Motorcar festival expects to draw 40,000 car enthusiasts to Chattanooga

Staff File Photo by Robin Rudd/ From left, Mardy and Jack Miller, of Chattanooga, look over a Goodwood Lola race car outside the Westin during the 2019 Chattanooga Motorcar Festival.

Up to 40,000 people are expected to roll into the city for the Chattanooga Motorcar Festival in October, or about three times as many as the inaugural event two years ago, organizers say.

Car races on a two-mile track at The Bend and Riverfront Parkway, a Mecum collector car auction, auto shows - including one showcasing Ferraris valued from $15 million to $80 million each - and other activities are slated, officials said.

Chattanooga businessman Byron DeFoor, who with brother Ken is developing the West Village area of downtown and overseeing the Oct. 15-17 festival hosted by the Fifty Plus Foundation, said proceeds are benefiting neuroscience research.

"It's about the cause," said Byron DeFoor. "This is the right thing to do. We're bringing Chattanooga to the forefront of the world."

The 2019 festival's projected economic impact was $3.7 million and a tourism official said the 2021 version is bigger and improved.

Barry White, president and chief executive of the Chattanooga Tourism Co., wouldn't commit to a economic impact number, but said that moving the track to a new location will enhance the visitor experience. Also, the way organizers are working through existing car clubs will provide a national reach at the least, White said.

"People from all over the U.S. will bring their car in and show it off," he said.

Among key events Friday and Saturday is the Pace Grand Prix at the Bend, named after Jim Pace, the chief operating officer of the 2019 festival who died last November after contracting the coronavirus and who will be remembered at a memorial Saturday.

DeFoor said negotiations with the owners of The Bend, the 121-acre former Alstom site along the Tennessee River, will turn part of the parcel into a wheel-to-wheel race course. A portion of Riverfront Parkway, with approval by the city, will make up the track where eight to 10 cars will race at a time. Plans are to offer trams between the West Village and The Bend.

In 2019, the festival held race car time trials on a closed portion of Riverfront Parkway near Ross's Landing, an event marred by injuries to two course workers when a car experienced a mechanical failure and hit a barrier.

Also on Friday at the Tivoli Theatre, Chattanooga physician Dr. Tom Devlin will talk about the use of the funds raised through the festival and the work at The Neuroscience Center at CHI Memorial and the NeuroScience Innovation Foundation. Devlin said a well-known Israeli researcher of Alzheimer's disease wants to conduct studies in America and Chattanooga may be a site.

DeFoor added that a classic DeLorean car is to be auctioned off.

In addition, on Friday and Saturday, a Mecum auction will take place at the Convention Center, which is a first in the region, DeFoor said, with from 600 to 700 cars expected to be sold.

He said Chattanooga is located within about a day's drive of 80% of the country's population, which helped bring the auction to the city. DeFoor said the state helped to permit the auction, and he cited state Rep. Robin Smith and state Sen. Todd Gardenhire, both local Republicans.

DeFoor predicted the auction alone will draw thousands of people.


* When: Oct. 15-17 * Where: West Village, The Bend * Cost: $89 for three-day ticket; 15 and under free * For more info:

White, too, said the Mecum auction is "a big one for me."

"That event in and of itself will be a tremendous asset for us," he said.

Also Saturday, plans are for a so-called "cruise-in" at The Bend sponsored by Legendary Companies, the manufacturer and supplier to the global automotive aftermarket sector, with 400 cars. Additionally, more than 21 car clubs bringing in about 280 vehicles will gather at the West Village, officials said.

On Sunday, the Concours d'Elegance, or a "competition of elegance," will be held at the West Village, where vintage and classic vehicles will be displayed and judged. A Cessna Decosimo-designed trophy will be presented, DeFoor said.

Also Sunday, he said, a "Gathering of the Greats - Ferrari Edition" will take place in front of a specialty designed area at the Westin Hotel.

"These are so special," DeFoor said.

He said he wanted to see the festival as "family friendly" with a three-day ticket at $89 and people age 15 and under entering free.

DeFoor said the roots of the festival go back about 20 years. At a road race in Atlanta, he met fellow racer Brian Johnson of the rock band AC/DC. In 2012, Johnson and DeFoor teamed up to drive the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona International Speedway.

One of AC/DC's founding members, Malcolm Young, contracted Alzheimer's and died from the effects of dementia in 2017. DeFoor said he and Johnson started the Fifty Plus Foundation nearly 10 years ago to raise money for Alzheimer's and neuroscience support.

When the DeFoor brothers started thinking of converting the former BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee headquarters at Pine Street and M.L. King Boulevard into a Westin, he said he believed the hotel and the West Village could become the center for a car show.

"I always thought Chattanooga was the best venue," DeFoor said.

Contact Mike Pare at Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.