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The 25 Annual Great American Race - 07/07

The 25 Annual Great American Race - 07/07
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The 25 Annual Great American Race - 2007
Pomona, California
July 13,14, ‘07
Story by Richard Parks, photographs by Roger Rohrdanz & Dave Lindsay

 

The Great American Race began in 1983 as the brainchild of Tom McRae and Norm Miller. It is a road race across America from coast to coast, challenging the cars and drivers in a test of endurance, time and distance. We were present as the contestants made their way to the last leg of the race at the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum, in Pomona, California. The cars were still on the road as we drove up to the museum. Volunteers in red shirts with the Great American Race logo were setting up the parking lot with balloons, refreshments and banners. We had time to speak to some of the volunteers and family members of the drivers. The first was Tony Bussman from Morristown, Tennessee, who has been a volunteer for 4 years since he retired. “This year the route started in Concord, North Carolina on June 30 and will officially end at Pomona on July 13, with the final ceremonies to be held in Anaheim, California on July 14,” he told me. Along the way the drivers and navigators stopped in Spartanburg, South Carolina, Chattanooga, Nashville and Germantown, Tennessee. In Fort Smith, Arkansas, they celebrated with a huge fireworks display put on by the city. The next stop was Norman, Oklahoma, then on to Lewisville, Grapevine and Abilene, Texas. The driver and his navigator faced horrible humidity, heat, rain and hailstorms the size of golf balls before they left the south and reached the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. They stopped over in Clovis and Albuquerque, New Mexico, then drove to Flagstaff, Arizona and Laughlin, Nevada, where the heat was oppressive. Many of the cars were open roadsters, built tight with little room for storage or cover from the elements. Only two cars had any air conditioning. The next stop was Pomona, California, the last stop on the journey that they would be timed. But the teams could not claim their prizes until the reached Anaheim, California, to receive the final inspection

   Tony is a valuable volunteer for he speaks five languages; Swiss, German, English, Italian and French. This will come in handy when next year he helps set up the stops for the drivers in the 2008 Around the World Great Race, a re-enactment of the 1908 race that established that the automobile could achieve such feats of endurance and efficiency. McRae and Miller are no longer the owners or leaders of the Great Race, which was reformed as a corporation and puts on these timed rallies with remarkable efficiency and skill. These grueling road rallies are a throwback to half a century ago when car clubs around the world formed to conduct timed road races and rallies. The object is not to speed across the country at breakneck speed like the infamous Cannonball Runs, breaking rules and threatening lives. Each car must have a driver and a navigator and they are given a set of instructions. They are graded on how well they follow the path set out for them and by reaching one of many checkpoints during that day’s run. If they reach the checkpoint right on the time set out for them by the computer their score is zero, which means a perfect run. Each car sets out about a minute apart from each other contestant and they all have to arrive in about the same order. There are anywhere from four to seven checkpoints and the race teams don’t know where they are until they follow the instructions and reach a banner that proclaims the checkpoint. The routes are usually off the freeways and highways, on back roads and lanes. Sometimes they are paved and sometimes they are gravel or dirt roads.
 
The cars have to be at least 47 years old. This year there were 69 cars in the rally and they ranged from a 1910 Selden Runabout to a 1953 Commemorative Edition Corvette (built in 2003). The fee to enter is $7500, but that is only a portion of what it takes to run the Great American Race. There are more expenses for family and support vehicle. The rule of thumb is to multiply the entry fee by three times or more to come up with a budget for this race. According to Bussman, the fee for the Around the World race in 2008 will be $100,000 and the total costs for the teams, crew and families will come to a quarter of a million dollars. Each year the routes change from coast to coast. In the early years they would run from the East Coast to the West Coast, or from West to East. Some years they would race from Canada to Mexico City, or from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Next years race will be beyond grueling and a feat that will live on in our memories for as long as road racing exists. Roughly twenty vintage cars and twenty concept cars (which will run on alternative fuels) will drive from New York City to Vancouver, Canada. They will then ship their cars and crews to Shanghai, China and drive across some of the most difficult stretches of the Ordos desert in Inner Mongolia. They will then cross the Takla Makan desert in Sinkiang and over the old Silk Road from Kashgar, then over the Pamir Mountains into Central Asia. The route will change as world events change in that volatile area. The route will continue through Kazakhstan and into Russia and across the continent to St Petersburg. From St Petersburg the route will continue through the Baltic countries, Poland, Germany and on to Paris and the end of the impossible race. A race every hot rodder would give his all to participate in.

   A doctor will accompany the Around the World Race, but the race teams are on their own and must make all normal repairs. The support crews are not allowed to follow their driver on the same roads and can only assist the cars after that day’s race is over. Mike and Sue Davidson, from Mesquite, Texas, have been volunteering on the Great Race for nine years. “We have about 30 volunteers who go ahead of the race teams and set up the checkpoints and the food. My job is to park cars and see that the food and drinks for the race teams are available,” said Mike. Don and Kelly Currie are from Fort Worth, Texas and have been volunteers for 15 years. “I was given the job as chief technical inspector and I have to see that the rules of the road and the cars are capable of running the race,” said Don. He told me that he has the power to toss a rules violator out of the event and has never had to do so, though he sometimes admonishes the drivers. Brian Goudge is affectionately called ‘Motormouth’ and has been the Great American Race announcer for twelve years. In 1995 he was announcing a short track oval race in Ottawa, Canada, when Tom McRae heard his distinctive announcing voice and said, “you’re the man I’ve been looking for to announce the race.” McRae has since passed away and the other co-founder, Norm Miller has remained a major sponsor. “I really enjoyed the Ottawa, Canada to Mexico City race in 1995,” said Goudge. “The Tacoma to Toronto race and the Sonoma to Haverhill, Massachusetts race were also favorites,” he added. “We don’t have a lot of rally races competing with us. We are recognized worldwide for our events,” Brian told me. John Classen has the distinction of being the Rally Master since the Great American Race was formed and is vital to its success.

   Family, support crews and friends were arriving ahead of the drivers and their navigators. Virginia Snyder came from Phoenix, Arizona and has been involved with the Great American Race for seven years. She is also a member of the local T-Bird Club in her area. “We can travel on major roads and highways and get to the end of the day’s race before the race teams,” she said. Cindy Bortner is with Bob LaBine’s team, which is called B&C Racing. “We have been doing this for seven years and Bob drives a ’28 Ford Model A. Our navigator is Charlie Wheeler who is in his 3rd race and is 15 years old,” said Cindy. They are also from Phoenix, Arizona. “The race teams have to travel the back roads, which are often on dirt and unpaved, with hidden checkpoints so they can’t go fast or slow, but must time themselves and follow the maps and signs,” she said. “Some teams have wives driving and their husbands are the navigators,” but Virginia rolled her eyes and it was obvious that a husband and wife team was not for everyone. “The drivers refer to the navigators as agitators, but they have to listen to them and work as a team,” said Cindy. “We liked the northern route from Washington DC to Tacoma, Washington the best,” she said. “The southern routes are hot and humid. If a team makes it to the checkpoint in the exact time it is called a perfect score and they are given an Ace (decal) to display on their cars. Curtis Graff is the first ever to register for the Great American Race in 1983. He and Dick Burdick are the only ones to race in all 25 races,” added Bortner.

   Sue Reeder and Susan Stone are part of the support team for Stone Age Racing. Sawyer Stone is the navigator for his grandfather and has been racing for 5 years. He is only 15 and they won last year’s top prize of $100,000. “Young people make good navigators,” said Sue. “They see better, have good math skills and they are patient,” she added. David Reeder is the driver and he told his grandson, “you don’t make mistakes and I don’t make mistakes, we make mistakes as a team and we drive well as a team.” Sue Reeder went on to explain that all the race teams are close, “just like family,” she added. Hannah Ray, age 11, is along for her 5th race. Jamie Stone, age 12, shook her head when asked how many races she has been on. Susan Stone laughed and said, “we took her on her first race when she was two weeks old.” Don Prieto, prolific car and racing writer, joined the Currie racing team in Dallas, Texas. “The cities compete to get the Great American Race to stop in their cities, so they go out of their way to provide food and celebrations for the race teams. Clovis and Flagstaff really turned out for us,” he said. Wayne Stanfield has been a participant and later the COO of the Great American Race from the beginning. With him was his granddaughter Ravenna Lee, “almost five,” she proudly beamed as she showed off her martial arts chops and kicks. Jeanne English was a volunteer at the checkpoints. John Schmidt is head of scoring and Larry Scholnick is the assistant scorer. “There are two volunteers at each checkpoint and we have at least four and as many as seven checkpoints which the race teams have to pass through every day. They only drive during the day,” said English.

   The cars began to arrive and they were a beautiful sight. The drivers and navigators were sunburnt, tired and thirsty and headed for the scorer and the refreshment stand. Sawyer Stone stopped to talk to me, tired as he was, and in his polite, southern voice he looked happy with his results. It had been a grueling 4300 mile race over 15 days and they had to get up early the next day and drive 30 miles more to Anaheim, California for the victory celebration. Once before a race team had won the race, only to break down on the way to the victory celebration and be disqualified. Until they get the trophy and the check in their hand, the race is never over. Major sponsors included Coker Tires, Interstate Batteries, www.hotrodhotline.com, Honest Charley Speed Shop, Ford Motor Company, AutoSport, Qualcomm, Racing Electronics, Blue Highways and Make a Wish Foundation. Interstate Batteries was the Presenting Sponsor and has supported the Great American Race since the very beginning. The race teams faced heat, humidity, rain and hailstorms. They traveled on the worst roads; dirt and gravel lanes and they had to do it in perfect times. They drove in vintage cars from 1910 through the 1960’s muscle cars. Many were roadsters, runabouts and convertibles. A complete list of cars, drivers and navigators is at www.greatrace.com. For more information about the entrance requirements and fees contact Wayne Stanfield at [email protected], or the CEO, Bill Ewing at 714-338-8881. Be prepared to devote your checkbook and your heart to this unique test of stamina and skill. The people you will meet and race with and against will be some of the finest you ever meet. These are hot rodders who exemplify all that the sport stands for and more.

Gone Racin’ is at [email protected].

 

 

 

 
We had time to speak to some of the volunteers and family members of the drivers. The first was Tony Bussman from Morristown, Tennessee, who has been a volunteer for 4 years since he retired. Tony is a valuable volunteer for he speaks five languages; Swiss, German, English, Italian and French. This will come in handy when next year he helps set up the stops for the drivers in the 2008 Around the World Great Race.   This ’62 Ford Galaxie with 406 & Tri-Power crosses the Pomona finish line carrying 3 people after Don Prieto, prolific car and racing writer, joined the Currie racing team in Dallas, Texas.
 
Frank Currie driving and Cody Currie navigating thru the Pomona finish line in the race a 1910 Selden Raceabout. They finished a very respectable 5th place.   Richard Parks (c) interviews Virginia Snyder (r ) came from Phoenix, Arizona and has been involved with the Great American Race for seven years. “We can travel on major roads and highways and get to the end of the day’s race before the race teams,” she said. Cindy Bortner (l) and Virginia Snyder are with Bob LaBine’s team, which is called B&C Racing. “We have been doing this for seven years and Bob drives a ’28 Ford Model A. Our navigator is Charlie Wheeler who is in his 3rd race and is 15 years old,” said Cindy. They are also from Phoenix, Arizona
 
Coming across the Pomona finish line this ’28 Ford Model A Bobtail Speedster driven by Bob LaBine and navigated by Charlie Wheeler. When they get to Anaheim they will be crowned the Great American Race 2007 winners.   The team of William Harper and Larry Blair will finish #2 in their ’32 Ford Hiboy Roadster. In fact “Deuces” finished #2, #3, #11, #18, #20, #21, #34, and #55!
 
Another “Deuce” Sedan crosses the Pomona finish line driven by Ron Ferris and navigated by Rick Beatie.   Last year’s winners, “Deuce” #1, Sawyer Stone is the navigator for his grandfather and has been racing for 5 years. He is only 15 and they won last year’s top prize of $100,000. “Young people make good navigators,” said Sue Reeder. “They see better, have good math skills and they are patient,” she added. David Reeder is the driver and he told his grandson, “you don’t make mistakes and I don’t make mistakes, WE make mistakes as a team and WE drive well as a team.” This year they finished #3
 
The jubilant team of Howard Sharp and Doug Sharp cross the Pomona finish line in another ’32 Ford, this time it’s a Dirt Track Racer. They finished #11.   A BIG hit all along the route was this, highly modified, ’64 Peterbuilt with a diesel tank motor. Driven by Rucker and navigated by Messick they finished #48.
 
Another “Deuce” this one is a Ford M-1 Mechanix Special Racer driven by Guy Mace or Colby Mace. They finished #21.   Finishing Sixth is the team of Annegret Reichmann driving and Uli Kammholz navigating in their 1955 Studebaker President.
 
The Great American Race contestants parked at their last timed stop, the Auto Club Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum in Pomona, CA.   At the Anaheim, CA finish line Dan Harris and Brian Webster bring their ’29 Ford Model A Speedster through the excited crowd.
 
A ’64 Pontiac GTO, Great American Race contestant heads toward the jam packed finish line at Anaheim, CA   Defending 2006 Champions, Stone Age Racing, make their way through the friendly people at the finish in Anaheim, CA. They finished third this year!
 
This ’28 Ford Model A Bobtail Speedster driven by Bob LaBine and navigated by Charlie Wheeler where crowned the Great American Race 2007 winners. The beautiful American Eagle trophy sits on the hood.    
 
At the finish of the Great American Race, contestants park their cars for all to admire.