Air races purse boosted in bet on future growth |

Air races purse boosted in bet on future growth

John Seelmeyer

The $1 million purse offered at this year’s Reno Air Races will be a stretch for the nonprofit organization that oversees the annual event.

But the organizers of the air races believe they can pull off the biggest prize package in the event’s 40-year history through some conservative budgeting and tight expense management.

The air races formally, the National Championship Air Races and Air Show is among Reno’s biggest special events.

Last year’s races drew 223,000 spectators.

Michael Houghton, president and chief executive officer of the nonprofit Reno Air Racing Association, said last week he isn’t entirely certain that crowds this year will match the recordsetting 2002 figures.

“There was a lot of pent-up demand because of the cancellation in 2001,” he said.

(The air races, scheduled a few days after the Sept.

11 attacks, were grounded.) Even so, sales of tickets ranging from $11 for general admission to $95 for four-day reserved seating have been strong enough in the early going that the association thinks it can pull off the $1 million purse.

Corporate sponsorships also have been strong, Houghton said.

Equally important, he said, will be tight expense controls at the association because the size of the purse is determined by revenues less expenses.

Last year’s purse was $870,000, and the prize money at the air races has doubled in seven years.

The biggest piece of the prize money goes to winners of the races’ unlimited class pilots who fly aircraft at more than 500 mph.

Cash prizes also are