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Nevada backs $600K sponsorship of Reno Air Races
by Scott Sonner
Jul 26, 2012 | 1681 views | 0 0 comments | 2 2 recommendations | email to a friend | print
RENO — Nevada’s tourism commission approved a $600,000 sponsorship Thursday of Reno’s National Championship Air Races that organizers needed to meet soaring insurance costs and continue the annual event in September after a mass-casualty crash last year.

The funding allows the Reno Air Racing Association to meet a Sept. 1 deadline for the final payment on the premium that jumped from $300,000 to $2 million after the crash on the edge of the grandstand that killed 11 and injured 70 at Reno-Stead Airport.

“The National Championship Air Races is an important event, not only for northern Nevada but for the entire state, creating significant economic impact and worldwide exposure for the region,” said Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, who chairs the tourism commission.

Claudia Vecchio, director of the Nevada Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, said details of the sponsorship will be worked out in the weeks ahead.

Mike Houghton, president and CEO of the Reno Air Racing Association, said the group was overwhelmed and humbled by the support from the state as well as local governments, community and business leaders.

The popularity of the air races has grown significantly during the past decade at the small airport about 8 miles north of downtown Reno. It attracts 200,000 visitors and pumps as much as $80 million a year into the local economy.

The future of the competition was in question after a modified World War II P-51 Mustang crashed last Sept. 14 in front of the VIP boxes. Pilot Jimmy Leeward, 74, of Ocala, Fla., was traveling at 530 mph when his plane took an oddly upward pitch then nose-dived into the ground, blasting a 3-foot-deep, 8-foot-wide crater in a hail of debris.

Race organizers enlisted a blue ribbon panel of experts that included former top officials at the National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration to review the crash and offer suggestions to better ensure safety.

Among other things, some race routes have been altered to help reduce the gravitational pull on pilots around corners and keep planes farther from the grandstand.

A nagging challenge has been securing money and paying for the $100 million in insurance coverage the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority now requires race officials to have to receive a lease to operate the event.
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