Reno air races land in New Mexico

The National Championship Air Races where held at the Reno-Stead Airport from 1965 through last year.

The National Championship Air Races where held at the Reno-Stead Airport from 1965 through last year.
Reno Air Racing Association

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Roswell has long been ground zero for ufology tourism, but the city of nearly 50,000 residents and seat of Chaves County in southeastern New Mexico will soon be known for more than crashed extraterrestrial vehicles, alien corpses, and cover-up conspiracy theories.

The Reno Air Racing Association recently announced that the National Championship Air Races will be relocating to Roswell Air Center, a massive 5,000-acre commercial aviation hub five miles south of central Roswell. The inaugural event in Roswell will be held in September of 2025, said Tony Logoteta, chief operating officer of RARA.

Roswell was chosen over two other finalists: Pueblo, Colo., and Casper, Wyo. All three locations were capable of hosting the air races, Logoteta said, but each site had unique benefits and drawbacks.

“There were challenges with all three locations,” he said. “We had to figure out which challenges were mitigated the easiest, and which location was the safest.

“Roswell has a beautiful canvas for a really nice race course, and there’s room to grow and do things we were not able to do in Stead, such as a fly-in (fans can fly their own planes to the event),” Logoteta added. “There’s a lot of availability and opportunity there for us.”

The search for a new home for the National Championship Air Races began in March 2023, when the RARA announced it would no longer hold the event at Reno-Stead Airport, where races began in 1965. Encroaching commercial and residential development and concerns for public safety were among the contributing factors that led to the event’s demise in Northern Nevada.

Roswell doesn’t face those pressures – and likely never will. Mike Espiritu, president and chief executive officer of the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corporation, said the ground under the race course is a floodplain.

“The area for the race course will never be developed,” Espiritu said, “and we are writing up a conservation easement to protect the area forever. We can guarantee that there will never be an encroachment issue.”

Espiritu told NNBW that the National Championship Air Races in Roswell will be the second-largest special event in New Mexico after the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta held Oct. 5-13. With a population of just over 60,000, Chaves County lacks the built-in fan base of Reno-Sparks. Roswell also is about two hours’ drive from any city of similar size, and it's even further away from larger population centers such as El Paso, Lubbock or Albuquerque. However, the whole of New Mexico is aviation country, Espiritu said.

“We have a lot of military bases around Roswell,” he said. “There’s Holloman and Cannon Air Force Bases, and in Albuquerque we have the New Mexico Air National Guard and Kirtland Air Force Base. In El Paso there’s Fort Bliss, and we have White Sands Missile Range a little further west.

“These are all aviation centers. Military pilots love coming to air races, and people like coming to Roswell to visit.”

Roswell Air Center, meanwhile, used to be the home of Walker Air Force Base and is one of the largest commercial aviation hubs in the Southwest.

Prior to landing the air races, Roswell’s previous claim to fame was being home to a UFO incident in the summer of 1947. Roswell has capitalized on the event with a well-attended UFO Festival held each year in July. Tourism impact from the National Championship Air Races, coupled with Roswell Air Center’s growing presence as a commercial aviation center, may eclipse ufology tourism, though.

“We are about more than UFOs,” Espiritu said. “It’s really about aviation and how we best fit in with the National Championship Air Races. The reason we worked so hard to get them here is because we are just a good fit. The entire region is filled with aviation enthusiasts.

“It may take a few years to grow the event to the scope it was in Northern Nevada, but it is in good hands,” Espiritu said.

Work has begun in earnest to move the National Championship Air Races from Northern Nevada to southeastern New Mexico. Logoteta said. The tremendous logistical shift likely will mean some sweeping changes for the Reno Air Racing Association.

“Officially, the event is called the National Championship Air Races,” Logoteta said. “Moving forward, it will be the National Championship Air Races in Roswell, New Mexico.

“In the foreseeable future, the Reno Air Racing Association will continue to be located here (in Northern Nevada),” he added. “We will have an airshow here this year on Oct. 4-6, and at the same time, we are working toward the next racing event in Roswell in September of 2025.

It may seem like a long lead time, but there are a lot of pieces to put into play, and the board feels quite empty.

“There is a lot to do,” Logoteta said. “It is a big event. This is pretty unprecedented – no one has ever tried to move an event like this before.

“From building the grandstands to building the course and putting up the pylons, there are so many different things that have to be done between now and then to take something like this and transplant it to Roswell,” he added. “There are business relationships to forge, and vendors and service providers to find. Thankfully we have fantastic volunteers and supporters who have already committed to helping us (in Roswell) at least through the first year or two as we train new people there.”

The landscape will continue to unfold over the coming months as the Reno Air Racing Association begins to intertwine with the New Mexico aviation community.

“Some of it we will figure out as we go, and there will be pieces we don’t know,” Logoteta said. “We definitely will have to have some sort of (physical) footprint there as we begin making ties and connections in the community.

“One thing that’s important — and this is true for all the communities that were bidding to become the next location — (Roswell) is absolutely all in as a community on getting us there. They are providing those connections. Those conversations have already started – we’ve jumped in with both feet, and the planning starts right now.”

The RARA held its first official meeting after the agreement was finalized with Roswell executives to start hammering out race infrastructure and logistics, as well as the fan experience, sponsorship opportunities, and hundreds of other important details.

Although the National Championship Air Races flew its final flag at Reno-Stead Airport in September, another aviation event is set to rise in Northern Nevada. The Reno Air Show isn’t really designed to replace the thrill of the air races so much as it is to showcase and highlight aviation. The U.S. Navy Blue Angels and Canadian Forces Snowbirds will fly at the air show.

“We were really happy about the opportunity to put on an air show this year and have that 60th celebration,” Logoteta said. “We want to celebrate 60 years of putting on a truly unique event here in Northern Nevada.

“It’s the only place you can see the Blue Angels and Snowbirds perform together this year,” Logoteta said. “It is going to be a really fun and entertaining lineup, and we are looking forward to having a few days of celebration with our community.”


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