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Staff Photo by Robin Rudd/ Corky Coker gives the historic Nyberg a spin before the rallye. The High Jinks Rallye, departed the Coker Museum, kicking off the first Chattanooga Motorcar festival on October 11, 2019.

Note: This story was updated on Feb. 8 to correct the spelling of Corky Coker's name in instances in which it was incorrect.

Longtime classic car collector, builder, restorer and Chattanooga booster Joseph "Corky" Coker has been named the grand marshal for the 2021 Chattanooga Motorcar Festival, planned for Oct. 15-17.

The owner of more than 180 vintage cars and motorcycles himself, Coker was involved in the inaugural event held in downtown Chattanooga in 2019 and was recognized as the festival's "Honored Collector." Racing legend Brian Redman was the grand marshal that year and will return to this year's festival as grand ambassador.

"I am very honored to have been selected to be the grand marshal of this fabulous event in our great city of Chattanooga," Coker said in a news release. "I'm humbled to be following in the footsteps of a racing legend, Brian Redman. I look forward to working with Brian and the Chattanooga Motorcar Festival team to help elevate this second festival in the hearts and minds of car fans and families alike."

The 2020 event, originally scheduled for Oct. 16-18, was postponed due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

Coker said having the event in a downtown setting gives it a unique perspective for drivers, car enthusiasts and patrons.

"I've been in the collector car business for 45 years and attended about every event around the world there is and this is different," he said. "It's downtown. It's family friendly and you can walk to just about every event."

Proceeds from the Chattanooga Motorcar Festival support neuroscience research through the Fifty Plus Racing Foundation, Inc. That foundation was started in 2011 through a racing team called Highway to Help, formed by Westin Hotel co-owner and event founder Byron DeFoor and Brian Johnson of rock band AC/DC.

Coker, born in Athens, Tenn., worked for his father Harold, who opened the Coker Tire Company in Chattanooga in 1958. He learned the business and developed his love for cars sweeping floors and cleaning wide whitewalls.

"I suddenly realized that selling hot-rod and Model A tires to these guys made them very happy," he said. "I really got my head into it and started developing some ideas and goals of my own," he said in the release.

In 1974 he assumed the leadership role in the Coker family's BFGoodrich tire dealership, which became a leading source for tires for vintage car collectors around the world.

"Although he couldn't possibly have known it then, much of what he would do over the next 45 years would help define the collector-car hobby for decades," said Ken Gross, award-winning journalist and the Concours chairman. "Finding tires for vintage cars was a problem until Coker began having them made in nearly every size."

Coker sold the Coker Group in late 2018, but retained the Honest Charley Speed Shop, located in downtown Chattanooga.

Coker has been an booster in the Chattanooga community for many years, served on several boards and received numerous honors, including receiving the 1995 Chattanooga Area Chamber Small Business Person of the Year award.

"If there's one person who personifies the passion and goals of the Chattanooga Motorcar Festival, it's Corky Coker," Gross said. "He's been a positive force in the local community as well as in the car collector world. He's a perfect choice to lead this year's second Chattanooga Motorcar Festival."

Coker said that over his many years in the business, he's had the opportunity to invite fellow car enthusiasts to Chattanooga and is always thrilled to show off the area.

"They come and experience the many things we have to offer," he said. "Many of them move here."

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6354.

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