RGJ Article - Reno Air Races bringing history and high-tech to 2015 event

Article appearing in the May 12, 2015 issue of the Reno Gazette-Journal, written by Guy Clifton, showcases additions to the Reno Air Races.

The National Championship Air Races is famous for its World War II fighter planes turned racers, but the 2015 event is bringing a specialty act that depicts the origins of the war.

The Texas-based Commemorative Air Force’s “Tora, Tora, Tora” reenacts the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, complete with Japanese Zeroes, pyrotechnics and a historic narration.

“It’s probably the most entertaining air show act in the country,” said John Agather, chairman of the Reno Air Racing Association Board of Directors. “I was at the very first performance of this show in 1972 and it’s always been a favorite of mine. The history lesson that goes along with it, talk about a historic experience. I many ways, everything we have in terms of aviation right now started as a response to that attack.”

The Commemorative Air Force did an abbreviated performance of “Tora, Tora, Tora,” at the 2007 National Championship Air Races, but it’s never done the full show in Reno.

The 2015 Air Races, which are scheduled for Sept. 16-20, will also include the Breitling Jet Team for the first time. The team is the largest professional civilian flight team performing on jets, and features a mix of skills including precision, speed and aerobatics. Breitling is the title sponsor of the National Championship Air Races.

The new specialty acts, a more fan-friendly “Drone Zone” and an expanded outreach to school groups is all part of an effort to make the Air Races more appealing to a broader fan base.

“We realize that one of the greatest strengths we have as an event is we can appeal to a new generation of race fans that are in the millennial class that are hooked on extreme sports,” Agather said. “We’re the most extreme sport out there and we have to do a better job of getting our message out.”

The Drone Zone, which debuted in 2014, features unmanned aerial vehicles. In 2015, the zone will be expanded and moved to just inside the main entrance at Reno-Stead Airfield.

“When people come in, they’ll be able to find it better,” said CEO Mike Crowell. “The whole footprint is bigger. The racing area and participation area has been expanded. Then we’ll have exhibitors in a very big tent, who will be showing different facets of development. It’s going to be a good experience. I think it will be exciting, especially for the younger kids that want to get involved.”

Both Crowell and Agather said the Air Races will also be focusing on more community involvement this year and in the years ahead, including holding a volunteer fair on June 6 for people who want to become involved.

“We’ll be inviting people to come out and volunteer for specific assignments and help us out with the races,” Crowell said. “Without the community support, we can’t make it. We want to get them more engaged and we think this is a way to do it.”

The event is also planning more involvement – through the Reno Air Races Foundation – for schools children.

“We’re trying to create an overall experience,” Crowell said. “We’re going to bring in 2,500 to 5,000 children on field trips during the first part of the week and be able to allow them to do some educational things.”

Tickets for the 2015 Air Races are already on sale at www.airrace.org.

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