By editorial board • 

Save cruisin’ fest with coalition management

Developments in the Dragging the Gut saga have been speeding along since founder and operator Ruben Contreras announced last week his event was canceled for 2018.

We would hate to lose this gem, and owe Contreras tremendous kudos for starting it. But friction with the city over permits, insurance and security has reached the point where even he is having a hard time envisioning his future involvement.

The event will continue to need guidance. But there are plenty of enthusiastic supporters willing to help steer it onto the straight and narrow and keep it there, provided they resist the urge to go it alone and agree to join forces.

There are good ways and bad ways to exit the driver’s seat.

McMenamins Hotel Oregon, which founded the local UFO Festival, continues to play a key role is this signature McMinnville event and reaps rich rewards as a result. But it smoothly relinquished some of the overall responsibility to the McMinnville Downtown Association when runaway success dictated a broader base of support, marketing and manpower. They have prospered together by working together.

The transition has proven much tougher for the Portland Marathon. The same is true of Vancouver’s Cruise the Couve, which draws more than 20,000 participants to a dragfest much like Mac’s. It would be easy to cite many more examples.

Les Smith, working through a closely held nonprofit which kept its accounting strictly to itself, served as director of the event for 35 years. Over time, the tactics became ever more slipshod, the finances ever more opaque and the relationship with the city ever more strained.

Two developments led Portland to recruit a new operator this year — a state Department of Justice investigation revealing Smith has surreptitiously diverted $865,000 from the nonprofit’s funds and a complete rupture with city officials over permits, insurance, security and other vital elements. City trust had, it appears, been irretrievably breached.

In Vancouver, Phil Medina launched Cruisin’ the Gut in 2009 and ran it singlehandedly ever since. But his relationship with city officials grew fractious, to the point where he opted out in 2017. Again, permits, insurance and security were key contentious points.

A broader-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit stepped in and created Cruise the Couve, slated for July 21 this year. On the region’s summer season schedule, it joins the Jim Dandy Cruise-In, Cruizin Chelan, Strawberry Charity Cruise-In, Oregon Mountain Cruise, Cruisin Sherwood, Medfore Cruise, Sunshine Cruz, Planters’ Days Cruise, Kruise of Klamath, Cruisin’ Carlton, Cruisin’ Through Time, Veterans Cruise In, Traffic Jam Cruise-in, Wooden Chicken Cruise, Moose Cruise-In, Pentastar Pride Cruise-in, Harvest Nights Car Cruise and many, many others.

Obviously, McMinnville’s summer ode to the auto is by no means novel. However, it’s struck the kind of community chord that demands its continued existence, if at all possible. And we think the task would best be entrusted to a broad, inclusive and transparent coalition encompassing all stakeholders.


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