Imagine you are sitting alongside a racetrack, awaiting the end of a ceremonial parade and anticipating the roar of automobile engines. The classic cars pass by, filled with celebrities and dignitaries until the last vehicles come into view . . . heating and cooling company service vans.

Heating-cooling service vans?

If you were waiting for the 1999 Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix, that’s what you would have seen.

In an effort to bolster their members’ name recognition and to have a “vehicle” for entertaining customers and prospects, the Western Pennsylvania Chapter of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) sponsored a hospitality tent at the July 18 event, staged in scenic, downtown Schenley Park.

Contractor cavalcade

Chapter members were invited to drive their company vehicles in the parade and several chose to bring up the rear, in front of 160,000 race fans.

Kevin Whalen, general manager of Q-Dot, Inc., and one of the ACCA event coordinators, commented that “This is a great way of getting exposure for our contractors. We have been involved in many high-profile projects for that reason.”

The 17th-annual event is hosted by the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix Association. It began in 1983 and is one of about 25 vintage car races held throughout the United States each year.

Two area charities benefit from the event: the Allegheny Valley School, a multicampus residential care and educational facility for the mentally and physically handicapped, and The Autism Society of Pittsburgh. As of 1998, more than $1 million have been raised for the charities.

The event features six races with vintage cars from seven different classes, including pre-World War II cars, MG T Series, post-war production-based sports cars, and formula juniors.

The events actually begin a week before the race, with a “Kickoff Rally” the previous Sunday, followed by car previews, displays, shows, and a cruise.

Chapter stays involved

Besides the Grand Prix, the 110-member ACCA group attends a variety of events, including a Christmas party at the Pittsburgh Symphony and a pheasant hunt in early fall.

ACCA secretary Pat Forker said her chapter is always looking for different events to stage. She has spent the last 19 years with this Pennsylvania chapter.

Whalen takes his involvement one step further — he took out a full-page advertisement for his company on page 2 of the race program.

“There are 20,000 programs and I felt it is worth the price for the amount of exposure I get,” he explained.

Whalen spent much of the race day traveling around the course in a golf cart, making sure all of his fellow members knew where to go and what to do. He also hoped to entertain some of his customers who were invited to the tent. The group served food and beverages to the many visitors who took refuge from the intense heat.

Showing his commitment to the community, Whalen stopped abruptly during a tour of the grounds to patronize a lemonade stand operated by two young girls. “When I saw that proceeds were going to the local Animal Shelter, I had to stop.”

The group is close-knit and turns out at many events to show their community support. The events give them a chance to take their minds off of business for at least one day.

Changing views

Pittsburgh contractors face the same challenges as other ACCA chapters and contractors throughout the country.

Todd Rhule, owner of A-Comfort Service Inc., said it is an interesting time for chapter members.

“All of the major consolidators have expressed an interest in this area. And the labor situation is tight. A lot of the union workers are downtown working on the new stadium projects.”

There is a familiar ring to that statement. But on this day, the sound of whirring engines drowned it out.