Unlimited Class Racer Strega in the 2012 Races
Globe with the words Around the Pattern cured around the top half.

The End of the National Championship Air Races at the Reno-Stead Airport


By now everyone with an interest in aviation has learned that 2023 will be the last year that the NCAR or Reno Air Races will be held at it’s current location. What follows is partially facts and mostly my musings and personal opinions which may or may not have any connection to reality.

The announcement by the Reno Air Racing Association (RARA) said that the decision was made by the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority (RTAA) who cited “the region’s significant growth and other concerns.” The RTAA controls both large airports in Reno: the Reno-Tahoe International Airport (KRNO) and the Reno-Stead Airport (KRTS). Each year the RTAA issues an operating license to RARA to conduct their event. I currently own a hangar that houses my airplane on the Reno-Stead Airport.

It is true that there has been considerable new development to the immediate south of the Stead Airport – two or three recent relatively small housing sub-divisions and several warehouse complexes. While none of these developments encroach on the present race course they have reduced the available open land for spectator parking and have increased vehicle traffic in the area. And, of course, they will generate neighborhood outrage that an airport is located in the vicinity of the houses that they just bought.

The RTAA has wanted for some time to develop the land that is part of the Reno-Stead Airport. KRTS actually occupies more land than does KRNO, the airline airport. There have been two major challenges with developing the Stead Airport. One is a lack of infrastructure anywhere other than where the original Air Force base was located. The other challenge is that RARA controls the airport for about a month each year. That time is spread over two periods: Pylon Racing School (PRS) in June and the races in September. During the races the airport is taken over in its entirety by RARA operations and a TFR is placed over and around the race courses. During PRS the ramp is partially restricted and aircraft traffic probably triples.

It is hard to convince a business to relocate to Stead when their facility would be only partially accessible for about a month each year. Yes, the races are officially only Wed-Sun but the airport begins transforming into a race venue about three weeks prior and takes at least a week after to return to some semblance of normal operations.

You could try to compare the situation with EAA’s AirVenture in Oshkosh, WI but there are major differences. While AirVenture is many, many times larger than the Reno event, it is held on a part of the Oshkosh airport that, in the majority, does not restrict business operations located on the airport. At Reno there are currently only three facilities that have public access without passing through an airport entrance gate into the event venue. Two of those are the Stead Airport Terminal and the Nevada Army Air Guard Facility (which is under/inside the race course). The third is the hangar/facility that used to be the location of (the late) John Parker’s American Air Racing.

I don’t know what the RTAA has in mind for the future of the Stead Airport but the current level of development around the airport, in my opinion anyway, does not warrant their decision. Who knows, maybe based upon their financial status after a couple of sparse years it was a mutual decision between RARA and the RTAA. Maybe part of the decision was the likelihood of more forest fires this year that could shut down the races as they did for a few days the past couple of years. The bottom line is that RARA is an event-planning organization and when the effort and outlay to put on the event is not justified by the return on the investment, it is time to stop running the event. A lot of us who operate out the Stead and have watched the operation are amazed each year when it is announced that the races will continue to operate. This latest announcement is not really a surprise.

Anyway, this year may be well attended, after all it’s last call for all those people saying that they would like to go ‘some day.’ Here’s hoping the weather and the racers make it a good one.

I’ll be there. Will you?