal life in an abnormal profession.

This explains why, on a hazy New England day, Edwards’ Cessna Citation CJ3 is out over the Atlantic, approaching Boston’s Logan International Airport and runway 22R. A pilot since high school, Edwards lands the plane expertly, the touchdown soft and centered.

Edwards is flying in from Concord, N.C., in the early afternoon for the next phase of a busy Tuesday. Already, he has been in morning debriefing/planning meetings at Joe Gibbs Racing headquarters in Huntersville, N.C., and he has been fitted for a seat in the Toyota Camry he’ll race at Daytona International Speedway on July 2.

Edwards’ schedule includes three hours in Boston, making several public appearances to promote the July 17 Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Not long after nightfall, Edwards will be home in Columbia, Mo., a daunting list of tasks completed in about 10 hours, thanks to the Cessna.

Edwards, 36, is far from the first NASCAR driver to own and pilot a plane, but he might be one of the most active in the sky lanes. Since buying the CJ3 two years ago, Edwards has logged 850 flight hours. He flies to every Sprint Cup weekend except the ones at Kansas Speedway, which is about a two-hour drive from his home.

A significant investment (new CJ3s sell for about $7 million), the plane hit the pocket of the notoriously thrifty Edwards hard, but the positive numbers on the other side of the equation made the purchase work.

“I could do everything I need to do without a plane, but I literally would spend my life in an airport (flying commercial airlines),” Edwards told USA TODAY Sports. “This plane saves me about a hundred days a year.”

And most of those days are spent at home in Columbia, where Edwards lives with his wife, Kate, and their children, Anne and Michael.

“Days like today, with multiple things going on, there’s no way I could do it without a plane,” Edwards said. “The biggest thing for me is I get a little bit of downtime. I don’t feel like I’m in a constant state of hurry.”

The Cessna is Edwards’ fifth plane, counting an aerobatic stunt plane that he owned for a few years. Flying is both work and hobby for Edwards, who traces his love for planes to his childhood, when he and his father, Mike, built models, a pastime that ultimately led to the family taking a flight in a rental plane when Carl was 8.

“It was the greatest thing ever,” he said.

Edwards got his pilot’s license in high school. He had been racing cars but also had his eye on being a military pilot, maybe a fighter jock of the skies.

He moved faster in racing than in the air, however, and, by the age of 25, he had a full-time ride in the Sprint Cup Series with team owner Jack Roush. That resulted in his first plane, a small single-engine.

That also was no small purchase for Edwards, whose thriftiness — OK, some simply call him cheap — was somewhat legendary as he arrived on the shores of big-time auto racing. Retired driver Mark Martin, an Edwards teammate at Roush, once said of him, “Hey, the kid won’t even buy cable!”

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