Don Spencer gives a bit of a smoke show with his 1971 Dodge Challenger RT during a previous Thunder in the Valley drag racing event. ROGER HAGGERTY PHOTO

UPDATED: Drag racers cancel Thunder in the Valley for 2019

AVDRA makes last-minute decision after ACRD denies airport for venue

Thunder in the Valley has been cancelled for 2019.

Roger Haggerty from the Alberni Valley Drag Racing Association made the announcement on social media late Wednesday, May 15 following a long and heated general meeting of the AVDRA.

“Thunder in the Valley 2019 is cancelled,” Haggerty posted. “We tried to make it happen on Stamp Avenue.”

The drag racing association was forced to make a decision about whether to hold a race this year after the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District made a surprise reversal of their decision last week over use of the Alberni Valley Regional Airport.

The City of Port Alberni had already given their blessing to bring the drag races back to Stamp Avenue for a third year.

The decision to cancel the event was simple economics, said Ben Veenkamp, who along with Dave Beecroft had made a presentation to the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District last week on the AVDRA’s plans to race at the airport. They were “blindsided” at the end of the meeting when the ACRD board voted in camera to overturn their approval and deny access to the airport for 2019.

Even though Catalyst Paper mill changed hands, new owners Paper Excellence Canada were on board for the races. San Group purchased part of the mill’s property in order to build a value-added manufacturing plant. Construction will begin soon, and truckloads of equipment are due to arrive.

”There‘s just not enough room,” said Veenkamp. “We could maybe race 60 cars. We need 125 cars and then spectators to break even.”

“San Group has tried really hard to oblige us,” VeenKamp added.

”We can’t pull it off,” Beecroft said. “The losses we’re having…we’re probably going to lose $10,000 to $15,000.”

READ: Drag races will not return to Alberni Valley airport

Registration had been pushed back twice and the AVDRA’s executive needed to make a decision before June 1 as to whether they would continue with the 2019 event. T-shirts had already been ordered and the annual program was ready to go to the printer: they were just waiting to secure a venue.

“We are sorry to the Alberni Valley for the large loss of revenue to local businesses, non-profit organizations and youth groups that we supported and supported us,” the AVDRA executive wrote in a prepared statement.

“Our executive has spent thousands of hours of time trying to put on the event. We were led to believe that we were going back to the airport. The new airport committee voted yes, as well the Alberni Valley/ Bamfield committee voted yes, as well the ACRD board voted yes. We had to come back with an agreement, which we met all their…requirements.“

The AVDRA has made a Freedom of Information request in an attempt to receive information from the private meeting, Beecroft said. They also encourage the public to contact the voting members of the regional district board and urge them to bring the drag races back to the airport.

The AVDRA hopes they will be able to stage the races in 2020, although a venue is up in the air.

Haggerty sits on a committee examining the idea of a permanent drag racing facility in the Alberni Valley. That dream is not dead, Beecroft and Veenkamp said. A group in Campbell River has $5 million available to build a permanent motorsports facility on Vancouver Island. A proposal for the Campbell River airport was recently turned down, so the group is looking elsewhere for property.

The AVDRA will be sending a mailout to Alberni Valley residents in the coming weeks explaining the process that led to Thunder in the Valley’s cancellation, including operating costs for the regional airport. They will also be asking the public’s support for a permanent facility. There is room at the airport, on the north end of the expanded runway, where a motorsports park could be built, but that would require support from the ACRD, Beecroft explained.

”Our hope was we could race at the airport for a couple of years so we could put funding together for a permanent facility. It didn’t work out that way,” Veenkamp said.

”Everyone’s supported us except the ACRD,” Beecroft added.

Anyone wanting more information on the search for a permanent facility or the event cancellation can follow along on Facebook on the Drag Racing in Port Alberni page.

RELATED: Thunder in the Valley drag races ‘best ever’, say organizers

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