RARA-Banned Aviator Becomes Something Of A Celebrity
Been there. Done that. Now, there's a t-shirt.
The growing controversy over John Parker has produced vocal
advocates and defenders, at least one media boycott and a t-shirt.
All of this, after the Reno Air Racing Association (RARA) suddenly
banned Parker from participating in next week's competition. (ANN:
"RARA Bans One Of Its Own" -- Aug. 25, 2003)
The t-shirt says, "Free John Parker." It's already being
distributed to air racing fans and Parker proteges. Mark "Bear"
Daniels, editor of the Reno-based Silver State
News, has declined his media credentials and refuses
to cover the Reno event. All because of the John Parker
controversy. On his website, Daniels writes as a matter of
editorial policy, "We will cover only legitimate Air Racing events
that are open to everyone. We will not cover 'invitationals' that
specifically are not advertised as such. We will not stand idly by
while men and women who regularly risk their lives in competition
are threatened for exercising their Civil Rights by those abusing
their delegated powers.
"We will not cover any event that trivializes the contributions
made by Air Racers, Soldiers, Military Retirees or Veterans. We
will not participate in any event that displays the pettiness of
'Good Ol' Boy' cliques or the arrogance of 'Nazi-style'
"We will not participate in any Air Racing event that does not
include active competitors on its Executive Boards or Committees,
in order to deal with such abuses in the future and to provide
oversight for prevention of the same.
"We will not provide coverage to the Reno Air Races until they
start doing what's right by John Parker, along with all the other
Air Racers and Air Racing's fans."
What's The Beef?
In an interview with ANN, Daniels said the Parker controversy
has put RARA's credibility somewhere below that of professional
wrestling. "Fans are being deceived," he said. "They think this is
a wide-open, full-bore competition between the best pilots in the
world. It's not. With Parker out of the race, he said, the Sport
Class race will probably default to Daryl Greenameyer.
"It's a cakewalk for Greenameyer," Daniels told ANN. "With
Parker out, Greenameyer will throttle back his Lancair. It's not
his fault. But the fans want an all-out air race. Professional
wrestling is actually more competitive."
As ANN has reported, Parker is a tenant at the Reno Stead
Airport, home of the Reno Air Races. It's where Parker is in the
business of custom-building airplanes and providing speed
modifications for air racers.
Parker (above) says he approached the Washoe County Airport
Authority about concerns over the dusk-til-dawn closure of Stead
during the race event. That, he said, costs him money. Some of the
other tenants apparently backed Parker, which led Stead Airport
Manager Skip Polak to call a meeting with RARA. After that meeting,
Parker got a letter from RARA CEO Mike Houghton, banning him from
competition during next week's 2003 event. The letter was titled,
John Parker, career soldier, air racer, grandfather, is no
stranger to controversy. Daniels said Parker's American Air Racing
Special was once disqualified in an argument about aircraft
specifications. Parker was a rebel in the 1977 breakup (and
eventual demise) of the United States Air Racing Association
(USARA) over aircraft specifications. But a controversial past,
said Daniels, speaking from inside Parker's Stead hangar, is no
excuse for RARA to ban one of its top competitors. Neither is a
current dissent regarding tenants' rights at Stead.
Daniels speculated, "John has them over a barrel somehow. He's
found something that could shut down the air races." That, suggests
Daniels, is why RARA has not only sanctioned Parker for 2003, but
has refused to explain its actions to race fans. "To explain their
actions," Daniels said, "might expose their Achille's Heel."
ANN has tried
repeatedly to contact RARA CEO Mike Houghton, whom Daniels
described as a "decent guy who's being told what to do." Houghton
has not replied to ANN's inquiries. But Daniels last week secured
an interview with Houghton, posting the transcript on his
Silver State News: Today’s August 29th,
2003, this is an interview with Mike Houghton, President and CEO of
the Reno Air Racing Association, and we’ll just go ahead and
jump into the fray here, because there’s a controversy going
on between one of the airport tenants, who’s also a racer
– John Parker – and the Reno Air Racing Association
(RARA), in regards to a dispute over airport closure is my
understanding…is that correct?
Mike Houghton: "That’s Mr. Parker’s
challenge, apparently. We don’t close the airport."
Silver State News: The Airport Manger has
confirmed that. What is your position that your banning John
Parker…as a matter of fact, what is RARA’s
Mike Houghton: "We haven’t banned John
Parker. We have not invited John Parker to participate in the races
this year and we feel that, as an organization, we have a right and
an obligation to protect the organization where we feel the
organization and the function of running the Air Races is at risk.
And we feel that Mr. Parker has taken some activities that do place
us in a position of risk in the short and the longer term, and we
therefore decided we don’t want to invite him to race."
Silver State News: What are the activities that
he’s involved in that are putting you at risk?
Mike Houghton: "That’s an issue between
Mr. Parker and the Air Races and that’s been stated in a
letter to him and it’s also been discussed in a meeting with
Silver State News: Well, I have a copy of the
letter here, indicating that "The decision is non-negotiable as the
Executive Committee had recently heard that you have personally
made attempts to interfere with the relationship between the Reno
Air Races and the Airport Authority of Washoe County (AAWC), as
well as tenants at Stead Airport." And John is mystified….he
does not know what is going on.
Mike Houghton: "John Parker has had a meeting
with me and several discussions and we’ve discussed a lot of
the issues. And John may not be willing to admit that he knows what
they are, that’s John’s challenge. But our issue is
Silver State News: Now, Lee Dodd – was he
"un-invited" – what was the case with him? He was trying to
lease an airplane from John Parker at cost…
Mike Houghton: "I have had conversations with
Mr. Dodd and I have told him he is invited, he is more than welcome
to participate at the Reno Air Races."
Silver State News: And what about the Glasair,
Race 300, that he wanted to race?
Mike Houghton: "Who’s airplane is
Silver State News: That’s John
"Mr. Parker as an owner is not invited to participate."
Silver State News: Okay, what about (Dodd) as a
"lessor?" I mean, he would not be…I mean, he’s just
leasing the airplane to another team."
Mike Houghton: "No. The documents as they were
submitted to the Reno Air Racing Association were from Mr. Parker.
It wasn’t from Mr. Dodd."
Silver State News: You indicate, apparently,
that you cannot go into the specific reasons as to…beyond
this as to why…
Mike Houghton: "It’s not a public issue.
We’re not going to do that."
Silver State News: According to the Airport
Manager, a tenant had asked for a review of the safety issue
involving leaving the Airport open during race week. He indicated
that RARA was not that tenant. Is RARA involved in providing
information as far as the decision goes?
Mike Houghton: "Which decision?"
Silver State News: As far as closing the
Mike Houghton: "That’s the Airport
Silver State News: We understand that.
Mike Houghton: "And the FAA."
Silver State News: We understand that and we
understand that the FAA (was involved).
Mike Houghton: "We don’t disagree with
that and we think it is a hazard – it’s a hazard to
Aviation. Anyone in their right mind who is not familiar with this
particular airport, or who even is, is going to look out there on
the ramp at night, and understand that there are certain hazards
that I don’t think a responsible individual – such as
the Airport Manager – should subject people to. So he’s
made the decision to close the Airport and we don’t disagree
Silver State News: And I can
Mike Houghton: "…but it’s his
Silver State News: …yeah, I understand
that too, because he’s made that clear. It’s the
"Airport Manager’s decision; the Airport’s decision;"
and he says that you guys are not responsible for the decision, and
he said that you guys "were not the tenant asking for the review of
the safety decision."
Mike Houghton: "No, we weren’t."
Silver State News: Okay – so why is there
a beef between yourself and Parker over Tenant Right’s
Mike Houghton: "We’ve never said that
there were Tenant Rights issues. We said that there were issues
with Mr. Parker, and we’ve discussed some of those issues
with Mr. Parker."
Silver State News: Always been an
Mike Houghton: "…based on the Air Race
Association. The Air Race Association has not invited other racers
to participate in the past. It’s nothing new. As the promoter
and producer, owner and operator of the Association, the Board of
Directors has the right to invite or not invite anyone to
Silver State News: But according to the Rules,
the Racing organization – the event – invites the
Classes, and the protocol is that the Classes are supposed to
invite all qualified pilots – the competition is supposed to
be open to "all qualified pilots."
Mike Houghton: "Except RARA reserves the right
to invite or not invite anyone they choose. And that’s in the
Rules of Competition."
Silver State News: Again, could you cite the
exact Rule? (We look through the documents on the table. Silver
State News came equipped with a May 13, 2004, revision. Prior to
the meeting, Mr. Houghton informed Editor Mark S. Daniels that he
had the wrong set of Rules…that a new revision existed. Mr.
Houghton produced a new set of the 2003 Official Rules of
Competition with a revision date of July 11, 2003, an edition
change occurring two months after the May 13th revision, and twelve
days before RARA sent Parker his letter of July 23, 2003, in which
he was "uninvited" due to a tenant dispute that RARA had with him
over the exercise of his Tenant Rights.)
Silver State News: That’s the old one;
here’s the new one…
Mike Houghton: (Reads from the July 11, 2003,
revision:) "RARA reserves the right to invite or exclude any
aircraft, pilot or owner."
Silver State News: Which one?
"(Item) F. It was formalized this year. However, even though it
wasn’t written…it has been enforced or invoked before
by RARA, so it’s the Rules of Competition as written by the
organization, and the organization can apply, interpret or do what
they feel is in the best interest of the event and the
organization, and that’s what they’ve done in the
Changing The Rules
Daniels told ANN, "John only had the 5/13
edition" of the RARA rules. "My firm belief is, they disinvited
him, then developed the rule after the fact and backdated it."
Again, ANN hasn't been able to establish contact with Houghton to
get his version of that allegation.
While Daniels has decided his webzine won't cover
the Reno Air Races this year, he doesn't suggest readers boycott
the event. Instead, he urges them to attend this week's event.
"It's time for RARA to hear from the fans. We're saying, 'show up,
introduce yourself and tell a RARA representative what fans stand
for -- and what they won't stand for in the way of