Reno Nation Championship Air Race CEO & President Mike Houghton Sadly Parts Ways

Removed”…To Further Reduce Expenditures And Streamline Our Efforts…”

On the last day of 2013, the Reno Air Race Association provided a surprising press release which stated Mike Houghton, CEO & President of the Reno Air Race Association was relieved of his duties after 15 years of service.

The Reno Air Race Association stated that, “In its ongoing effort to revise and evolve its organizational structure and business model to ensure long-term sustainability, the Reno Air Racing Association (RARA) announced today the departure of its President & CEO Mike Houghton.  The recently restructured board of directors cited recent changes in the governance of the organization and input from stakeholders that emphasized a need to restructure the day-to-day operations in light of the financial challenges facing RARA as Reasons behind the departure.”

2013 President & CEO Mike Houghton
2013 President & CEO Mike Houghton Driving “Red 1” VW Bug

Houghton has been an icon for the Reno Air Races and over his tenure instrumental in skillfully coordinating an extremely complicated event and interconnecting the passion of flight via loyal spectators with aviation’s best pilots, legends and innovators, past to present.  Everyone in attendance can view or participate in something they love about aviation.  Like the historical aircraft proudly displayed in the static area (vying for a coveted trophy) or in the air competing, or the crazy advanced technology of the F-22 Raptors giving spectators a surreal experience  or our country’s hero’s and legends walking about.

Even top pilots are known to have been ‘star-struck’  by seeing, or having the privilege to meet just one of the following legends in attendance nearly each year  –  Neil Armstrong, Bob Hoover, Gene Cernan, Sean Tucker, Bud Anderson, Herb Kellerher, Dick Rutan, Clay Lacy and the list goes on and on.  And what I’ve noticed about Mike’s character is that he treats everyone with the same warm and generous respect – from aviation legends, to the smallest of spectators whom he’s never met.

Mike Houghton 2013 National Aviation Heritage Invitational Awards Ceremony
Mike Houghton 2013 National Aviation Heritage Invitational Awards Ceremony

Mike is indeed a man of grace and class, with a ‘calm under fire’ demeanor which was clearly demonstrated by his flawless leadership, courage and compassion during, and after, the horrific crash that killed 10 spectators  and injured 61 others, when in 2011 Jimmy Leeward’s modified P-51 slammed into the crowd.

We photographers and journalist who have the privilege to photograph and report on the races, were corralled in the media center on that sad day, and watched in astonishment while Mike Houghton’s all-encompassing, resolute command was put to action as he managed the enormous responsibilities that fell on his shoulders.

The Reno Air Race Association statement continues, “Collectively, we would like to express our gratitude to Mike for his leadership and professionalism over the last 15 years,” said Mike Major, chairman of the RARA board of directors. “Mike has helped to guide this organization through some very significant challenges and some great successes. This is an extremely difficult decision but, in light of current circumstances and financial restraints, we felt that it was in the best interest of the Air Races to further reduce expenditures and streamline our efforts toward long-term viability.”  

And further explains, that ‘even as the National Championship Air Races, the only event of its kind in the world, prepares to celebrate 51 years in 2014, the event continues to grapple with the financial challenges left in the wake of the 2011 tragedy, with costs having since quadrupled. Recently, RARA announced that it had revised its organizational bylaws and had dramatically restructured its board of directors to allow for more efficient and effective decision-making and an even stronger emphasis on sponsorships, coalition building and fundraising. Going forward, RARA’s board of directors will fulfill the CEO roles and responsibilities.’

My hope for the Reno Air Races is twofold; first, that it continues – with full support from the aviation community and fans from around the world, and secondly, that the new board of directors are up to the challenge of filling the mighty big shoes that belonged to Mike Houghton.

I know I speak for my fellow photographers and journalists when I say that we’ll all miss his generous soul at the races and we wish him well, wherever his endeavors lead.

To the Reno Nation Championship Air Races, Good Luck and God’s Speed.

Kimberley West for WarBirdBabe


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