Coming in for a landing: National Championship Air Races ending after nearly 60 years in Reno

After a nearly 60-year run, the National Championship Air Races will fly into the sunset when the event concludes Sept. 17.

After a nearly 60-year run, the National Championship Air Races will fly into the sunset when the event concludes Sept. 17.

After a nearly 60-year run, the National Championship Air Races will fly into the sunset when the event concludes Sept. 17.

Citing concerns about the event’s impact on Reno Stead Airport, along with challenging economic conditions, rapid development in the area, and concerns about public safety — pilot deaths occurred in 2022 and 2014, and in 2011 there were 10 spectators killed when a pilot lost control of his plane and it crashed into the box seating area — the Reno Tahoe Airport Authority decided to end the event’s long run at the Stead airport.

The departure of the air races will leave a large hole in the region’s special events calendar, though September remains packed with iconic special events. Burning Man and the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook Off kick off the month, followed by the International Camel and Ostrich Races at Virginia City and the Great Reno Balloon Race at Rancho San Rafael Regional Park. The Championship Air Races fills the middle of September, while Street Vibrations closes it out.

Tony Logoteta


Tony Logoteta, director and chief operating officer of the nonprofit Reno Air Racing Association, bemoaned the cancellation of the event in a recent interview with NNBW.

“We have been here 60 years, and it’s our home,” Logoteta said. “We love this community and had hoped to stay, but it’s their (RTAA) property and we understand and respect their decision. It’s just time to move forward and make sure we have the best final race that we can.

“We have been a part of the Reno community for six decades, and we have been able to give back to this community in such a big way economically and culturally — Reno is on the map around the world in the aviation industry because of the air races,” Logoteta added.

The National Championship Air Races have grown exponentially since its founding by Bill Stead in 1964. The event was held at the Spanish Springs Airport the first two years before moving to its longtime home at Reno Stead Airport. Logoteta said that a 2019 economic study done by the University of Nevada, Reno pegged the total regional economic impact from the National Championship Air Races at about $100 million annually just from out-of-town visitors.

The RARA owns a hangar at Reno-Stead Airport, as well as the grandstand seating area that sits on airport grounds. It rents two smaller hangars, plus office space in a larger hangar at the airport and ground parking spaces. It has a license with the Reno Tahoe Airport Authority to essentially take over Reno Stead Airport the week of the National Championship Air Races, as well as for a racing school that’s held in June.

Since its inception, the air races have only been canceled two times: in 2001 due to the terrorist attacks on the United States, and in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the loss of the air races in 2024 is likely to leave area hotels with a few more empty beds, plans are already in the works to replace the air races with a different type of air show.

Logoteta told NNBW that the RARA has already secured a license to hold an air show at Reno Stead Airport in 2024. The event would have a different draw than the air races, Logoteta said, but would honor the legacy of the National Championship Air Races through non-competitive flying demonstrations, as well as a host of air performances.

“We are trying to get the Blue Angels to come out, as well as any other teams and military and civilian assets that we can get, and just do a big celebration out here for what would have been our 60th year,” Logoteta said.

The Reno Air Racing Association also is working to relocate the National Championship Air Races. The organization put out a request for proposal and received 38 responses. It has since narrowed the list of potential host sites to six, Logoteta said.

“We are trying to keep the event alive, even though it won’t be in Reno,” he said. “There just aren’t a lot of airports like Stead in this country — you have to have two runways that are long enough and go in different directions in order to deal with prevailing winds. You have to have a city center that has enough hotel rooms to handle the national and international travelers. You have to have a ton of empty land to put the race course over — our largest (race) course is an eight-mile oval that gobbles up a ton of space. You need about 5,000 square acres that has nothing on it. Those are some of the big factors that go into the decision-making process.”

The RARA may still be headquartered in Northern Nevada regardless of where the event may be held in the future. Logoteta also said that more than half of the event’s 1,200 volunteers have pledged to follow the event regardless of its future location.

“The primary goal is to find a home for the National Championship Air Races,” he said. “We have to get through this September, and then we will really start getting into detailed negotiations with locations that can hold the event.

“More than 65 percent of our volunteers have said they will go wherever the event goes,” he added. “We have a strong set of supporters who know how to make this event happen and will carry it beyond (Reno). It is a huge undertaking, and our volunteers are committed to going to the next space to train the next generation. It is really a testament to the family chemistry this event has.

Mike Larragueta, interim president and chief executive officer of the Reno Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority, told NNBW that air races have been a successful event for the region for years. The RSCVA supported the air races with a $200,000 contribution this year. Larragueta said he’s confident that Greater Reno-Sparks won’t see much of a decline in tourism due to strong visitation demand.

“We are sad to see the event go — I remember when the air races were televised on ESPN, which provided some tremendous exposure for the region,” Larragueta said. “But September is a strong month from a visitation standpoint for all segments — free independent travelers, to casino visitors to the group segment that comes to Reno to enjoy summer activities and Lake Tahoe. We never like to see an event leave the region, but we will still perform at a very high level because of the demand that takes place in our region over the summer months.

“We are confident that the hotels and vacation rentals will perform at a very high level. Reno, Sparks and Tahoe are very desirable destinations, and we will continue to do well,” Larragueta said.


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