Favorite TV show:
|“Big Bang Theory”|
|“Good Will Hunting”|
|Porsche Cup Car|
Things happen pretty fast for NASA Arizona’s Tim Weber. He showed up for his first HPDE1 in his street-going 997 C2S Porsche. By the end of the first day, he was in HPDE2. The next time he showed up at the racetrack, he had a full-blown racecar, an E36 M3 with an S54 engine swapped into it. After his first track session in the new car he was bumped up to HPDE3, then HPDE4 the first day of his next track weekend. He’s now planning to compete in TT3 prior to competition school in October.
Racing is a good outlet for Weber, an admitted adrenaline junky who recently retired from 18 years as an aerobatic pilot, performing in 18 to 22 air shows a year all across North America.
“I had a pretty big operation, and had five guys on the road with me, including a publicist, a ferry pilot for the plane, and two crew members driving a big 45-foot Freightliner motor coach with sponsor displays and aircraft support equipment,” Weber said. “Air shows are the second largest outdoor activity in North America. Most people don’t realize that. I’ve flown in big military air shows that have reported attendance of nearly a million people in three days. So the attendance numbers are huge. It’s very common to go to a show and have 150,000 or 200,00 people there.”
Now 54, Weber started flying when he was 13 years old. He had a job at the airport, where he traded work for flying lessons. He soloed at 14 years old and moved on to aerobatics at 15 years old and eventually to aerobatic competition. He started getting calls from small air shows asking if he’d consider flying in their show. So he a financed a brand new Russian airplane he could scarcely afford, and his career took off.
“I was like, wow, this might even be a real business,” he said. “By the end of my first year, I had a large life insurance company’s name on my airplane and I was probably the third or fourth highest-paid air show performer in the country. It was a crazy story.”
A dream job for an aerobatic pilot, for sure, but Weber says there’s a whole lot more to it than flying for 12 minutes, then signing autographs and posing for photos. It was a huge amount of work. He could fly in an event on the West Coast, then have to get on a commercial flight to New York to do all sorts of interviews and PR appearances before his next show.
The air show industry is a bit like motorsports wherein the sponsors get their value by media exposure. Air shows aren’t typically televised, so that meant Weber had to arrange media exposure for his sponsor. He spent the last nine years of his career with Geico as a sponsor.
“Every time we did an air show, we had a full spread sheet developed by the end of the show that showed our media exposure and what the rate card pricing was for each of my TV spots, and we were able to quantify the net gain,” Weber said. “I had one season that I averaged $500,000 per show in TV and media exposure, and that’s what the sponsor is looking for.”
That’s not all. Weber performed all the service and repairs on his aerobatic plane. As in racing, if the car breaks, the show still must go on, and that meant Weber had to spend time turning wrenches till the wee hours.
“There were a lot times where I’d fly the show on a Saturday and something wasn’t right with the plane, and at 1 in the morning I’d be in the hangar working on it,” he said. “I had shows where I went to my hotel room at 3 a.m., showered and came back and flew the next day. So it was a lot more work than people realized.”
Right around the time he turned 50, Weber got married and soon had a baby girl. Traveling the air-show circuit just became more difficult and he realized he needed to make a change. So how does an aerobatic pilot find a new career? Well, he bought and restaurant and that, too, happened fast.
“I left my house one day and had lunch with a guy who was telling me about this restaurant that might be for sale, and I said, ‘Really? I like that place a lot.’” he said. “I went over and had lunch there instead, and probably three hours later I bought it. I came home and told my wife I bought a restaurant today. It’s been baptism by fire. We’ve been learning the restaurant business on our own, and it’s been very educational.”
Of course, in the back of his mind the whole time he was flying, he wanted to get on track with a car. He even had a couple of cars he bought for that purpose, including a Lotus Exige S. But air shows are held on weekends, the same time as races, and he just never got the chance. Now in his first year off the air show circuit, Weber is making the time — and he’s having a ball.
“It was a really nice, easy segue,” he said. “I’ve spent 18 years pulling 10 g’s in my air show routine, and being upside down 20 feet off the ground at 250 mph, and I think that helped prepare me for racing,” he said. “Clearly there are guys who are much faster than me, because I’ve got to learn the lines and learn how to drive. But getting out there on track and being in traffic and going fast and understanding all that stuff, it feels pretty natural to me, and it’s a lot of fun.”
“And you know, my favorite part of it, is the guys doing it are the greatest group of guys ever,” Weber added. “If you break, they’re ready to help you. Just a bunch of good guys, and I really enjoy that part as well. There’s a lot of camaraderie. It’s a pretty neat organization.
“Tage Evanson has been really helpful, and he’s accessible and he’s friendly and he’s such an enthusiast,” he said. “It feels kind of intimidating to jump into a whole new thing with guys you don’t know and a completely unfamiliar routine, and so when a guy like Tage is around to take the time to explain things to you and initiate you, that makes a big difference.”
Weber and his wife are expecting another daughter in August, and he’ll be home to watch his daughters grow up. And as any parent knows, that happens pretty fast, too.