Jack Knox: How car guy’s Deuce passion created major summer event for Victoria

Jack Knox mugshot genericThis isn’t really a story about a car show. It’s about how one individual turned his passion for hot rods into one of Victoria’s signature summer events.

Al Clark isn’t a professional event co-ordinator. He’s not a marketing guru or festival promoter. He doesn’t chase government grants or go fishing in the pools of money on which others depend.

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No, Clark is just a guy who loves cars, including the ones he has spent the past quarter century building and modifying in his Fairfield garage. “I know I have built 55 chassis,” he says. Maybe 30 complete cars in all.

A handful of those rolling works of art were outside the Hotel Grand Pacific on Friday as Clark and some of his 160 volunteers let Victorians know what to expect when the ninth edition of Northwest Deuce Days takes place July 18-21.

That includes some Friday tours, a Saturday poker run and the Sunday finale in which almost 1,400 pre-1952 classic cars — a record for the once-every-three-years event — will draw tens of thousands of spectators to the (somewhat ironically) closed-to-traffic streets around the Inner Harbour. Pride of place will go to the 650 Deuces — Fords built in 1932 — coming from every corner of North America.

That’s a far cry from the first event, which drew 150 cars to Kinsmen-Gorge Park. Clark staged another one-day show in Oak Bay in 2000. By 2004, Deuce Days was a three-day festival held at the Inner Harbour, which is where it has been held ever since. By 2007, there were more Deuces on display in Victoria than there were in Detroit when Ford celebrated the 75th anniversary of the cars that year.

The thing is, Clark, who turns 74 next week, was ready to hit the brakes after the 2016 Deuce Days, which drew 60,000 spectators on the Sunday. Organizing this was a lot of work, particularly with Clark and his wife doing all the registration themselves, by post.

“The last time was the last time I was going to do it,” he said Friday.

No, no, no, let us help you, said Destination Greater Victoria. The tourism authority stepped in to find sponsors and set up online registration, which opened on May 1, 2018 — and closed five weeks later when the last of 1,200 slots was filled. But then the city jumped in and found another 160 parking spots by Ship Point.

It’s easy to see why the tourism sector didn’t want to let this one die. Events that bring in an entire community of people — gearheads, runners, dog lovers, whoever — are like gold. Of the 8,000 participants in last October’s Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon, 57 per cent came from out of town. So did 65 per cent of the 1,817 cyclists in the 2018 Tour de Victoria. Capital City Comic Con attracts 2,300 people who live outside the capital region each year.

Ditto for the Deuces. “Ninety per cent of them are from out of town,” Clark said.

They’ll arrive from New York, Virginia and South Carolina in the East to Yukon in the north and as far south as Texas (unless you count the Kiwi who is shipping his car from New Zealand). There’ll be 148 entries from California’s Bay area alone, with 90 of those cars pouring off the sold-out Coho ferry on Thursday, July 18.

The youngest entrant is a 16-year-old, but for the most part the cars are owned by people who can finally afford the rides they drooled over when young and penniless. Take the Los Angeles Roadster Club, which will set up near the carillon by the Royal B.C. Museum.

“They’re no spring chickens,” Clark said. “They’re all up in their 70s and 80s.”

In the past, they have brought a cheque to help out the automotive program at Vic High. This year, it’s going to Camosun College.

What it all comes down to is thousands of people coming to Victoria, dropping a small fortune on hotels and restaurants and putting on a free car show for the locals. (Pause here to think of the 90 volunteers who will begin parking cars around the Inner Harbour at 4 a.m. July 21.)

And it’s all due — or, at least, it was — to the drive of one car nut, Clark. “It’s a passion for him,” noted Reid James, the general manager of the Hotel Grand Pacific. “There’s absolutely nothing in it for him other than seeing his old buddies from over the years.”

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