Forest Grove car show narrowly dodges the rain for a sunny success

It was 5 a.m. in Forest Grove and cars were starting to roll onto the campus of Pacific University for the 40th Concours d'Elegance.

The cadre of volunteers who run the annual car show were worried — last year's event was the first rainout in the history of the show.

The clouds sat innocently in the sky, then started to break up. By 9 a.m., it was turning into a beautiful day in Forest Grove.

But everywhere else, in Portland and on the coast, it was raining. That dampened the number of people walking up to Pacific's gates for day-of tickets, but it wasn't enough to ruin the show.

"I guess if you live in Portland and it's raining in Portland, you assume it's raining everywhere else in Oregon," said Jim Crisp, a member of the volunteer wing of the Forest Grove Rotary club that produces Concours.

In fact, Crisp said, unusually high presale tickets indicated that without the rainy start in Portland, the 2012 Concours could have been a banner year.

Instead, the show netted the program's usual: roughly $110,000. That money will be doled out to scholarships and service organizations around the globe over the course of the next year.

It's a welcome relief for Forest Grove Rotary members, who toil each year to produce the show, but dealt with the its first loss last summer.

Rainout in 2011

The 2012 Concours, with bright sunny skies, warm temperatures and a slight breeze most of the day, couldn't have been a bigger contrast to the show's previous year, when rain, rain and more rain came pouring down throughout the day.

The lawns of Pacific University started sopping up the water and eventually the whole campus turned into a wet, grassy sponge.

"Cars were sinking down to where it really wasn't doing the cars any good and it wasn't doing the campus any good either," Crisp said. "It was a bad situation."

The show closed down a little early as car owners fled the muddy banks of Pacific.

Even so, umbrella-wielding stalwarts had fun at the 2011 event, Crisp said. "The people that went, I think most of them really enjoyed it," he noted. "They had an umbrella and they walked around and they were looking at cars."

Some car owners improvised, too, covering their open-topped convertibles with canopies or tarps if the tops couldn't deploy.

But hardy folks didn't stick around in high enough numbers to make the show profitable. Rotary lost $15,000 on the show. Luckily, the club began feeding what was called the rainy day fund years ago, for a … rainy day.

"We had enough money to pay our bills and we were actually able to still go ahead and fund scholarships," said Crisp.

The Knights of Pythias made a substantial contribution to the cause, well above the group's usual contributions. And though Rotary contributed only half of what they had in previous years, scholarships and aid organizations still got money.

Million-dollar tradition

This year's Concours was successful enough to raise roughly $110,000, putting it in the same league as the Concours from 2011 and 2010.

The event raises money by selling tickets to attendees (car owners don't pay fees to show at a Concours event), hawking concessions such as T-shirts and posters and by peddling advertising in the show program each attendee receives.

Forest Grove Daybreak Rotary runs a car emporium, where people pay a fee to sell their old cars, that brings in a bit of funding, too.

The proceeds from Concours are split down the middle, with half going to a scholarship fund and the other half being spent on international service projects and the Forest Grove Senior & Community Center.

The scholarship fund is split in half again, with one portion going directly to Pacific University to fund tuition for local students and the other going to the students themselves to pay for college bills elsewhere.

This year marked the 40th anniversary of the event, but Concours has reached another milestone: raising roughly $1 million over its history.

Besides coming up with a lot of money for good causes, the event has cemented itself in the pantheon of high-end car shows in the United States.

Crisp admits it's no Pebble Beach Concours, one of the top events in the world, but the show is a regional draw, pulling attendees from nearby states and Canada.

"It’s a premier auto show on the West Coast," said Crisp. "It’s getting better known every year."

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