Port Alberni drag racers are hoping to return to the Alberni Valley Regional Airport by 2019.
Roger Haggerty of the Alberni Valley Drag Race Assocation (AVDRA) was in the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District board room on Wednesday to present his case for the “Thunder in the Valley” drag races moving back to the airport.
“Getting back to the airport will allow the AVDRA to hold a larger event,” he explained. “This will also hopefully get more spectators attending it again.”
More racecars and more spectators, he said, have led to a “bigger economic result for the Valley” in the past.
AVDRA began in 2001, holding its first races at the Alberni Valley Regional Airport. In 2016, AVDRA was forced to leave its original location due to construction and relocated the race to downtown Port Alberni on Stamp Avenue. The new location only offers a 1/8-mile track, as opposed to the 1/4-mile track at the airport, and causes traffic to be shut down on one of the town’s main streets for a weekend. Because the track is smaller, several classes of vehicles can no longer race.
Racing on Stamp Avenue has had its challenges, including a loss of specator revenue, and Haggerty suggested that it may no longer be possible in 2019. Average spectator attendance dropped from 4,300 to 1,650 with the move to Stamp Avenue, and average spending on food and beverages by spectators dropped from $129,000 to $49,500.
In its proposal, the AVDRA proposes racing from the middle of the current runway for the 2019 season, but members would also like to focus long term on a permanent venue at the airport. With the partnership of the ACRD, they hope to build this venue—including burnout boxes and additional infrastructure—at the north end of the runway and expand their racing portfolio to include two or three more annual races.
Haggerty said he has toured the airport with airport manager Mark Fortune and discussed a number of different possibilities for the races. Haggerty is interested in launching from the middle of the runway, which would avoid any painted lines that can cause “safety problems” for drivers, and also need to be repaired after damage.
Racing on airports is not uncommon—communities like Port McNeill, Osoyoos and Princeton all hold annual races that launch from the runway of their airports. The Vancouver Island MotorSports Association, based in Campbell River, is looking at building a permanent facility with a drag strip right beside the airport runway.
“There is no other quarter-mile racetrack on Vancouver Island, and that’s the draw,” said Haggerty.
Beaver Creek director John McNabb pointed out that the logistics for a return to the airport are not simple. “We just put in a very expensive lighting system that absolutely has to be protected,” he said. “We’ve got issues around firefighting. All of this has to be looked at from an objective point of view. The event is an awesome event for Port Alberni and we need to maintain it in the best way possible.”
The board agreed to refer this proposal to the Alberni Valley Committee, and asked staff for a logistics report.