Casper One Of Three Finalists To Land National Air Championship Races

Casper has made the short list of three cities still in the running to become the new host for the National Championship Air Races, which could be a $100 million shot in the arm for the Cowboy State.

RJ
Renée Jean

February 29, 20247 min read

Shellabarger Robert T 6 Class Race 4389 2000x1200

Casper is one of three finalists on the short list to be the new home of the National Championship Air Races.

That puts the city one step closer to landing the famous event, as well as an estimated $100 million shot in the arm for Cowboy State tourism.

Casper Airport Director Glenn Januska told Cowboy State Daily that site organizers have been back to Wyoming two more times since their initial site visit, and said on the last trip that Casper is one of the three cities making the short list.

The next step, Januska said, will be a look at the nitty-gritty details.

“There’s some information that we’ve talked about that we’ve promised that we would work on getting for them,” he said. “So, we’re gathering up that information that we told them we would get and working on submitting it to them, probably middle of next week.”

Januska doesn’t know at this point if there will be more site visits, but said he wants to make sure the group has all the information it needs to make the best decision for the air races.

“When they make the final decision that Casper has it, we want to make sure we’ve given them the best information we have available so that they’re comfortable with what we have to offer both at the airport and the community,” Januska said.

Aviation’s Fastest Motor Sport

This year would have been the 60th anniversary of the National Championship Air Races in Reno, Nevada, but the city and the air races decided to part ways after 2023.

That left the air races seeking a new home for what is billed as aviation’s fastest motor sport, where planes fly up to 500 mph 50 feet from the ground on a closed course.

Casper was one of six communities that submitted full-length proposals bidding for the air races last April. The other communities were Buckeye in Arizona, Pueblo in Colorado, Roswell in New Mexico, Thermal in California and Wendover in Utah.

All six of the sites received in-person visits as part of the process of choosing the new home for the races.

Along with Casper, only Pueblo and Roswell now remain under consideration for the opportunity.

“We’ve been overwhelmed by the amazing, positive feedback we’ve received from the six bidding communities as a whole as we search for the future home for the National Championship Air Races,” Reno Air Racing Association CEO and Chairman Fred Telling said in an emailed media statement.

All of the proposals were well-thought out, Telling added, and had much to offer.

“Through a rigorous vetting process, we feel confident that one of these three locations will provide the right mix of elements our event needs to continue to race well into the future,” Telling said.

Telling said they plan to make their final selection soon, and will announce the decision in April.

  • The National Championship Air Races are looking for a new home, and Casper is on the short list. It could mean a $100 million economic jolt for the area and Wyoming.
    The National Championship Air Races are looking for a new home, and Casper is on the short list. It could mean a $100 million economic jolt for the area and Wyoming. (Reno Air Racing Association via Facebook)
  • The National Championship Air Races draws big crowds.
    The National Championship Air Races draws big crowds. (Reno Air Racing Association via Facebook)
  • A World War II-era B-24 Liberator.
    A World War II-era B-24 Liberator. (Reno Air Racing Association via Facebook)
  • Air Races military jet 11 5 23
  • A chromed-out single-engine plane on display.
    A chromed-out single-engine plane on display. (Reno Air Racing Association via Facebook)
  • An A-10C Warthog is put through its paces.
    An A-10C Warthog is put through its paces. (Reno Air Racing Association via Facebook)
  • A professional demonstration team flies a single-engine P-51 Mustang accompanied by an A-10 Warthog jet.
    A professional demonstration team flies a single-engine P-51 Mustang accompanied by an A-10 Warthog jet. (Reno Air Racing Association via Facebook)

Statewide Tourism Boost

During the yearlong break, the National Air Racing Championship will put on an exhibition air show in Reno to celebrate its 60th anniversary.

That gives whichever venue is chosen as the new home for the races time to prepare for the grand reopening in 2025.

Januska has told Cowboy State Daily that he believes there will be adequate time to figure out how to accommodate the air races in Casper without hampering critical functions at the airport.

The Wyoming Legislature, meanwhile, is working out a budget that so far includes $500,000 to help Casper prepare for the air races.

Januska said other communities in the running are looking to do the same, and that the appropriation shows the Cowboy State would be a good partner.

“It shows the willingness on the part of the state to be able to support this,” Januska said. “That this is important to them, and this would certainly be an important event from the state standpoint, you know, not just for Casper and Natrona County.”

Januska said it is likely people flying into the event would be using airports all around Casper from Buffalo to Douglas, and that he anticipates that many of the people attending will look at extending their stay to take in other tourist attractions around Wyoming.

“I’m anticipating that a lot of people will get to the point where they make the Air Races part of their vacation and spend more time in Wyoming,” he said. “They may say, ‘Hey, while we’re at the races in Casper, we’d like to go up to Devils Tower, or we’d like to go over to Cody. Long story short, this is going to have an impact on the whole state, and the indication from the money the Legislature includes in the budget shows that this is something the state as a whole is going to support.”

How To Have Your Airport And Your Air Races Too

Casper’s airport is a busy commercial venue, and so part of the game plan will include strategically scheduling flights in and out of the airport around the event so that commercial flights are still able to come and go as needed.

“We have a a couple of the larger 737-size jobs, and then on those dates, those would depart in the morning before, let’s say 7 o’clock, before you start racing,” Januska has told Cowboy State Daily. “And then maybe there’s a gap in the afternoon, like right around noon time, so you could get a couple aircraft coming in.

“We’d work with the airlines on larger planes in that schedule and we’d work to make sure if there’s FedEx operations or cargo operations, we’re able to go out before that time period.”

All of that is a similar consideration for essentially all the airports the air race organizers have considered so far.

Januska said now that Casper is in the final three, there will be an even closer look at those factors, and a more “nitty-gritty” look at all the details.

A Lot To Offer

Casper does have a lot to offer the air races, Januska believes.

“We have a lot of infrastructure,” he said. “And we have 5,150 acres of land. We are probably more fortunate than a lot of airports in the fact we can, you know, if we need to park 5,000 vehicles, we can.”

Air races in Reno have hosted upward of 69,000 people for the multiday event, and they get national and international attention, Januska said.

“It’s significant for the state,” he said. “It’s not just something that would be $100 million impact to Casper and Natrona County. With the coverage and visibility, I don’t want to say it puts Wyoming on the map, but you know, there would be a lot of people who would be coming to see the races, a lot of people would be watching.”

The Reno Air Races are one of the last remaining air motorsport events. High profile crashes over the years have raised some safety concerns around the sport.

Last year, a Czech jet crashed, killing its pilot. Before that in 2011, a World War II-era modified P-51 Mustang fighter, nicknamed Galloping Ghost, veered into the grandstands at 400 mph. Three were instantly killed, including pilot Jimmy Leeward, and 50 others were seriously injured, with seven more dying, bringing total fatalities to 10.

The National Transportation Safety Board made a series of recommendations in the wake of that crash to improve safety of the races, which included putting spectators further from the course, as well as pre-race inspections and other safety measures.

Januska said safety is something both he and race organizers take very seriously, and that all competitors will be required to go through a pilot racing school to ensure everyone in the races has the right skill level.

The races themselves would take place over a 10-day period that includes practice time and preliminary qualifiers.

Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.

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RJ

Renée Jean

Business and Tourism Reporter