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The World’s Fastest Motorsport Comes to Ely

Eastern Nevada town launches first new air races in the West in 34 years.

BY MEGG MUELLER

“Outlaw,” a Cassutt Racer IIIM from Edmonton, Alberta owned by Scott Holmes, takes off. © Jeremy Spilker

When you have around 4,000 people in your town and you consider putting on a show, you might not endeavor to be the biggest. But there needs to be that special something that catches a person’s eye…something to make them stop and think, “Whoa, I can’t miss that!” So while the inaugural Ely Air Races and Air Show—held June 13-16—may not be the largest air race you’ve ever seen, it will be the highest.

Ely sets in eastern Nevada, 63 miles from the Utah border, and with Yelland Field airport at an elevation of 6,259 that gives the Ely Air Races the distinction of being held at the highest elevation of any air race. Now that you’re all set to go, let’s talk about why you should be already packing the car.

A LOFTY IDEA

A pilot prepares to fuel an F1 racing plane in the early morning. © Jeremy Spilker

Lance Gale is the airport manager at Yelland Field, and after a conversation with Elaine Blackman from the county’s economic development board approached the subject, the idea, according to Lance, “just took off.” After speaking with racers from the National Championship Air Races held at Reno Stead Airport, the idea of creating a sister event seemed to take on wings of its own.

The challenge of planning such an event in a town 240 miles from any major metropolitan area with no public transportation in or out was no mean feat. Add to that the rigorous steps required by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to ensure the safety of such an event, and it’s been a bit of a bumpy ride. But that hasn’t stopped Lance and Meg Rhoades with the White Pine County Tourism & Recreation Board and the committee from planning not only this year’s event, but also what they hope to happen at future events.

“The planned attendance is 2,000-4,000 for the first year,” Meg says. “The goal is to build an event that includes multiple racing classes and promotes local and state economic growth by attracting 8,000-10,000 attendees annually.”

Clockwise: A skydiver; “Midnight Miss II,” an AT-6D from Fallon, owned by Dennis Buehn, photo © Jeremy Spilker; a hot air balloon, photo © Stephen Bishop; Nevada Air National Guard C-130 display, photo © Jeremy Spilker; and a Commemorative Air Force FM-2 Wildcat, photo © Jeremy Spilker.

FLIGHTS WORTH THE DRIVE

This year’s event is scheduled to feature Formula One Pylon Air Racing, Inc. as the main event (the race is pending final and anticipated FAA approval). Formula One (F1) aircraft race around pylons at speeds up to 280 mph, with the fastest and best pilot and plane taking home top honors in the world’s fastest motor sport.

While F1s provide the need for speed, the event will offer an aviation experience for all fans. A static military display with aircraft from the Nevada Air National Guard and the Commemorative Air Force will be on the tarmac, plus there will be private aircraft, T-6 and sport-class airplanes, gliders, parachuting demonstrations, a car show, and hot air balloon rides.

The event is being held at the historic Yelland Field, which was the site of the second air flight in Nevada history, the first flight to reach an altitude of 10,000 feet, and was the home to a naval aviation training facility during World War II.

YEAH IT’S KIND OF A DRIVE, BUT…

Ely and Steptoe Valley, taken from the Egan Range southwest of Ely. © Lori Drew

Meg and Lance admit for a first-time event, one of the challenges is getting people to make the drive to Ely, but they promise those that do will be amply rewarded.

“Ely is not your typical small town,” Meg explains. “While a traffic jam consists of waiting for 10 cars to pass on the main street so you can make a left hand turn, we have no hesitation in jumping into unique and exciting events.”

Racing seems to be our event of choice and setting records just follows naturally,” Lance adds. “We’re already home to the Silver State Classic Challenge—the world-record setting, first, and longest-running open road race—and Fears, Tears, and Beers—the oldest mountain bike enduro race in America.”

An impressive track record, to be sure, but thrills of another kind await anyone who ventures to Ely. Summer in White Pine County is unparalleled, with Nevada’s only national park—Great Basin and the phenomenal Lehman Caves—just a short drive, not to mention Cave Lake State Park where fishing and elk watching is de rigueur.

For those not wanting to leave town, a visit to Nevada Northern Railway National Historic Landmark is the perfect companion to the air race. After watching the high-speed races, take a ride on a century-old steam engine. The railroad offers many opportunities to get onboard, and even offers such unique events as the ability to be the engineer, and stay the night in the rail yard. For more fun and history, drive north to nearby McGill and check out the McGill Drugstore Museum. Step back in time to this historic building that is filled with items from the 1970s and more, plus visit the working soda fountain for refreshment. Call ahead to schedule a tour, because it’s a definite blast from the past.

DON’T MISS YOUR FLIGHT

“Blind Luck,” a Lancair 360 (Sport Class) out of Reno, owned by Louis Gabriel, soars at the National Championship Air Races in Stead. © Jeremy Spilker

Attending the race will get your heart pounding, but planning your visit shouldn’t, so the best advice from Meg and Lance? Book now.

“Book hotel rooms and RV spots early, as spacing is limited,” Meg notes. “The event organizers are building additional dry camping and RV spots to accommodate the expected influx of travel trailers.”

The whole town is getting involved in the event plans; vendors are planned for both the airport and evening events to help alleviate congestion at the local restaurants. The race committee and various local groups are working on off-site entertainment, including golf tournaments, trap shoots, concerts, and much more.

As if summer needed one more reason to get outdoors and see something new, the Ely Air Race and Air Show fits the bill. Be a part of history at this inaugural event, and spend your vacation in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. That’s an idea that definitely has lift.

GET YOUR MOTOR RUNNING

Ely Air Races and Air Show
Yelland Field
1470 N. McGill Hwy.
Ely, NV 89301
elynevada.net, 775-289-3720

Great Basin National Park
100 Great Basin National Park
Baker, NV 89311
nps.gov, 775-234-7331

Cave Lake State Park
parks.nv.gov, 775-867-3001

Nevada Northern Railway National Historic Landmark
nnry.com, 775-289-2085

McGill Drugstore Museum
mcgilldrugstoremuseum.org

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