The annual Wheels and Wings airshow and classic car show is prepping as usual, despite the current COVID-19 pandemic. This year will be the show’s 40th anniversary and will feature cars and pilots from all across the country.
The festival began as a car show in 1980 and has since morphed into a massive, one-day, community event. In the last two years the event has averaged between 12,000 and 15,000 visitors.
Planning the event takes a full year. Director of operations for the car and airshow Julie Pangallo has been involved with Wheels and Wings for the last five years and said it’s a massive undertaking even without a global pandemic. She is still going forward with plans for this year’s event and said she hopes the COVID-19 situation will have cooled down a bit by the time Wheels and Wings takes place in mid September.
“We’re fortunate that we’re a September show, so we have a bit of a buffer,” she said. “And we’re hoping that life is somewhat back to normal by then.”
Pangallo said while many upcoming events are being cancelled because sponsors are pulling their support, Wheels and Wings sponsors are still on board.
“Fortunately we have some very strong local sponsors,” she said.
Pangallo said so far Wheels and Wings has only lost one sponsor for the upcoming show. She hopes that trend continues of course, but knows how uncertain the future is both economically and in terms of public safety.
“We have sponsors that are committed to the show and hopefully they’ll come out of this intact,” she said. “All we can do is monitor the situation and keep our eye on what’s happening around the county.”
Pangallo is encouraged by the regional statistics on COVID-19. She’s glad people are taking the safer at home order seriously and hopes that will help Wheels and Wings take place as usual come September.
“We’re in much better shape than other parts of the country in terms of the virus,” she said.
The final decision on Wheels and Wings will come later this summer, as Pangallo and the rest of the organizers gauge how the pandemic is evolving.
“It’s a rolling situation,” she said. “As it rolls forward and as we learn more about the virus and what it takes to contain it, those decisions will be made.”
The Oshkosh airshow in Oshkosh Wisc. is one of the largest airshows in the country and takes place at the end of July, just over a month before Wheels and Wings. Pangallo said Oshkosh could serve as a gauge for whether or not Wheels and Wings goes forward.
“We’re all waiting to see what happens there,” she said.
Pangallo has already hired nearly all of the acts for the upcoming show, but she did leave the schedule light in case they do have to cancel.
“I’d like to add two more acts to the show,” she said. “But we’re not going to go any bigger until we know whether or not it’s going to happen.”
Pangallo is hopeful the event will go forward and said she thinks by the time September rolls around residents in the area will be ready to get out of the house.
“Right now we’re planning on a big event,” she said. “We think people are going to be ready to get out and have a nice time, enjoy some sunshine and see their neighbors.”