Burnout OKd for five years

Jake Forsman Memorial event will continue in front of City Hall

by Tom Coombe
One of Ely’s most popular events is staying put.
City council members, with Heidi Omerza and Angela Campbell absent, voted 5-0 to issue a five-year interim use permit for the annual Jake Forsman Memorial Car Show and Burnout Competition.
The council’s move, which was recommended by the city’s planning and zoning commission, allows the event to continue at its current location in front of City Hall and authorizes the closure of Chapman Street from Second to Fourth Avenue East the day of the event, which this year is set for Saturday, Oct. 1.
Held each fall, the event goes on in memory of the late Jake Forsman and serves as a scholarship fundraiser for students pursuing careers in mechanical trades.
Cancelled in 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the event resumed last fall and attracted big crowds, with several hundred people usually taking in the event.
Since its inception in 2017, the event has required annual city approval but city officials eased that requirement by granting a five-year permit.
“It’s an event that I think is awesome,” said mayor Roger Skraba. “I think it’s the fabric of our community. I’m glad you brought it here.”
Jake Forsman passed away in 2016, and his father, current council member Al Forsman, started the event the following year.
The two had seen a similar show on a trip to the west and spoke one day of holding one in Ely.
Starting with the first event in 2017, the front of City Hall and the public library is transformed one Saturday every fall.
Giant cement barricades separate the audience from the vehicles in the burnout competition, and Ely residents can hear the squeals of burning rubber from blocks away.
The event creates a buzz downtown with activity and provided economic development on an otherwise slow weekend, and a break in sessions helps spur business.
Al Forsman spoke in support of the event prior to the council vote, as he did prior to the planning and zoning commission’s vote the month before.
“For me the event brings attention and brings a desire into the youth for people that do mechanical building trades,” said Forsman.
“These are the same people who enjoy working on cars. They enjoy mechanical events like this.”
Forsman said the scholarship component also raises awareness about and promotes pursuit of “positions that are lacking.”
“There’s a shortage of electricians, mechanics, plumbers, things like that,” said Forsman. “To me it’s bringing this to the forefront. That’s what is most important to me. There is a lack of employees in so many fields right now. We really need to drive that desire within our youth.”
In five years, $24,000 in scholarships have been granted as a result of the event, which brings dozens of burnout participants and those who enter the car show.
Forsman said that safety is stressed, including measures ranging from on-site emergency crews, cement barricades, free ear protection and a mandatory safety training held prior to the event.
It also relies on numerous volunteers.
“Every year I go I’m amazed more so by the number of volunteers you conjure up,” said Skraba. “From little to old they’re all just there.”
The event was held the first three years over “MEA” weekend in mid-October and was moved ahead on the calendar in hopes of better weather, and for the next five years will take place on the first Saturday of October.
While council members approved the permit without dissent, the planning and zoning commission received three letters of opposition.
Opponents pressed for city officials to consider an alternate location for the event, such as the business park or airport, and voiced concerns including safety, noise, traffic congestion, parking and the lingering smells of smoke from burning rubber.