Reno Air Races halfway to goal

“We’re over halfway there,” Tony Logoteta, RARA’s chief operating officer, told AOPA this week. “We received a large donation from a charitable fund, and we have hit the $50,000 match. That bumps us up to just over $250,000. Right now, we’re over halfway to our goal, in half of the time we set out.”

The $50,000 match was met on December 7, and the campaign passed the halfway point December 9, he said. RARA just announced another $20,000 in matching grants for the “Save the Races” campaign, which runs through the end of the year.

Logoteta said the association’s board met last week. “We met all day to discuss the upcoming year, fundraising, and where we think we’re at,” he said. “We came out of it encouraged that we have a path forward in 2021 and that we’ll be able to hold an event. We even had a representative of the Nevada government who gave us an update on where [the state of Nevada is with respect to the pandemic], and didn’t give any indication that our thinking is out of line.”

While timelines for deployment of a vaccine look encouraging right now, Logoteta added, plans are subject to both the COVID-19 and fundraising situations. “Fundraising is the key.”

In late June, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced RARA to cancel the 2020 Stihl National Championship Air Races—which were scheduled for September 16 through 20—it actually might have been a blessing in disguise for the organization. If plans for the September races had continued, RARA would have faced a much more costly, last-minute cancellation—if not from COVID-19, then from smoke from California wildfires that shrouded the Reno/Stead Airport course 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, it would have been worse for us,” Fred Telling, RARA board chairman and a veteran T–6 racer at Reno, said in early October. Pandemic notwithstanding, smoke reduced visibility to less than two miles, and would have precluded practice flying the Sunday before the weekend, as well as qualifications Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday morning. Heat races normally begin on Wednesday afternoon, but conditions didn’t improve until Friday afternoon.

Although the 2019 races were well attended, they lost money, primarily because of an unexpected $160,000 insurance premium increase. “While the team budgeted accordingly for 2020, any opportunity to recover was completely cut off by COVID-19 and instead the issue was compounded,” RARA said on its website. “No event meant no income.”

The association does more than host air races; RARA also provides science, technology, engineering, and math education intended to inspire today’s youth to pursue careers in aviation and aerospace engineering. Its educational efforts reached more than 7,000 young people in 2019.

There’s a lot to look forward to in 2021, Logoteta noted. It will be the debut of the STOL competition, which was demonstrated in 2019 and has been officially accredited by the FAA; it would have debuted this year. “We’re really excited about that,” he said. “The fans really seem to dig it. It’s all right in front of them.” The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds will return in 2021. “We basically rolled our performers from 2020 over to 2021. It will be a nice, full performer lineup in addition to seven racing classes.”

The association would like to raise more than $1 million to put the races on sound footing for the longer term; without raising $500,000 by the end of the year, according to the website, “the reality is the 57th National Championship Air Races are in jeopardy.”

As a charitable 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, all donations to RARA are tax deductible. Contributions can be made online, or by mailing a check to: Reno Air Racing Association, 14501 Mt. Anderson St., Reno, NV 89506.

The 2021 Stihl National Championship Air Races are scheduled for September 15 through 19.

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