Championship races in fiscal danger

Reno Air Racing Association needs donations

November 25, 2013

Photo by Robert Fisher

The Reno Air Racing Association has cut staff and made an urgent appeal for donations. The association announced Nov. 22 an effort to secure within three weeks commitments totaling $500,000, telling the Reno Gazette-Journal that the 2014 National Championship Air Races could be canceled if pledges fall short.

The association, which organizes the 50-year-old event, has struggled to pay insurance premiums following a 2011 crash that claimed the lives of pilot Jimmy Leeward and 10 spectators. Insuring the 2012 races cost $2 million, and this year’s event—the fiftieth—cost $1.2 million to insure, according to the newspaper. President and CEO Mike Houghton issued an open letter Nov. 22 noting that despite a successful—and safe—2013 event, the association needs to raise $500,000 by Dec. 15 in addition to cost-cutting moves already made.

“We have been forced to make some agonizing and difficult decisions. Effective immediately, we have implemented furloughs and wage and benefit reductions on all RARA staff,” Houghton wrote. “Additionally, we have made the heartbreaking decision to eliminate certain positions.”

The local newspaper reported that two full-time positions were cut. Race spokesman Mike Draper told the Gazette-Journal that the association expects to raise the required funds and hold the 2014 races as planned.

“Depending on what the reception is over the next three weeks, we’ll have to see where that puts us,” Draper told the newspaper. “That said, we have no reason to believe we’re not going to get there.”

Houghton noted in his open letter to race fans that tickets for 2014 are already being sold, and the association will provide further details on the fundraising campaign through its website and Facebook page.

The 2011 crash and subsequent investigation prompted a variety of changes, including a new course alignment, designed to improve safety. Despite support from the state of Nevada and the racing community, the organization has lost money on the five-day event for three consecutive years, The Associated Press reported.

Jim Moore

Jim Moore | Online Associate Editor, AOPA

AOPA Online Associate Editor Jim Moore joined AOPA in 2011 and is an instrument-rated private pilot who enjoys competition aerobatics.