NOVEC director’s passion for classic cars fuels popular Labor Day fundraiser
Every weekend from late May until early September, classic-car lovers all across Virginia meet to show off their rides. While many of these gatherings are informal, one of the state’s most popular events, the Labor Day Car Show in the City of Fairfax, has grown to include 300 cars of all vintages and last year attracted more than 6,000 spectators.
This popular event was started by Jim Chesley, a Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative (NOVEC) board member and current vice chairman. But his Labor Day Car Show has become much more than a gathering of car enthusiasts. It’s also the engine that has generated more than $400,000 in contributions to local charities in recent years.
The car show got its start in 2000 when Chesley was serving as mayor of the Town of Clifton. With support from fellow Clifton Lions Club members, he persuaded his Custom Cruisers car club to host a classic-car gathering on Labor Day.
“The first few years, we were just 20 to 25 vehicles in the parking lot of Heart and Hand Restaurant,” he recalls. While some doubted Chesley’s choice of a Monday holiday, the timing proved popular.
“By the third year, more and more car owners wanted to participate. We began charging a $10 registration fee,” Chesley continues. “When registration fees topped $1,000, I asked my fellow club members to recommend deserving local charities we could help with our proceeds.”
One of Chesley’s friends suggested INOVA Health System’s Life with Cancer program, which helps the families and friends of those facing cancer by providing information, education and support free of charge, regardless of where treatment is received.
Chesley, whose father had cancer, explains, “Life with Cancer has been an integral part of our local health care community since 1986. I’ve visited children receiving cancer treatment, and it’s hard not to leave with tears in your eyes.”
Because INOVA Health covers salaries for the staff who run “Life with Cancer,” 100 percent of the Labor Day Car Show’s donations are used for program costs.
Inspired by the car show’s increasing popularity, Chesley also started writing letters to local businesses, participants and others seeking tax-deductible contributions. He has been so successful that these donations began to far outstrip the cost of hosting the car show, its registration fee is now $20. Chesley expanded his donations to support both local and national programs, including Hunters for the Hungry and victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“We’ve been all over the map when it comes to organizations we’ve supported,” he says. In recent years, however, the car show’s philanthropic focus has centered on two local groups, Life with Cancer and the Northern Virginia Therapeutic Riding Program.
In 2015, as Clifton’s Labor Day Car Show began to outgrow its hometown, Fairfax County officials approached Chesley about moving the show to their city, where it has since been held. “Local restaurants and stores are delighted by the flood of visitors!” Chesley says.
While a majority of Labor Day Car Show entrants are vintage, there are no restrictions on what types of vehicles can participate. Chesley recalls, “One year, a young lady asked me if she could enter her rusty Datsun in the show.” I replied, ‘Sure, just add some duct tape where it’s needed!’” Each year’s entries are eligible for a number of awards, determined by polling the registered car owners, which include “Top 20,” as well as “Mayor’s Choice,” “Ladies’ Choice,” “Fire Department Choice” and even “Best Back Seat,” a category that gives Chesley a chuckle.
Asked how his love of cars got started, Chesley recounts how in 1954, he helped his brother rebuild the motor on a Dodge sedan.
“When we were done, we had a bunch of leftover parts, but the engine still ran!”
His first car was a 1962 Ford Galaxy convertible, and he’s owned classic cars from this era ever since. Chesley’s record of community service also dates back to his childhood.
“I was a Boy Scout and we were taught to help others and give back when we could,” he explains.
As the Town of Clifton’s longest continuously serving mayor, from 1992-2006, Chesley worked tirelessly to seek out grants and opportunities, often traveling to Richmond to meet with various officials. In 2001, while volunteering on NOVEC’s Operation Roundup Committee, Chesley was approached about serving on NOVEC’s board of directors. He agreed to run, and NOVEC members elected him. Chesley has served on various board committees and is an active member of the Communications & Public Relations Committee for the Virginia Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives, publishers of Cooperative Living.
Last year, inspired by a NASCAR owner who wrapped his Sprint Cup Series race car with the “Life with Cancer” emblem along with providing a generous donation, Chesley commissioned miniature die-cast replicas of the #23 “Life with Cancer” Sprint Cup Series race car driven by David Ragan at the Citizen Soldier 400 in Dover, Delaware, on Oct. 16, 2016. Plenty of these 1/64-scale die-cast cars are still available, either at INOVA hospital gift shops or directly through Chesley for $10 each, plus shipping.
“All payments are tax-deductible and 100 percent of the proceeds will benefit Life with Cancer,” he says, noting that the model cars make great stocking stuffers. To order, contact him at (703) 830-2129 or [email protected]
Chesley says, “If you’re in the Fairfax area on Sept. 3, why not swing by 4081 University Drive to check out one of Virginia’s most impressive arrays of classic cars, and all for the best of causes!”