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Beachcombers Corvette Club History - Part II

By:  Greg Smith

(As we pick up our story in late 1990, the old Southeastern Confederacy of Corvette Clubs (SCCC) sanctioning body has quietly faded away taking with it our club’s old competition-based reason for existence. The remaining Beachcombers are left looking for some new direction and emphasis for the club.) 

In Search of New Beginnings

In November 1990, Mike Johnson, a young Marine Corps major, was elected club President. Mike was a recent transfer from northern Virginia and was surprised that the old Beachcombers recognized his yellow 1969 Corvette convertible. (It turned out that Mike had purchased the Vette from a former member of the Northern Virginia Corvette Club (NVCC) who had been the terror of Ladies B Modified auto-crossing. The Vette had a modified, high performance small block Chevy engine with Hooker side-exhaust headers.) Just prior to the December business meeting, the members were notified that the meeting was canceled because Mike was “out of town”. (We later found out the Mike was a qualified Marine Reconnaissance/S-2 Intelligence officer who had been dropped into Kuwait during Desert Shield to organize the Kuwaiti resistance and report back on Iraqi positions and strengths. Until Kuwait was actually liberated by the allied coalition, Mike and his team of three other Marines operated behind enemy lines always one jump ahead of the Iraqi counter-intelligence forces.) While the president was “out of town”, the Vice President, Dick Kline took over the reins of leadership for the club. Still trying to resolve the question regarding the direction the club should take to attract new members and grow, the Beachcombers investigated the advantages of joining other sanctioning bodies such as the United Council of Corvette Clubs (UCCC), National Corvette Owners Association (NCOA), and the National Council of Corvette Clubs (NCCC). The other Virginia Corvette clubs were essentially doing the same thing. The Corvette Club of Richmond, established in 1960, came close to vanishing due to member apathy. Only the strong leadership of Kermit Park and Dave & Lori Dolan saved that club and started them back on the path to becoming the state’s largest Corvette club. NVCC and the Hampton Roads Corvette Club (HRCC) joined the NCCC’s East Region. The Aquia Creek Corvette Club (ACCC) decided to remain an independent club and started to invite the other Virginia clubs to their annual events like Corvettes at Carlisle, the Crab Cruise to Pope’s Creek in Maryland, and the Fort A. P. Hill Chili Cook-Off.

Time for a Change of Pace

Business meetings were now once a month since there wasn’t any need to raise funds to support the next SCCC weekend. Beachcombers enjoyed the laid back approach to Corvetting and spent what little money there was in the treasury on summer events like pool parties. Road trips to Williamsburg and Busch Gardens were popular. John & Linda Creed initiated a club tradition of caravanning to the Smithfield Inn for brunch and then riding the Jamestown ferry across the James River to cruise the Colonial Parkway. Other than these events, club participation was really limited to high school homecomings in the fall and parades laps for charities such as the Special Olympics during the spring. However, something was missing that was needed to hold the club together. The club shrunk to exactly ten members when we joined the NCCC’s Carolina Region in September 1991.

Why Real Beachcombers Wear Red

Before handing over the leadership to Dick Kline in December 1991, Mike Johnson made one lasting contribution still seen today. Previously, in order to entice new members, the club had established the policy of giving new members a 1988 style club patch (an ‘82 Vette framed by a multi-color sunrise with a seagull silhouetted by the sun) and white tee shirt with the club logo silk-screened on the left front side. (These tee shirts really looked tacky after just a few washings. In fact, if the truth must be known, we gave them away because the club members wouldn’t buy them!) Mike investigated the cost of embroidered golf shirts for club members. We ended up with Marine Corps red golf shirts that had a yellow ‘69 convertible (where have we seen this Vette before?) framed by the words “Beachcombers Corvette Club Virginia Beach, VA Est. 1982” as our official club shirt for the next seven years.

The Doldrums

(By this time, I was living in Arlington, VA, worked full time in the Washington, D.C. area, and commuted back to Virginia Beach on the weekends whenever possible. Much of this period is really lost to me because I didn’t return until August 1993.) As the new club President, Dick Kline really was responsible for nudging the Beachcombers off their downhill road to apathy and towards the present outgoing group of Corvette enthusiasts. Dick realized that the club couldn’t wait for future members to inquire about the club at RK Chevrolet and then invite them to a club meeting or social function. The club needed to become more aggressive in seeking new members. He initiated the club tradition of attending the Saturday night at Jenro’s get together of auto enthusiasts. The first ever Saturday night at Jenro’s for the Beachcombers consisted of just Dick and me rendezvousing at Pembroke Mall one Saturday night in June and then waiting almost two hours for other Beachcombers to show up. Dick was ready to give up on the club, but decided that the two of us would go anyway. From this trip to Jenro’s and countless others, we met a core of Corvette owners such as Terry & Maggi Fennessey, Don & Lori Pacetti, and John Orris that would lead the club to a re-birth in 1992 that started a change that would become what I call the “nouveau” Beachcombers.

Nouveau Beachcombers

In October 1992, there were only seven of the twelve active Beachcombers who renewed their membership in the NCCC. Just enough to keep us accredited as an NCCC club. At the November business meeting/club elections, Don Pacetti realized that there were more “nouveau” members like himself than there were of the old SCCC members. Don won election as President; Terry was Vice President; Maggi was Secretary; and John Orris was Treasurer. Don went about re-building the club and attracting new members by promoting club attendance at every automotive event in the local area as well as the out-of-area events like the Gloucester and Poquoson Car Shows. Don encouraged everyone to actively recruit new members by leaving business cards on every Corvette they encountered. Don was just looking for Corvette owners that wanted a venue to actively enjoy their pride and joy. By mid-1993, there were 106 new Beachcombers. Thirty-five Beachcomber vehicles participated in the club’s first caravan to ACCC’s Corvettes at Carlisle that August. By November 1993 there were a total of 193 Beachcombers scattered all over southeastern Virginia and the outer banks of North Carolina. If you wanted a seat at the business meetings, you had to come early. Don had transformed the club into a sprawling collection of various Corvette enthusiasts. Some were first time owners, some were show car people, some were restorers, but all of them were excited about Corvettes! At that November business meeting, the members voted Don another year as club president and also required one member of each household to join the NCCC in order to retain our eligibility for the insurance coverage offered to NCCC clubs that provided blanket coverage not only for competition events, but also our social outings as well. Ninety-three Beachcombers became new NCCC members in one night! Our club went from the smallest to the largest NCCC club in the Carolina Region. The club’s constitution and by-laws were re-written during Don’s presidency to formalize the club’s current organization. The standing rules were revised to reflect the changing composition of the club and its members.

Establishing New Traditions

Our participation in the annual Manteo Christmas Parade was initiated by Mike Tillet, a Beachcomber from Manteo, NC. Mike had joined the club initially in 1985, dropped out, and then re-joined in 1992. Mike also recruited numerous Corvette owners from the Outer Banks into the club’s ranks. Mike asked the city’s leaders if they would like to have some Corvettes take part in the Christmas parade to provide some color and excitement. They said “yes” and the rest is history. (This is one of the few parades that encourage the throwing of candy to the crowd from the vehicles in the parade. If you go, take at least five pounds of candy. You’ll need it!) The annual trips down to Manteo eventually led to participation in Nags Head’s Saint Patrick’s Day parade, the discovery of Mel’s Diner in Gandy, NC and the free ferry ride across Currituck sound to Knott’s Island. All these road trips seemed to end up at some local gastronomic delight. The Manteo Christmas parade ended with meals first at Carolina Seafood, and later on, the Weeping Radish (gotta try their Christmas Bach Bier) while the Saint Patrick’s Day parade always ended at Kelly’s. In fact, so many Beachcombers started to put on extra weight from these road trips that Don & Lori Pacetti coined the current Beachcomber motto of “We drive - we arrive - we chow down” in their monthly newsletter column. Another Beachcomber tradition, the June car show, came about indirectly. The year was 1993 - the 40th anniversary of the Corvette - and we wanted to hold an all Chevy/Corvette car show. The date picked was the Sunday on Columbus Day weekend. Our first major car show in three years required plenty of coordination from all the club’s members. After closing time on Saturday night, we had to move all the cars off RK Chevrolet’s front lot and park them over in the Truck World’s parking lot. Of course, there was a minor hitch. RK’s lot boys had to determine which keys went to which vehicles. You haven’t lived until you’ve participated in one of these lot-clearing melees. Anyway, we were ready to go the next morning. The next day’s weather was warm and most Beachcombers wore shorts. Everything went well until about 10 o’clock that morning when the passage of a cold front brought heavy rain and cold, cold temperatures. It rained off and on all day! Beachcomber Corvettes parked near the front of the lot had water up to their sills! Still, the show was a success (over 140 cars stayed for the show including 96 Corvettes) and everyone had fun even though we had to move RK vehicles back onto the lot after the show. (Again, the lot boys had to figure out which keys went where.) As president, Don Pacetti decided that we would never again hold a car show in October. Thus the tradition of a June car show was born. As a footnote, we made enough money from the Columbus Day weekend car show that we held a Christmas party that year. Windsor Brabson pulled strings in his National Guard unit to allow us to use their armory for our party. We had Beachcomber Corvettes parked inside the armory for atmosphere and a potluck dinner. A boom box provided the tunes for entertainment. It was like a time warp back to a 50’s sock hop!

The Origins of the Car Show Tee shirt

It’s hard to believe, but Beachcomber car show tee shirts had their own tradition that grew over time. The first tee shirts were printed for our second annual All Chevy/Corvette car show in June 1994. Dan Burke’s 1960 Corvette graced this tee shirt since his Vette has been the previous year’s pick as Best Corvette. Over the years, the choice of Corvette to grace the car show tee shirt passed to the car show chairperson (usually the club president). Sometimes, we ordered too many tee shirts and had an abundance left over after the car show. That’s how we got the infamous Terry Fennessey autographed tee shirts featuring his 1966 big block convertible. We had so many tee shirts left over; we gave them away at club meetings and at the Christmas party. Sometimes, the choice of the Corvette to grace the tee shirt involved Machiavellian plotting. As a case in point, let me tell you about the 1998 car show tee shirt’s selection. To begin with, Tom Chorlton was the man to see about ordering dash plaques for the car show. Tom also had a 1968 Rally Red convertible. Tom wanted his Vette on the dash plaque and lobbied the car show chairman (me) extensively. I had promised Dean & Dorothy Smith that their 1998 Carmine Red convertible (“Spicey”) on order from Bowling Green would be on the dash plaque. (Since Dean wasn’t sure that his Vette would be delivered in time, I had picked out the subtitle “Dean’s Dream 1998 Corvette” for the dash plaque initially.) Anyway, I promised Tom that his 1968 Vette would be on the tee shirt just to keep the peace. (Okay, I caved in!) Don Ward just casually mentioned that his 1958 Vette was the oldest in the club and deserved to be on the car show tee shirt. Dean wanted to know if his 1998 would be on the tee shirt. Now I was in trouble! Everyone had some good reason for his or her Vette to be on the car show tee shirt. Eventually, everyone was satisfied when the car show tee-shirts had five (5) Corvettes on it: Dean & Dorothy’s 1998 convertible; Jon Bishop’s 1988 coupe; Rich & Elaine Merce’s 1978 coupe, Tom’s 1968 coupe; and Don’s 1958 roadster. In later years, the car show dash plaques and tee-shirts have had representative Corvettes like the 1999 C5-R Corvette racer or the 2000 Millennium Yellow Vette - none of which were owned by club members. Ever wonder why?

Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Going

Since 1992 Beachcombers have become more and more numerous at local events and established several new traditions such as: the St. Patrick’s Day Parade (first in Nags Head, NC and then in Ocean View); the annual Beachcombers Car Show in June; Corvettes At Carlisle in August; Corvettes at Ocean City in September; the Chili Cook-Off in October; the Manteo Christmas Parade the first Saturday in December; the Christmas Party in December; and the endless road trips to new and exotic eateries. Beachcombers now enjoy several Corvette venues ranging from car shows to auto-crossing to tech nights to just enjoying their Corvettes while caravanning to new adventures. I hope that you’ve enjoyed this brief club history. Now the club’s future is in your hands because what you do now is what the future Beachcombers will take for granted as club tradition and club history! Maybe you’ll be the one saying “I was there when it we first . . .”