Hot August Nights
The drive up the hill to Virginia City is scenic and relaxing. It’s hot and bright, with empty blue skies, along the snaky roads to the hilltop where the old mining town sits. Round the final bend, the town comes into view—a quaint settlement that’s rustic and beautiful.
It’s a fitting location for the start of one of Nevada’s most iconic events: Hot August Nights.
“When you go up there, it really brings you back to the olden days,” said Heather Libretti, marketing and PR manager for Hot August Nights. “It’s nostalgic.”
The main street is closed, effectively transforming the town into a vintage car showroom. Classic cars are parked on both sides of the street, glistening in the sunshine.
There’s a 1927 Willys Knight Cabriolet with a side golf door, a 1936 Ford Cabriolet with an open roof, a 1957 Ford Fairlane with fins, a 1965 Ford Mustang with its iconic grill, a 1971 Chevy Chevelle, and many others. All the cars are meticulously clean from engine to tires—shined, waxed, polished and buffed to perfection.
It’s a car lover’s paradise.
“This is their Disneyland,” said Mike Whan, executive director of Hot August Nights. “It’s on their bucket list to come to our event just because of the classic car show they’ve heard so much about.”
“Every car has an appeal,” said Dave Brady, the owner of a poppy blue 1957 Chevy Impala. “Everyone here is proud of what they have, and love to show them.”
Last year, they estimated that 300,000 people attended across multiple locations in Reno, Sparks, Virginia City and South Lake Tahoe. This year could see even more people. The history and tradition behind the event continues to draw attendees—and providing a comfortable experience is crucial.
“[Reno] is growing, and so are we—but there’s only so much room for both of us to grow,” Whan said. “The challenge is to find a space to have our events in the places that people can easily get to.”
It’s not the only major challenge. The nonprofit organization often struggles to generate enough revenue to break even. This year, their costs ran as high as $2.3 million, but with registrations only bringing about a third of that in revenue, there was still a huge deficit to make up in order to be successful. To that end, they relied on sponsorships and donations to cover the rest of the expenses, but sponsorships aren’t very forthcoming.
“We’re a victim of our own success,” Whan said. “We bring so many people here, and everyone benefits from it, and they don’t understand the cost of it. [They think,] ’Why should we help out? The cars are already here. I’m already booked. You guys make a lot of money,’ but the problem is we don’t make a lot of money.”
In spite of the thin margins, the overall economic impact of Hot August Nights on the community is sizeable. A lot of that money is from out-of-town, a boon for the local economy. According to Whan, a private study conducted with University of Nevada, Reno in 2016 found that Hot August Nights generates about $81 million every year for the Reno-Sparks area, from tourists that attend.
Additionally, they gave away $1 million in charity this year through the Hot August Nights Foundation.
“This event isn’t just for us, it’s for the whole community,” Whan said. “Everyone gets to benefit from our event financially and emotionally.”