Reno Air Races cope with COVID-19

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Had plans continued for the September races, RARA almost certainly would have faced a much more costly, last-minute cancellation when smoke from California wildfires shrouded the course at Reno/Stead Airport in Reno, Nevada, for most of race week.

“As I’ve come to say to people, God works in mysterious ways. Had we not been canceled by [COVID-19], it would have been worse for us,” said Fred Telling, RARA board chairman and a veteran North American T–6 racer at Reno. He flew in to Reno during what would have been race week, and had to shoot the ILS because visibility was less than two miles. “I’ve never done that in Reno,” he said. “On Friday morning it cleared up enough that there was seven or eight miles of visibility.”

“From a race standpoint we wouldn’t have been able to practice Sunday the week prior, or do our qualifications Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday morning,” said Tony Logoteta, RARA’s chief operating officer, noting that heat races normally begin on Wednesday afternoon—and conditions didn’t improve until Friday afternoon. “We have such an emphasis on safety that I can’t imagine we would have proceeded with no practice and no quals.”

The decision to cancel was made because of state restrictions on the size of public gatherings, implemented to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus—which also led to cancellation of the Sun ’n Fun Aerospace Expo, EAA AirVenture, AOPA’s regional fly-ins, and almost every airshow scheduled during 2020. RARA had spent eight or nine months planning for this year’s races when COVID-19 hit and the organization lost admission, vendor, and sponsor income, Logoteta said. “If we’d just stubbornly gone forward, we wouldn’t be talking about the future. As painful as it was to make the decision, we know it was the right one.”

“The aviation community in 2020 was a wash. There isn’t a museum or event that isn’t struggling. We realize we’re not alone,” said Telling, adding that it’s even worse in Reno, which normally hosts numerous special events. “The Reno community itself has been hit hard. Air races make a significant contribution to the local economy.”

To help fill the void left by the canceled races and keep its audience engaged, RARA streamed race footage from previous years. Its social media sites tallied nearly 200,000 video views during September, with more than 2,000 hours of video watched. Some 150,000 social media views

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