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Reno Air Races short on funds, asks county for support

By Kristen Hackbarth

Reno Air Racing Association is short of funds for this year’s National Championship Air Races, slated for Sept. 14-18, and its leaders today asked Washoe County’s Board of County Commissioners for financial support. 

Bobbi Thompson, a director of the event, said the costs of fuel, tents and barricades and insurance for the air races have risen 40-50% over the past year. Inflation and supply chain issues are partly to blame, she said. 

Tony Logoteta, RARA’s chief operating officer, said rising insurance costs are what have put the organization back into fundraising mode just two months out from the event. 

The excess liability insurance policy for the air races is traditionally provided through the airport authority, he said, but this year the authority wasn’t able to get the policy. RARA had to purchase a policy on its own, increasing insurance costs by more than a half million dollars, up to more than $1.3 million. 

“That’s a big result of why we’re here…that is the biggest challenge that we face right now and it’s in such a short time period before the event that we’re going out and we’re asking everyone that might be able to help,” Logoteta said.

This isn’t the first time RARA has come up short of funding for the annual event, which is hosted at the Reno Stead Airport. Following the mass casualty accident in 2011, the event faced a steep hike in insurance costs – increasing from $300,000 to $2 million – and organizers sought support from the state’s tourism commission which chipped in $600,000 to help bridge the gap. 

The 2021 event was also in jeopardy after the previous year’s event was canceled due to COVID-19. The nonprofit put out a call to the community to “Save The Races” in October 2020 and was able to raise enough by the end of the year to plan the 2021 races.

An aspiring pilot gets a tour of the cockpit of Scott Holmes’s Formula 1 plane.

Logoteta said the last decade has been challenging for the organization, but that over the past several years the organization has made progress financially. 

“In 2021, we actually, through a lot of the changes, the cuts, the increases and identifying all of the issues that we faced last year, we were actually able to turn the largest profit that we had in 20 years,” he said. “We’re not out of the woods yet.”

Thompson led her presentation noting that the National Championship Air Races is a legacy event. Commissioner Bob Lucey agreed. 

“The air races are tremendously impactful to our community,” Lucey said, noting that it’s part of an annual run of events that begins with the Reno Rodeo and continues with Hot August Nights and the Great Reno Balloon Race. “It’s very different than other air shows across the country…You will not see the Reno Air Races anywhere else than Reno at the Stead Airport…It’s more than just an event.”

Lucey cited the organization’s community contributions, education program, economic impact and tourism draw as benefits to supporting the event. He said he’d like the county to look at ways to support the event. 

Commissioners may review a donation to RARA at a future meeting.

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