Promoters of the annual Neon Cruise weekend in The Dalles are trying a new approach to marketing this year, and have enlisted a bit of help from the city of The Dalles.

The city-wide Neon Cruise party is Aug. 11-13, and the city recently approved $5,000 to assist with a marketing campaign across the region.

Randy Haines, who organizes the “Neon Cruise Party” portion of the weekend — featuring three bands performing on Saturday evening, Aug. 12 — came up with an idea to promote all the various festivities around the Columbia River Gorge that weekend.

“An additional role for me this year is producing the combined marketing campaign,” Haines said.

“This has never been done before. We are really excited about branding all the weekend events together.”

Haines said the new approach is being tried for the first time in the 24-year history of the Neon Cruise events, and he is hopeful it will make a significant impact in attendance and with the overall success of the weekend.

Mayor Steve Lawrence believes the $5,000 The Dalles City Council approved for marketing events is a good investment.

“The way Randy Haines is going about this marketing, I think it has the opportunity to bring in a lot of people,” he said.

Although the Mid-Columbia Car Club/Dallesport Drags also produce a marketing campaign for the Cruise weekend, the focus of the car groups previously has been exclusively on automobile-related events.

Haines said that is why a wider marketing campaign is essential to build attendance.

“The Mid-Columbia Car Club doesn’t produce marketing campaigns to solicit the general public for the purpose of getting them to attend the weekend events,” Haines explained. “The same can be said for the Dallesport Drags. I have produced extensive marketing over the years for the Neon Nights concerts.”

Haines explained that the entire city will be featured in much of the marketing materials, with the slogan “The City of The Dalles Invites You” in some branding materials.

One of the questions Haines addressed with the council was why the focus of the marketing was more local instead of trying to reach people farther away from The Dalles.

“There's a lot of money within 50 miles of The Dalles,” Haines said. “Unfortunately, a lot of people within 50 miles of The Dalles never set foot here. The Neon Cruise Weekend is a great opportunity for The Dalles to bring them here.”

Haines added that advertising in distant markets is usually very expensive.

“The investment versus the return doesn't pay for this type of weekend event, not to mention summer entertainment competition in other major cities in Oregon and Washington,” Haines explained.

Among the highlights of this year’s Neon Cruise Weekend will be the traditional “Neon Cruise” of specialty automobiles on Second and Third streets. That will take place from 7 to 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 11.

On Saturday, Aug. 12, the popular “Show in the Shade” will be in Sorosis Park from 9 a.m. until noon, with the car awards ceremony from 3 to 4 p.m.

At 8 p.m., the featured musical festivities for the “Neon Cruise Party” start at Lewis & Clark Festival Park. Three bands will be featured, including the 1960s-style band the Sceptre Brothers; rock band Carrell, Buehner, Cook & Kendall; and the all-veteran band Got Your Six.

The music is being presented free, with the venue open only to those 21 and over.

Finally, on Sunday, Aug. 13, the Neon Cruise Weekend extends to Dufur for the Dufur Classic Car Show at Dufur City Park from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; and to Dallesport for the popular “Dallesport Drags” on a closed airport runway at the Columbia Gorge Regional Airport.

The Dallesport races will be going on all day, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“It’s a fun time,” said Dallesport Drags organizer Tim Urness.

He said it costs $10 per carload for spectators to park and view the races, which are straight line races of one-eighth of a mile. “We expect a few thousand people to show up,” Urness said, adding that he expects approximately 50 contestants to enter the competition this year.

“It costs $50 to race, and you can race any car. You can race your mom’s station wagon if you like,” he said.

Urness pointed out, however, that the cars to be raced are required to go through a brief inspection before the race.

For those in the local area, inspectors will take a look at contestants’ vehicles Friday, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., in the Urness Storage Lot across from The Dalles Area Chamber of Commerce office at 404 W. Second Street.

Those coming in from out of town to race will need to have their car inspected once they arrive Sunday morning.

At halftime of the drag races, James August Smith, a Hollywood stuntman who lives near Appleton, Wash., will show off his skills driving a car on two wheels.

Urness said there is no big prize for the drag racing winner.

“It’s just a small trophy and the pride and honor of being the winner,” he said. “It’s pretty much bragging rights.”

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