Mike Houghton is president and CEO of the Reno Air Racing Association. Houghton got his start working for United Airlines when he was 19 years old. After working his way up in commercial aviation marketing, he became the vice president for the Reno-Sparks Convention & Visitors Authority, and then the RARA. He spoke with RN&R before this year’s races.
What are some of the difficulties of your job?
I think a lot of us joke about the areas of our responsibility, and it’s like herding cats. You’ve got a large number of people that get together once a year and run a race. So getting everyone back into a common focus and common level of communication is our first challenge, and by Wednesday, Thursday things are running pretty well.
How do the air races benefit Reno?
Well, from an economic-impact standpoint, the races account for over $80 million of income for the week. Also, because we are primarily a visitor drawn event—we have over 70 percent of our fans and participants are from outside of our area—we get an enormous amount of worldwide press coverage which just isn’t for the event but also highlights the community.
What do you think people get out of the air races?
This is the only event of this kind in the entire world. It’s the last of the closed-course-pylon racing events that takes place anywhere on this Earth, and I guess that is the real common bond. There is not a place in the world they can go to experience racing as it is raced here in Reno, Nevada.
You said it is like no other event. Can you elaborate on that a little bit more?
We have closed-pylon racing, we have up to nine airplanes seen on the race course at the same time. They’re 40 feet off the ground, and they will race in different classes from speeds as slow as 220 miles an hour to over 500 miles an hour, and no place in the world does this take place but here.
Why is it important to have an event like this not only for Reno, but for the world?
Well, it’s the last bastion of air racing. We are the longest running and sole surviving air race of its type anywhere. So it is aviation history, and we relive it every year here in Reno. We’ve got airplanes that were built and helped us win World War II, to new airplanes that are carbon fiber airplanes that are built and are used for families to fly around in their own private airplane, and they race. So it’s a wide cross section of peoples’ interests that we pique by racing here in Reno each year.
Why is it important to keep this tradition of aviation racing going?
Well, you don’t want to be a part of extinct history, and people want to see this type of racing with airplanes continue to survive. It is exciting, it’s thrilling and you can’t see it anywhere else.
Why are people fascinated with aviation in general?
I think it goes back into early man and man’s desire to fly. Probably the best people to answer that question would be the Wright Brothers when they first took off from Kitty Hawk. It’s man’s passion to leave the ground, to be in control of their movement through space.
Where would you like to see the Air Races go in the future?
Well, we have been here for 46 years and we are planning for a long future. The race course is totally on protected property, it’s on the airport. We race over the airport land here. The housing is not going to get any closer than it is already, so we are geared in positions to have the event continue as long as there are pilots that want to race and fans that want to watch them.