In The Great Race, its ‘Race, Repair and Repeat’ on a daily (and sometimes nightly) basis

Ed Habentz's 1928 Ford Model A Speedster needs some work | Larry Nutson
Ed Habentz’s 1928 Ford Model A Speedster needs some work | Larry Nutson

I caught up with the officially named “2014 Hemmings Motor News Great Race presented by Hagerty” at the end of its third-day at the overnight stop in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. On a 2,300-mile journey from the coast of Maine to central Florida, 104 vehicles are competing in this time speed endurance rally for vintage cars.

The prize, beyond just finishing and checking it off your bucket list, is more than $150,000, with $50,000 going to the first place Grand Champion.

'The Krauts' proudly drive their 1934 Ford Deluxe Phaeton
‘The Krauts’ proudly drive their 1934 Ford Deluxe Phaeton

Participants in this the 29th Great Race are from all over the United States, as well as Canada, United Kingdom, Germany and Japan. From Berlin, Germany, Thomas Karr and his 18-year old son Benjamin are driving the Team 97 1934 Ford Deluxe Phaeton in their second Great Race. The Karr’s are proud to be nicknamed “the Krauts” and drove three years ago around the Great Lakes in that Great Race.

A 1970 Nissan Laurel is being driven by Guillermo Wam of Peru, now living in Miami, with Toshi Haru from Akasaka, Japan, as his navigator.

Each driver and navigator team is given printed route instructions. Beyond knowing where they will stop for lunch and at day’s end, they don’t know the route that they will take to get there. And consider there are no on-board navigation systems or smart phone maps allowed.

A trio arrives at check in after a day on the road
A trio arrives at check in after a day on the road

The trek is grueling. Cars break. At Valley Forge, only 94 were still running. Some get repaired over night. Ed Habetz in his 1928 Model A Speedster had a transmission breakage needing an overnight repair in Valley Forge. The evening before, a head gasket was replaced on one of the oldsters.

For the first time by any team ever in 31 years, Irene and Barry Jason from Keller, Texas in their ‘66 Mustang had a perfect day. They arrived exactly at all the checkpoints perfectly on time and had no penalty deductions. The Jasons were the Grand Champions for the previous two years driving a ’35 Ford Coupe.

Ashley Caldwell checks on her parents' progress
Ashley Caldwell checks on her parents’ progress

To make the Great Race happen requires a team of about 60 staff and volunteers. Ashley Caldwell is a 17-year-old from outside Atlanta. She is participating in her tenth race… yes she started at age 7. Her parents, Chad and Jennie Caldwell, drive the Team 31 1931 Auburn Boattail Speedster.

At each stop along the way, Brian “Motormouth” Goudge is the voice of the Great Race, welcoming each car under the “arches” at the finish. Motormouth Brian gives details of each car and tells the story of the team, entertains folks in every local community and explains the complexities and scoring of the very competitive Great Race.

Cars can be no newer than 1972. Some vintage cars have been “modernized” within allowable rules, for example, equipped with an alternator to provide reliable electric supply. Some older closed cars have been fitted with air conditioning to help with a bit of relief from the heat along the way.

Mary and Ted Stahl from Chesterfield, Michigan are driving to raise funds for VCRA to fight Autism. They are driving a 1935 Auburn 851 and their two sons Brett and Dan are in a 1941 Packard Coupe. The Stahl’s motto is “Race, Repair and Repeat.”

1938 Ford Fordor Deluxe police car is one competing in The Great Race
1938 Ford Fordor Deluxe police car is one competing in The Great Race

The race takes nine days with drivers covering about 225 miles each day over about nine hours. Cars are divided into five divisions. The oldest car is a 1915 Hudson 6-40 driven by Frank Buonanno of Newton, Connecticut and Chris Clark of Ansonia, Connecticut. Of course you couldn’t have a race without some police help even in vintage cars.

Departures are early each morning as racers aim for their goal: To Finish is to Win.

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