Drag racers and supporters silently protested the loss of Thunder in the Valley with T-shirts during the Valley Street Rods show n’ shine at Harbour Quay on Friday, Aug. 9. MIKE YOUDS PHOTO

Drag racing in Port Alberni stuck in park

Despite cancellation, enthusiasts are optimistic Thunder in the Valley will return

  • Aug. 13, 2019 12:00 a.m.

MIKE YOUDS

SPECIAL TO THE NEWS

Between the show and the shine at Harbour Quay on 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.”

READ: Valley Street Rods to close Harbour Quay for annual car show Aug. 9

A Thunder in the Valley banner protesting the denial — the word “denied” splashed across it —was taken down by the city the day before. The banner had been put up between two poles along Johnston Road where people have traditionally promoted events, usually asking permission of the city first.

City of Port Alberni CAO Tim Pley said it was his decision to remove the banner.

“It didn’t advertise an event. It appeared to be a protest banner,” Pley said. “They acknowledged it was a protest.”

“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.

READ: Drag racers cancel Thunder in the Valley for 2019

“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. All three call Port Alberni their home town. As much as they enjoy the vintage vehicles and the races, it’s more of a social event, a reunion of sorts.

“Especially if you know the town,” Buick said. “We were born and raised here, so it’s great to come back and see people you don’t see every year.”

“We’re all people who support the Valley,” Hearn said. “We want the valley to do well. The kids need somewhere to race.”

“I think they might be back next year,” Buick said. “The Valley needs that kind of stuff.”

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