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Final year of racing at Reno/Stead

National Championship Air Races on for 2023, future uncertain

The Reno Air Racing Association announced that the Stihl National Championship Air Races will no longer be held at the Reno/Stead Airport in Nevada following the 2023 event in September.

“Citing the region’s significant growth amongst other concerns, the Reno Tahoe Airport Authority has made the decision to sunset the event,” stated RARA in a statement.

For nearly 60 years the Reno Air Races and airshow have been a vibrant and well-loved part of the aviation community and general public by delighting thousands of spectators from all over the world, drawing the best performers and engineering teams, and generating millions of dollars in revenue for the local economy. Held every September just north of Reno, Nevada, by the nonprofit Reno Air Racing Association, the event hosts seven racing classes, including jet, biplane, sport, and STOL drag; static aircraft displays; and military and civilian flight demonstrations. The organization also provides flight training scholarships for young people ages 16 to 20 in its Racing for the Future program, and will soon launch A&P scholarships.

After being unable to hold the races in 2020 because of COVID-19, RARA launched its fundraising campaign “Save the Races” in order to make the event possible in 2021, and over $460,000 of the original $500,000 goal was raised to make 2021 a successful racing year.

The races—though highly popular for decades—have been plagued with high-profile accidents over the last few years, most recently in 2021 when pilot Aaron Hogue, 61, was killed piloting the number 29 jet, an Aero Vodochody L–29 Super Delfin, during the final Jet Gold race. There have been a total of 21 fatal crashes at the annual event since 1972, the most high-profile of which happened in 2011, when the NTSB determined that untested and unreported modifications made to the P–51 Galloping Ghost let to the crash that killed pilot Jimmy Leeward and 10 spectators and injured many more. This once again called into question the safety of running such a sport close to spectators, but modifications, boosts, and improvements of every sort remain the norm for racers—such as previous Sport Class winner Andrew Findlay’s turbocharged Lancair Legacy, which was modified from the propeller down to nuts and bolts in order to make the 300-mph airplane capable of 400 mph or more. For many it’s a rite of passage and challenge of engineering skill, and certainly remains part of the draw of this prestigious event.

The future of the beloved, if controversial, races remains uncertain, but RARA and the community are determined to make the last event at Reno a “celebration of six decades of thrills, history, pageantry, camaraderie, and family.”

“For so many around the world, Reno has become synonymous with air racing, and it is hard to imagine the National Championship Air Races gracing any other skies than those in the Sierra Nevada,” RARA said. “While this is the last year at this location, the Reno Air Racing Association is committed to preserving and growing this great event.”

The association expressed gratitude for longtime successful partnerships with Reno/Stead Airport and Reno Tahoe Airport Authority, and encourages the air racing community to join RARA in “making this year’s event the biggest and most successful it can be.”

The last Stihl National Championship Air Races in Reno will take place September 13 through 17. Tickets can be purchased on the website.

Emma Quedzuweit

Assistant Editor
Assistant Editor Emma Quedzuweit, who joined the AOPA publications staff in 2022, is a private pilot and historical researcher.
Topics: Air Racing

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