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Air Races Struggling Financially, But Will Go On



The aircraft VooDoo, which flies in the Unlimited Class.
The aircraft VooDoo, which flies in the Unlimited Class. Image: RARA

By Carla O’Day

Although the National Championship Air Races have attracted more than a million spectators during the past decade, the event is struggling to make money, the Reno Air Racing Association’s president told the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority board Thursday.

The 54th annual event is scheduled Sept. 13-17 at Reno Stead Field.

A live entertainment tax of 9 percent put into place during the last state legislative session negatively affected low-income ticket holders last year, association president Mike Crowell said. The result was $147,640 in fewer sales.

Mike Crowell

“Our general admission ticket sales were down 28 percent,” Crowell said. “Anytime you have a price increase, you have a sales decrease.”

Last year’s prize money totaled $1 million but Crowell said it’ll be difficult to continue that, suggesting this year’s pool will be reduced by at least $200,000. Although the races will go on, Crowell said it’ll need more support.

Several fatalities in recent years, including the 2011 crash that killed 11 people and injured 69 others, were a financial hit and could’ve also affected attendance.

“Right after the big accident in 2011, insurance premiums went up and almost put us out of business,” Crowell said.

Air race officials run annual safety workshops and drills to prepare staff and responders on what to do in the event of accidents.

“We’re doing everything we can to make sure nobody gets hurt,” Crowell said. “We’re not just walking away from it.”

Texas Flying Legends Museum
Planes from the Texas Flying Legends Museum at a recent air show. Photo: TFLM

Efforts to increase attendance include bringing out 3,000 schoolchildren last year and giving them tickets to return. Motocross drivers will perform between shows this year, as will racing drones, Crowell said. Also new this year are planes from the Texas Flying Legends Museum.

Despite the financial woes, Crowell said the air races are still a boon for the economy.

About 65 percent of non-locals visited the area because of the air races in 2016, spending an average of $2,224 per person during a 3.7-day stay.

“We have to do everything we can to make the event survive and prosper,” said RSCVA board member John Farahi of Atlantis Resort Casino Spa.

Crowell said the survey was conducted by the University of Nevada, Reno’s Center for Economic Development.

The air races have generated more than $600 million for the region’s economy the past 10 years, including $91.7 million in 2016, Crowell said. Money spent by non-locals who visited the area specifically for the air races was as follows:

  • $24.3 million on transportation
  • $14.6 million on entertainment
  • $13.4 million on food and beverage
  • $11.9 million on lodging
  • $7.7 million on gaming
  • $6.9 million on shopping

National Championship Air Races: http://airrace.org

Promotional video for air races:

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Carla O'Day
Carla O'Day
Carla has an undergraduate degree in journalism and more than 10 years experience as a daily newspaper reporter. She grew up in Jacksonville, Fla., moved to the Reno area in 2002 and wrote for the Reno Gazette-Journal for 8 years, covering a variety of topics. Prior to that, she covered local government in Fort Pierce, Fla.




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