Between the show and the shine at Port Alberni’s Harbour Quay last Friday night, there was a lot of pent-up frustration over forced cancellation of the annual Thunder in the Valley drag race.
Visitors at the car show could not help but notice that something was missing over the weekend, even if they overlooked the petition table at the gate.
Valley Street Rods’ show ’n’ shine is the usual warmup for the main Thunder in the Valley drag racing event, but Alberni Valley Drag Race Association has been denied approval to hold the races at Alberni Valley Regional Airport. Participants weren’t shy about broadcasting their bitterness. Members sported t-shirts that read, “Share the runway” and “No place to race.”
A Thunder in the Valley banner protesting the denial — the word “denied” splashed across it —was taken down by the city the day before.
“It’s like we’re all in high school again,” said Dwayne Hearn.
Automotive enthusiasts of all stripes have been grumbling about the denial for months. The petition so far has gathered about 1,000 signatures from people supporting the airport as a race venue for next year. While the frustration didn’t put a damper on Friday’s car show, the main event was conspicuous by its absence this year.
“We have approached the mayor about other possible sites,” said Roger Haggerty, an association member assigned the task of returning the races to the airport, where they were held for 15 years.
Regional district board members made it clear to the association that they don’t see the airport as an appropriate venue for Thunder in the Valley, Haggarty said. The association has yet to figure out precisely why, but they hope public pressure will bring a change.
“That’s the problem,” Haggarty said. “No one understands.”
“Such a huge economic generator,” said Dean Williams, striding around in a super hero costume with a sign reading, “Share the runway 2020.”
“To not have it is a tragedy,” he added.
Dragsters clustered around the heritage train station while hundreds of spectators strolled among vintage and custom cars parked side-by-side around the quay. Many of the owners with vehicles on show were from out of town and knew about the race cancellation, but they still attended.
Randy Buick of Lantzville and Harry McKnight of Qualicum Beach joined their old friend Amie Picton of Port Alberni, each of them showing restored wheels from the 1930s and ’40s.
“I think they might be back next year,” Buick said. “The Valley needs that kind of stuff.”