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Hot August Nights standoff continues
by Harry Spencer
Sep 10, 2010 | 1703 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Courtesy Photo - Tiffany Story, 2009's Virginia Camel Race queen, studies some of the camel competitors in last year's race. She was driven by grand marshals Roy Powers and Harry Spencer.
Courtesy Photo - Tiffany Story, 2009's Virginia Camel Race queen, studies some of the camel competitors in last year's race. She was driven by grand marshals Roy Powers and Harry Spencer.
Based on Wednesday’s meeting of the Reno City Council, little has changed in the current standoff between the Hot August Nights (HAN) board of directors and the city when it comes to some sort of agreement as to the future of HAN in northern Nevada.

Chris Killian, president of the HAN board, was adamant that the group will not consider the contract matter until it has had its October retreat. Despite the city’s ongoing request for the names of the HAN board members, even that continues to be shrouded in secrecy. In the meantime, participants in the 2011 celebration are receiving mixed messages about how to sign up for what has become a trifecta event that includes Long Beach, Calif., South Lake Tahoe, the Reno-Sparks area.

For 2011, HAN has opted to push back the Reno-Sparks dates a full week, which has brought overwhelming criticism from the major hotels and casinos that book their rooms well in advance. Those properties, which over the years have become the biggest contributors to the classic car festival, rightfully have some say in how and when the event will — or should — take place. However, once again, the HAN directors have chosen to remain mute and have not engaged in any substantive discussions. Meanwhile, another important segment of the event — the host of volunteers — also remains in the dark as to when and what their duties will be in the future. One such individual wondered whether or not he was supposed to get ready to travel to Long Beach and South Lake Tahoe in order to help as well as do his customary duties here locally.

HAN Executive Director Bruce Walter, who was the sole target of the resentment when the new plan was first unveiled by a Southern California newspaper, now seems to have artfully shifted the firestorm of local negativity to the board of directors. While that group might regard itself as sacrosanct and privileged to operate in secrecy, it has not set well with the general public.

Rumors run rampant as to why HAN officials have spent the last two years in negotiations with Long Beach without some word of it being released to the hundreds of people that have contributed to the Reno-Sparks event during the years.

If not for the fact that a competent newspaper reporter in California interviewed Walter and wrote the story, which noted that Long Beach would eventually be home to HAN — a statement that Walter has termed as “being misquoted” — there is no telling when this area would have become aware of the changes in the 2011 schedule. Incidentally, the reporter has said he is sticking by the accuracy of his story after he was informed of Walter’s statement of being misquoted.

All in all, based on the general sentiment, the HAN management has suffered a huge black eye here when it comes to public relations.

A few of the original founders of the event, who are still in the area but for years have had nothing to do with running the event, have been quoted as saying that for a long time the hierarchy of HAN has been engaged in contentious and politically motivated infighting. They point to the constant turnover of executive directors throughout the years as just one example of the strife-ridden organization. Perhaps now is the time for some of these past directors to step forward and publicly disclose what they might know about how and why HAN has been run.

Whatever the outcome of all this is, the ball is now definitely in HAN’s court, since the city of Reno has adopted a resolution to seek a long-term agreement with HAN's staff.

Virginia City

Camel Races

One of the best kept secrets of the year, at least for local media outlets, is this weekend’s Virginia City Camel Races.

This is the 50th anniversary of the event, which started in 1950 when movie director John Huston and his good friend, professional horse racing jockey Billy Pearson, decided to travel to the Comstock and engage in the initial contest.

Huston was in Reno, ensconced in the Mapes Hotel, with the rest of the cast and crew of the motion picture “The Misfits.” During a lull in the shooting, he and Pearson decided to ask hotelier Charles Mapes if he would sponsor the first race in the way of expenses and trophy. Mapes agreed and shortly thereafter Bill Harrah was approached to set up an excursion to Virginia City for members of the Horseless Carriage Club. The club was made up of members who, like Harrah, owned a vintage automobile and the proper attire of that era. Dozens of the ancient cars were driven up Geiger Grade the day of the race and many were steaming at the main lookout point of the highway. All eventually made it in time for the race, as did thousands of spectators.

For many years, the camel races grew and prospered into the big event it is today. However, during the past few years — leading up to last year — interest and attendance has dropped off. For 2009, a very aggressive advertising and publicity effort restored the huge crowds for the event.

Since it is the 50th year of the races, this writer and Roy Powers, formerly of Harolds Club, were invited to act as grand marshals for the parade. I had the good fortune to work on the first race and then Harolds became a major sponsor, with the most innovative jockeys.

Perhaps if you go on the Internet, you can get a schedule for this weekend. For more information about the races, call 847-4386  or e-mail

Harry Spencer is a freelance writer in Reno. His column about the past and present of northern Nevada appears weekly in the Tribune.

Editor’s note: Opinions expressed in Harry Spencer’s column are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Tribune.
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