The Great Race 2017

Being in the right place at the right time for a cool event is like winning the jackpot for us, mostly because we’re so terrible at planning anything. We had a major stroke of luck when we were in Ohio though, as The Great Race was coming through. From the small town of Wapakoneta, we were in a prime location to watch it.

Mind you, I had no idea the Great Race existed until we saw it. But in my usual fashion, I proceeded to research the heck out of it, learn everything I possibly could, and randomly rattle off pieces of information to whoever wanted to listen. So given that I completely forgot to talk about The Great Race in the Ohio post I just wrote (thanks for catching that Uncle Jim), The Great Race is going to get its own post.

In short, The Great Race is a controlled-speed endurance race for antique cars manufactured in 1972 or earlier. While I don’t know antique cars well, Clay and I are both auto enthusiasts, so witnessing The Great Race definitely fell into the jackpot category for us.

When they say endurance, they mean it. For 2017, the race ran from Jacksonville Florida to Traverse City Michigan over 9 days. And when I first read that it was an endurance race, I wasn’t all that impressed. How difficult is it to drive from point A to point B with some stops in between, right?

Yeah, that’s not how it works. Each day of the race, drivers are given a list of instructions of every stop, go, turn, loop, and speed change of that day’s drive. The lists average 200 to 250 instructions per day. With these instructions, drivers are expected to complete the day’s course in a calculated perfect time (that they need to figure out themselves), and there are multiple checkpoints per day to record the driver’s progress (in locations unknown to the driver). And to stay competitive in the race, they have to complete each segment perfectly. Every second (!) the driver is off is a penalty point.

To make matters even more complicated, navigation of the race is as old school as the cars themselves. No GPS, phones, or electronic navigation or timekeeping devices are allowed. Drivers get one analog watch, one analog wristwatch, and one analog stopwatch. One analog speedometer is allowed; anything digital is prohibited. No odometers are allowed and must be covered up.

Finally, this competition is Serious. Business. The entry fee is between $5500 and $7500, and there’s a $150,000 purse. People will plan their whole year around competing in and winning this race.

 

There were over a hundred cars entered in this year’s race, and downtown Wapakoneta was the scheduled lunch stop on one of the race days. So we pulled up chairs, kicked back, and watched antique cars drive by for hours. It was utterly fascinating and every single one was different from the next. I mean, it’s not every day the Bluesmobile goes cruising by in front of you.

We also walked downtown to check out a few of the cars up close. It’s no secret that I’m a huge Subaru fan, so getting to see a 1964 Subaru 360 up close was totally awesome. It was so tiny! Only 900 pounds! I can practically fit that in my back pocket!

For 2017, a 1932 Ford Cabriolet was the overall winner. Thousands of miles over 9 days and the winner was only 44.55 seconds off the perfect time with nothing but a paper map, some instructions, and an analog watch. That level of precision is INSANE! I still can’t wrap my head around it!

#91, pictured right above, is a 1933 Ford truck and came in 2nd with only 57.05 seconds off the perfect time. INSANE.

And that, my friends, is The Great Race. It’s always held at the end of June into early July and the route changes every year – 2018 starts in New York and ends in Canada. If you ever find yourself on the course and you have even the slightest interest in antique cars, it is not to be missed! If you want to learn more, the event website is www.greatrace.com.

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