These fast, agile Allied fighters helped win World War II, downing nearly 5,000 Axis planes, and flew United Nations pilots in the Korean War. Clay’s historic P-51, serial number 74423, was built in 1944 and flew in the Royal Canadian Air Force before he acquired the plane in 1964 to compete in the Reno Air Races.
Al Paulson, a good friend and business partner, had acquired an airline flying to Hawaii called Orchid Flight. The paint scheme included a purple stripe, but there was a mixup in the paint order. Instead of 50 gallons of paint, the purchasing agent ordered 1,500 gallons. As Clay recalled: “Al asked, ‘Have you thought about what color you want to paint it?’ I said, ‘No, I really haven’t.’ He said, “Good. We’ll paint it purple! People remember purple. They’ll call it the Purple People Eater. They’ll love it!’ And they did. When I repainted it later, twice, I painted it the same color.”
The highlight came in 1970 when Clay won the Unlimited Class National Championship, with a speed of 387.3420 mph. He would fly in every unlimited class air race in the country from 1964-1972, as well as air races in Lancaster, California, Boulder, Nevada, Cape May, New Jersey and St. Louis, Missouri. Still flying today, his P-51 made a special flight at the fiftieth anniversary of the Reno Air Races.