The Buck Stops Here
In 1998, the Reno Air Racing Association board of directors recruited Mike Houghton to fix an event that had become a deepening money pit. “We needed to develop a turnaround plan. Fortunately, that’s what I’d done for most of my career,” says Houghton, who came to Reno after turning around a division of United Airlines. Last year, he oversaw a $6 million fundraising effort—one-third to pay for high-risk aviation insurance. Houghton jokes: “We are not-for-profit, and we do that very well.” Last year, the fundraising almost fell short; a last-minute contribution from the state of Nevada saved the 2012 event, Houghton says. Others say it was Houghton who saved it. “After 2011, if not for Mike Houghton, the races would be gone by now,” says race pilot and former astronaut Hoot Gibson.
In a sport that has seen its share of tragedy, Houghton has been for 15 years the sympathetic friend who delivers bad news to family members and the calm spokesman who steps up to the microphones to face reporters. He says that running air racing is itself like running a race—a hurdle race: “You go over each hurdle, and then you’re dealing with the next one, and the next one.”