Fans of NASCAR, especially those who've attended a race in person, will tell you that there's nothing quite like the thrill induced by the roar of racecars speeding around a banked track at 190 M.P.H. But that's just a snail's pace for participants in the world's-fastest motor sport---air racing! Beautiful Reno, Nevada is home to the National Championship Air Races and Air Show, a five-day event that attracts the world's top fliers and thousands of spectators who love to watch the pilots in death-defying action. I recently attended an air races preview event in Reno where I had a chance to find out what the races are all about and also get a taste of some of the other festivals and events that keep Reno on its toes and up in the air.
National Championship Air Races and Air Show
This event is held at Stead Airport on the outskirts of Reno in a portion of the city that sits in a wide high desert valley where not-so-distant mountain tops often show off snowy peaks all the way into early summer. It's pretty from the ground; just think what it looks like from the air! Actually you don't have to imagine, at least during the five days of this event. All kinds of rare and unusual aircraft appear at the show, and many of them offer rides when the races are not in session. I took a ride in a T-6, a World War II-vintage prop-driven fighter plane that's one of the favored models of the racers in Reno. What I describe as a mere 'ride' is in reality quite an experience---you climb into the plane via the wing, the same way the pilots do, and strap into a parachute harness and into your seat. You put on headphones with a microphone so you can talk to the pilot and also hear what the control tower has to say. And since the T-6's that give rides are trainers, your seat directly behind the pilot is decked out with a duplicate set of everything needed to fly the plane---the pedals and "stick" move as the pilot maneuvers the plane and watching them is as fascinating as watching the scenery zoom by. If you take one of these rides then you have an idea of what the race pilots go through as they navigate around the course's pylons at 500 M.P.H., sometimes wingtip-to-wingtip with their competition. The bleachers in the main viewing area at Stead are close enough to the action to elicit "oohs" and "aahs" from spectators during six classes of competition including one for jets. Each year there are air show performances between races and among the flyers making an appearance this year are the Canadian Forces "Snowbirds," a nine-plane show team. Hundreds of aircraft of all types and vintages will be on display at Stead or making flyovers and a Heritage Trophy will be awarded to the entity that's made the most outstanding effort in vintage aircraft preservation. Needless to say over the course of the show there are many chances to rub elbows with and get autographs from some of these flying aces. The 47th Annual National Championship Air Races and Air Show takes place in Reno on September 15-19, 2010. www.airrace.org
The Great Reno Balloon Races
How do hot air balloons, the most sublime of all aircraft, race? Generally, the balloonists maneuver to a position over a target on the ground and then drop beanbags, earning varying amounts of points depending on the bag's proximity to the target. At the Great Reno Balloon Race competition begins with the "mass ascension," a simultaneous launching of more than a hundred balloons. The winner is the balloon crew that accumulates the most points over the course of the event. And if you think all of those balloons in the air at once make for a sight, think of what the 5:00 AM Glow Show looks like. That's the otherworldly spectacle that occurs when the balloons fire up their heaters in the dark and the blasts of flame cause the colorful balloons to blink on and off like giant lightning bugs. There's also a Dawn Patrol event where balloonists who are qualified to fly in the dark take to the sky just before sunrise. And yes, you can take balloon rides, including very affordable $5 tethered rides. The Great Reno Balloon Race takes place at Rancho San Rafael Regional Park September 10-12, 2010. Admission is free. www.renoballoon.com
Street Vibrations Fall Rally
Dare I say it? The Street Vibrations Fall Rally is hog heaven! Hogs as in big, thundering Harley-Davidson motorcycles, that is. The motto for Street Vibrations events is "Music, Metal and Motorcycles" and there are tours, concerts, parades, ride-in shows, stunt shows and a lot more to behold and participate in. There'll be a massive bike expo and events like poker runs and even a poker walk for those who don't ride. And as if you won't see enough great ink just by looking around, there'll be a tattoo expo too. Concert headliners this year include Foghat and Zepparella, an all-girl Led Zeppelin tribute band. The Street Vibrations Fall Rally takes place at various venues in and around Reno September 22-26, 2010. For details visit www.road-shows.com
Talk about a September to remember! Reno does pretty good during all the other months too---the city is festival and event crazy---for a list of fun things to do any time of year go to www.visitrenotahoe.com