SAN ANGELO, TX — Is San Angelo ready for a unique and exciting event at the airport next year? The City of San Angelo, in conjunction with the Convention and Visitors Bureau at the Chamber of Commerce, are investigating what it will require to bring air races here.
The race event proposed is similar to the Reno Air Races in that it consists of an airborne oval track with multiple heats. Multiple piston-driven airplanes race together in the heat where the first plane to cross the finish line wins. The race is low level, no lower that 50 feet off the ground over the runways, and likely 300 to 700 feet above the ground on the downwind leg away from the main runway and line of spectators. Speeds can exceed 300 mph. Each race, or heat, is eight laps around the oval course.
According to airport manager Jeremy Valgardson, the race is just a penciled-in plan right now, and he is asking for guidance from the city council next week to move forward with more planning.
The air race is proposed to be produced by Air Race 1, an aviation race promotion company called Air Race Events based in Dubai, UAE. https://airrace1.com/airrace1-news/ The company sponsored a winning racer at the internationally famous Reno Air Races in 2019. Air Race 1’s plane called Heat Stroke, with pilot Steve Temple, won the Silver class race. There was no Reno Air Races this year due to COVID-19. Air Race 1 has promoted other races internationally, but San Angelo’s event, should it happen, will be the first US-based event the company has fully produced.
The cost of holding an air race is substantial, though Air Race Events is waiving much of its fees. Initial cost estimates start at $80,000. But missing from that estimate may be the cost of insurance, a major hurdle not yet cleared. Organizers have not been able to find an underwriter in Texas to insure the event, though the search has barely begun.
“Ely, Nevada held a similar event and they found an insurer,” said Valgardson.
The tentative plan is to hold the race here in October 2021. The CVB has committed up to $40,000 to sponsor the event. More money for events like this can be obtained with grant underwriting, though council approval to continue the planning process is needed to enhance the competitiveness of obtaining a grant. Commercial sponsorships will also be sold in additional to box office ticket sales to spectators.
Valgardson said the FAA and his staff have already worked out a map for the proposed race routing that overflies airport property with some small exceptions. The FAA will also need to make a site visit before approving the plan.
Creating the plan for the air race is extensive. The event cannot preclude allowing commercial aviation access to the landing runway, likely runway 18-36, that will also serve as the race day main runway. Race events will need to be paused to allow American Airlines to land. Closing the main ground-based instrument runway will also be required. Runway 3-21 will be right underneath the race oval and runway 3 is the only runway at Mathis with a precision Instrument Landing System, or ILS, approach installed.
In additional to the aviation planning, first responders like fire and EMS will be needed. Valgardson estimated four fire trucks and EMS vehicles will be needed with 16 fire/EMS personal. In addition, the event will need at least four uniformed San Angelo Police Department officers for crowd control and to enforce airport security protocols.
Holding an air race in San Angelo will bring five days of overnight stays at local hotels and motels for the racers, crews, and air race organizers. In addition, the two-day event has the potential to attract 10,000 spectators, many from out of town who will also need lodging and restaurants for dining.
In addition to the tourism benefits, the event will highlight to a wide national audience the facilities and open airspace around Mathis Field, providing a promotional component for economic development.
Tuesday, the council will hear a briefing on the initial air race plans and vote to approve a venue and licensing agreement with Air Race Events, aka Air Race 1. The council will also vote on approving a memorandum of understanding between the City of San Angelo and the Conventions and Visitors Bureau where the CVB agrees to provide $40,000 as a downpayment for the event.
If the event is not approved by the FAA or the TSA, the contract can be canceled without penalty, Valgardson said.