Despite Reno's long-time notoriety for a number of culturally questionable endeavors--gambling, brothels, quickie divorce laws, and a bumbling police force--today it has become a compelling destination for Vette enthusiasts. Perhaps those activities are actually part of its appeal for some visitors, but we'll take the high road and focus on the city's virtues rather than its vices.
Chief among Reno's highlights is the annual gathering at Hot August Nights, held this year (its 25th anniversary) from the 9th through the 14th. Recognized as the largest classic-car and nostalgia festival in the United States, with some 6,000 participant vehicle passes sold, Hot August Nights (HAN) celebrates a simpler time. It attracts an eclectic mix of '72-or-older vehicles, everything from rods to muscle cars to classics--and Corvettes, of course. Which makes it an ideal place for anyone who appreciates or wants to purchase a Vette from the C1 to early-C3 eras.
With such an enormous gathering of diverse vehicles at each of the 10 major casino resorts in town, it's no surprise that many hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to Reno for a red-hot revival. Besides all the classic cars, rock 'n' roll rules, so attendees can cut a rug at the free concerts featuring top entertainers and music of the '50s and '60s. Add to that pleasure cruises through town, show-n-shines, a sock hop, and much more. For shopaholics, there's the Classic Car Auction, Big Boys Toy Store, and Hot August Nights Swap Meet.
Plus, returning this year after a 10-year absence was the Official Hot August Nights Classic Car Drag Racing event, staged at John Ascuaga's Nugget hotel and casino. Sponsored by Full Throttle, a Reno engine tuner and car builder, the eighth-mile drags provided a secure place to relish the smell of burning rubber and high-octane gasoline, paired with classic eye candy and pedal-stompin' racing for an adrenaline rush.
While HAN offers something for everyone, Reno in general is an enticing place to visit at other times of the year. Of course, Corvette owners will likely prefer to travel in more favorable weather, from June to October. (The "shoulders" of the warmer seasons occasionally see sudden snowfalls in the mountains, as the ill-fated Donner Party might attest.)
The Reno Corvette club, comprising more than 150 cars, stages cruises during the warmer months to a number of scenic destinations in northern Nevada, such as Minden, Susanville/Portola, Squaw Valley, Virginia City, and Donner Lake, among others.
If you're a newcomer to the area, we should supply a bit of background on Reno, named after an obscure Civil War general who was shot off his horse during a battle in Maryland. Better known is the burg's civic-booster motto, "Biggest Little City in the World." An apt expression, to be sure, as you can motor across town in just minutes, yet there's a wide range of attractions and resources for both visitors and residents alike.
Besides HAN, Reno's numerous allurements during the rest of the year include the motorcycle show Street Vibrations, a hot-air-balloon race, a rib cook-off, Cinco de Mayo, bowling tournaments, and the Reno air races. And since the area offers an abundance of outdoor activities in the desert and the Sierra mountains surrounding nearby Lake Tahoe, there are two huge sporting-goods retailers that service these pursuits: Cabela's and Scheels, both of which offer surprising indoor attractions all on their own.
The history of Reno began with the Gold Rush, as '49ers watered their horses and livestock in the area on the way to California. Ironically, a gold discovery in 1859 in an isolated canyon southeast of Reno led to the discovery of the richest silver strike in U.S. history. Called the Comstock Lode, it brought a reverse migration from California in the "Rush to Washoe." Boomtowns like Virginia City, Gold Hill, Silver City, and Dayton sprang up overnight.
Even though the mines are pretty much played out now, these towns still draw tourists looking for some Old West atmosphere, and make for spectacular driving excursions through the foothills. (Recall our last issue's coverage of the Spectre 341 hillclimb event to Virginia City.) Likewise, the three twisty mountain routes that climb sharply to the western edge of Lake Tahoe (State Highways 431, 50, and 207) offer exhilarating opportunities to flex your Vette's suspension and punch the throttle.
When the state's mining income began to dwindle, Nevada employed a number of creative, albeit louche, ways to support itself through the down times, and early on Reno earned the sobriquet "Sin City"--long before Las Vegas was accorded that dubious title. It was--and still is to a certain extent--a wild and woolly frontier town that places few restrictions on human behavior.
Until the U.S. Army petitioned city fathers to ban prostitution in 1942, Reno tolerated several brothels. (A few still exist today in outlying areas, away from city limits.) Nevada attempted to control gambling from the beginning, and eventually legalized the practice in 1931. Casino gaming as we know it today developed in Reno.
Another questionable distinction materialized at the beginning of the 20th century, when Reno gained national notoriety for a number of famous people who obtained divorces in the city under Nevada's lenient laws. Newspapers sensationalized the incidents, dubbing Reno the "divorce capital." Sensing an economic opportunity, the Nevada legislature eventually shortened the residency period to six weeks, opening the floodgates to disaffected spouses. It's hard to imagine a more scenic area to establish a temporary domicile, whether you plan to stay married or not.
Moving beyond this motley history, modern Reno boasts a vibrant cultural scene and a refurbished downtown area, along the scenic Truckee River and the recently completed Reno Aces baseball stadium. In addition, the thriving tourist industry is fueled not merely by the casinos, but by the many year-round resorts in the nearby mountains. The area's mix of recreational opportunities, coupled with an agreeable climate that features more than 300 sunny days every year, has been the backbone of the city's success.
Even so, given Reno's colorful past, it's still the butt of jokes, especially with the popularity of the bawdy TV series Reno 911. No matter. For a quick comeback, there's that absurd remark from the show's quirky character, Deputy Travis Junior: "If a terrorist wanted to commit a crime in Reno, well, he's never been to Reno." So isn't about time you give it a shot?