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Honoring Reno Air Race founder
by Harry Spencer
Sep 09, 2013 | 1111 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Wednesday marks the 50th Anniversary of the Reno Air Races. The highly successful and very important fiduciary benefit to the Truckee Meadows was started in 1964.

The sole and primary individual who conceived the idea for the races and was able to bring them to fruition was Bill Stead. He was an avid airplane pilot and a hydroplane racer. He was a person of medium height and his boyish face and crew cut hair made him seem much younger than his years. He was of sturdy ranching stock from the valley north of Sparks. His family owned a cattle trucking company and it was because of this that I first encountered him. I was interning at the Thomas C. Wilson Advertising Agency in Reno and Bill would frequently drop by to check his ad campaign that Wilson had prepared for him.

Years later, I received a telephone call from Charles Mapes, informing me that Stead would be coming down to my office to discuss an event he had in mind. The personable Stead let me know that he proposed to stage an air race at the Sky Ranch on the Pyramid Highway.

Since Bill was a participant as a hydroplane driver in the Hydroplane races that Mapes sponsored, we had worked together before. I asked him what the hotel’s function would be at the air races, and he said that he needed a “Headquarter Hotel.” He noted that Mapes had been very enthusiastic about the possibility of the races and he (Stead) said that his next stop would be Harold’s Club to seek additional sponsorship.

After his sortie to Harold’s, he phoned me back and said that he had received a lot of encouragement and a deal for sponsorship from Harold Club’s Roy Powers. Powers was so excited that he proposed a cross country race sponsored by his principles at the club. The race would be from Florida to Reno and would conclude on the day prior to the start of the Reno races. The cross country event generated a tremendous amount of newspaper coverage and was won by Renoite Wayne Adams.

A few weeks after the initial meeting with Stead, he dropped by my office one day and said that since it looked like only seven airplanes would be available for the races, it would be nice to have a flying demonstration team to flesh out the schedule. At that point, we placed a call to Nevada Senator Howard in Washington D.C., who had strong connections with the aircraft industry. Cannon said he would do his best to get the Air National Guard Demo Team to appear and added he would return the call within a couple of hours.

True to his word, Cannon secured the Demo Team. Stead was able to add some hot air balloons and the inaugural races were a tremendous success.

If there is one person who should be honored at this year’s testimonial banquet, it is Bill Stead.

Harry Spencer is a long-time a northern Nevada resident.
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