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Classic Car Confrontation
by Harry Spencer
Jul 16, 2010 | 1471 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Bruce Walter, Hot August Nights executive director
Bruce Walter, Hot August Nights executive director
The area’s No. 1 controversial story for the past several days came to a head on Wednesday when Bruce Walter, the executive director of Hot August Nights, appeared before the Reno City Council.

What some local wags had labeled the “ignition inquisition” did not reach the crescendo that many had forecast. Instead, both sides had a chance to vent and there was even a somewhat amicable conclusion when both agreed to sit down and discuss a multi-year contract for the event to remain in its home in northern Nevada.

Prior to Wednesday’s meeting, the print and electronic media had been abuzz with the irate statements from Reno Mayor Bob Cashell about the event moving to Long Beach, Calif. as well as Walter’s claim that he had been “misquoted” by the Southern California press.

On one such occasion, when Walter was being interviewed on KKOH’s Bill Manders show, Walter noted that he had received numerous death threats, his condominium had been threatened with a break-in when he and his wife were not home and he jokingly said, “I will probably have to visit all the venues this year wearing a bulletproof vest.”

For newcomers to the area, it might be appropriate to go back and track the history of the HAN event. When it was first announced that the classic car celebration of rock ’n’ roll would be held during the month of August here, many of the longtime hotel owners and promotional men wondered why a new special event was needed in a month that was traditionally already sold out every year. However, the first event went on anyway. It ended up in the red in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and it was only by the Herculean efforts of the late Jim Thompson and his committee that the shortfall was corrected and the event continued forward.

According to several former HAN board members who were serving in those first years and for a long time after, the HAN structure always has been involved in petty political infighting and content disruption. Only when the board finally appointed Randy Burke to the position of executive director did the event again gain some stability and begin to maintain consistent growth and gain national stature.

Following the dismissal of Burke several years ago, a virtual tsunami of unrest occurred on the HAN board as they chose a few short-term executive directors. Most of that imbroglio never reached the press and HAN continued to explode in popularity. Another facet of the event that caused angst amongst the hotel and casino owners was during some of the high-rolling years, HAN was booking entertainers to appear prices well above those that were being paid by the professional booking agents for the hotel casinos. I recall vividly one casino executive who noted, “What’s the deal with this? Here we are giving HAN sponsorship dollars and they are going out and out-bidding us for entertainers with our own money!”

The practice was soon dropped.

Following his dismissal from HAN, Burke never looked back and set about starting his equally popular Street Vibrations motorcycle event.

Getting back to the explosion that occurred when the news first broke about the move to Long Beach, Cashell was legitimately highly incensed that an event that had its roots in the cities of Reno and Sparks, as well as numerous local sponsorships, would have the audacity to slip out of town and sign a multi-year contract with a Southern California city and take the name “Hot August Nights” with it.

The firestorm got even hotter when Walter’s comments to the Southern California press were released. While he says he was “misquoted,” the reporter who broke the story has sworn to stand by the absolute accuracy of his writing.

Following that, the HAN officials made their greatest faux pas when they issued a curt statement and said that was all they would say on the matter. After that, the local press’ phone calls to Walter and members of the board went unanswered. Also, initially, Walter said he would not attend the Reno City Council meeting on Wednesday but at the last minute relented and made an appearance. Many felt that his decision was based on the fact that Councilman Dave Aiazzi threatened to ask for a council vote on withholding HAN permits for this year unless the car group stepped forward to explain its actions.

Walter’s best defense in his appearance Wednesday seemed to be the fact that in the past, a very small percentage of HAN participants had come from the Southern California region. He noted that the percentages ranged from 1 to 3 percent from major cities. His claim seemed to be logical since it is unlikely that those classic car owners who actually drive their vehicles to Reno from Northern California would opt for the more than 1,000-mile round trip to the southern part of the state. Possibly of more concern to localities is the fact that in addition to the Long Beach stop next year, another new HAN stop is approved for South Lake Tahoe, starting this year.

Many locals feel the Tahoe stop will more seriously impact the revenue to this area since many attendees will opt for the Highway 50 shortcut over the Sierras to Lake Tahoe rather than the longer Interstate 80 commute to Reno and Sparks.

Over the years here, controversies have abounded about a myriad of issues, but this is one of the most inflammatory so far – and it ain’t over yet.

Harry Spencer is a freelance writer in Reno. His column about the past and present of northern Nevada appears weekly in the Tribune.

Editor’s note: Opinions expressed in Harry Spencer’s column are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Tribune.
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