With Hot August Nights taking off this week, it might be a good time to reflect on the major Special Events in this area.
Let’s begin with the oldest Special Event, the Reno Rodeo, which is a celebration of the western heritage of this region. Originally held on the July 4 weekend, it became so enormously popular that some directors had the right idea of moving it to the last weekend in June. Their rationale was that the Fourth could take care of itself and the Rodeo was enough of a draw to justify the new date. Unfortunately, the Fourth date was quickly grabbed up by a competing Rodeo and the late June date did not perform as well as expected. In fact, during the mid-1960’s, the Rodeo was in dire financial straits. Fortunately, the president at that time was Charles Mapes, who instituted a form of underwriting. The premise was to set the budget for the upcoming Rodeo and then contact business people to pledge money in order to reach that amount. After the Rodeo was over, the net proceeds were distributed back to the donors. This practice would ensure that the Rodeo would be able to meet its financial obligations due to the community’s support. I don’t recall exactly how much was returned the first year, but I’m sure it was under fifty percent. The practice was carried on for several years with the Rodeo gaining momentum due to the addition of night performances and a number of special attractions added to the Midway. Finally the underwriting was no longer necessary as the Rodeo became self-sustaining.
The next major Special Event I was involved in was the staging of Hydroplane Races at Tahoe and Pyramid Lake. Those events brought a very wealthy class of competitors and drew thousands of spectators.
Following the Hydros, an individual named Bill Stead came to my office one day and said that he had an idea to start the Reno Air Races. He said that he had commitments from a half-dozen Hydro drivers who also happened to be pilots. He added that he didn’t think that six or seven planes would draw that much attention, so he asked me to call US Senator Howard Cannon to see if we could get the Air Guard flying demonstration team to appear. Within two hours we had Cannon’s answer that the team would appear if we could put them up at the Mapes for the duration of the Races. Since Stead and Mapes were good friends, it was an easy request to fulfill. Stead also got a commitment from a number of Balloonists to appear which may have been the genesis of the Great Reno Balloon Races. Interestingly, the first Reno Air Races were held closer to Sparks than Reno, out on the Pyramid Lake Highway.
Another spectacular event was the creation of the first actual Virginia City Camel Races in September of 1960, which occurred during a lull in the shooting of “The Misfits”. With celebrities galore and the participation of Bill Harrah’s Horseless Carriage Group, it is doubtful that the huge crowd of fans that descended on Virginia City has ever been equaled.
Adding to these long-time major Special Events, we now have Hot August Nights, the El Dorado Great Italian Festival, the Nugget Rib Cook-off and a host of smaller celebrations.
The area is quickly living up to its reputation as the “Events Capitol of the World”.