Drag Racer Eddie Hill Sees NASA Space Shot, Is Ready to Go in Orbit Himself

Cape Canaveral, Fla. -- Eddie Hill, 61, Pennzoil's 1993 NHRA Winston Top Fuel champion drag racer, an invited guest who watched the launch of space shuttle Columbia Wednesday, said he recently passed a physical exam and is ready to volunteer for space flight, if asked.

"I wanted to ride in a rocket ever since I was a kid," Hill said. "I used to read science fiction books about traveling to the moon and Mars before I even built my first race car. This brought me back to my childhood fantasy.

"I don't know what NASA's age cutoff is. Maybe they would give me an exemption for being in good shape. I just had my physical and was pronounced in excellent shape, even good enough to ride in space."

Hill, who once flew in a T-38 Talon at Sheppard AFB near his hometown of Wichita Falls, Texas, at Mach 0.99, was serious about his offer to ride in space.

"They gave us plenty of reading material," he said. "I'm going to do a lot of reading and learn about the program in case I get asked. I'm ready any time. I always felt to ride in a spaceship would be the ultimate high. This didn't do anything to dull my appetite."

Hill, his wife Ercie, were among VIPs, including members of the astronauts' families, assembled at a site three miles from the launch pad. Matco Tools, one of Hill's sponsors, secured the VIP credentials for the Texas couple.

An emotional Hill described the liftoff and his reaction, "I got so excited tears were running down my cheek. I thought we (drag racers) had a lot of power, a lot of vibration, a lot of noise. The space shuttle makes our deal look kind of weak.

"It was two lengths in the air before the sound got to us. And when it did it was loud, loud, loud! As the shuttle turned away and the exhaust pipes pointed toward us, the sound was even more incredible, like a staccato thunder. The whole thing took two minutes, but it was the greatest two minutes that I had experienced. I was proud to be part of the human race after seeing all of that technology."

11/2/97 FROM: Deke Houlgate Enterprises Contact: David Ferroni P.O. Box 4011 612/593-1505 Carlsbad, CA 92008 760/720-1103 FAX 760/434-6392