After nine days, seven states, and over 2,000 miles, the 2017 Hemmings Motor News Great Race Presented by Hagerty is over. It is hard to put into words the way that I feel right now; the love, the excitement, the support, the experience. Experience is the only word I can think of to explain how impactful this has been. As many of you know, I grew up on The Great Race watching my Mom, Beth Knowles Gentry, and Grandfather, Joe Knowles compete on this event in a Red 32 Ford Cabriolet. The same Red 32 Ford Cabriolet I watched win it all in Traverse City, Michigan on Sunday. Though my Pawpaw passed away in 2010, I know he was there on Sunday, and I know he was looking down with my Grandmother, Lurleine Knowles, smiling from ear to ear. After my Pawpaw passed away, Genna, and I were talking with our family, and mentioned how sad we were that we would now be unable to go on the race anymore. I will never forget the moment my cousin, Jody Knowles looked us both in the eye and said “Oh yeah, we’re gonna’ go, and we’re gonna’ win too.”. As always, Jody is a man of his word, and I am so unbelievably proud, and happy that he, and my Mom were able to bring home a bird.
My Dad, Oliver Gentry, has been here every step of the way, and we could not be happier to create all of these memories as a family. Genna, and I were also blessed to be able to bring home the Rookie Division Championship, a memory I will never forget. Until next year, the race is over, however the memories will remain forever, the friendships will continue to blossom, and the cars will continue to hit the road. The experience will live on forever.
Our last day of 2017 Great Race. We made it! Jacksonville to Traverse City, Nine days that ranged from so hot and sticky that we made our own sweaty rain, to a cool, rainy morning where I seriously considered putting on long pants (for a moment – I got over it). In between, hard rallying, occasional mechanical and one geological challenge, and every challenge met. Time spent in shared adventure with our Great Race family, and the hospitality of towns all across our country. What could be finer? Please excuse that I didn’t write this til morning. I’m a little tired.
It was our last day, waking in Sault Ste Marie to a 50 degree rain. Bender was running beautifully, so we didn’t need to do much daily prep: just check the fluids and clean the whitewalls for the big finish ahead. The rallying had a few tricky bits, like two checkpoints not more than a minute apart, or a double-deep timed part where both a corner and a speed change need separate timing that overlapped (we didn’t get that exactly right once of two occurrences). But indeed we did make it, though just after the last checkpoint of the race, as if to say, “I’m Done with This!,” Bender’s clutch popped out again!!! Fortunately, it was the same issue and we knew what it was and how to put it back, so the car was up on stands and reassembled in no more than 10 minutes. Then we pressed on, through the remaining local instructions that included 6 stop signs and as many traffic lights and corners – and I only had to use that clutch (EVER so gently) twice. There’s those singing angels gain!
At last, we were rolling through the big finish to a cheering crowd (including my wife, Sue and son, Ethan!!!). All finishers receive a Great Race medal there. Theresa Coker even awarded a third medal to our hero, Bender!
Once everyone was checked in to the Great Wolf Lodge, we were bussed to the State Mental Hospital. Yes, that’s true, and maybe even appropriate, but it’s no longer used for that: it’s now condos and shops! – it’s a beautiful old building on lovely grounds and they had set up a big tent there for our awards banquet.
The winners in Rookies were the Gentry girls, Olivia and Genna. Their mom, Beth with her nephew Jody Knowles took top in Expert and the overall Grand Championship, edging out Jeff and Eric Fredette by fractions of a second!!! Jeff and Eric have been there before – they are great sports! I know they’ll be back. In the meantime, Jeff has gone native with wolf ears from the lodge.
At the afterparty, I was able to pass on the Pink Monkey (from last year’s winner Herb Clark). Though some suggest it might have gone to Team Bender, I insisted that there is a lifetime limit on that award and presented to Ed Overmeyer, in his E-type Jaguar. He had differential failure and replaced the entire rear end with another run to him from his home in Chattanooga. Then he lost the hydraulic cylinder for his clutch and a second day of rally while that was sourced and replaced. Pink Monkey, the symbol of perseverance over troubles in finishing the Great Race, well earned.
This morning, I will stop at the Hagerty garage to make a more permanent fix to the clutch linkage, and check the deeper fluids (transmission and differential) before Sue and I head up to meet friends in a bit north, stay on Mackinac island to get reacquainted, and then head ol’ Bender gently homeward.
What a run. Despite our difficulties, we won our Sportsman division two days of nine!
We got seven Aces. WE even scored as high as 5th overall one day! And we had fun. Thank you Ace Navigator and friend, Dale Kasson. Thanks, Great Race. Thank, friends. See you next year!
Today’s the day that we celebrate the exciting conclusion of the 2017 Hemmings Motor News Great Race presented by Hagerty. We’re so blessed to have this opportunity to drive old cars on the back roads of America and the excitement culminated with an excellent finish in Traverse City, Michigan. Thousands of people were on hand to watch, and we had a great time welcoming the racers through the gate. The folks at Hagerty welcomed us with open arms, and provided an excellent lunch and awards banquet. Congratulations once again to Jody Knowles and Beth Gentry for winning the race and more than $50,000 in cash and prizes. We’d also like to congratulate the other division winners:
Expert (and Overall): Jody Knowles and Beth Gentry, 1932 Ford, 44.55 seconds
Grand Champion: Howard and Doug Sharp, 1916 Hudson, 1 minute and 00.72 seconds
Sportsman: Mike Weaver and Craig Jongerius, 1931 Ford Model A, 1 minute and 46.11 seconds
Rookie: Olivia and Genna Gentry, 1963 Dodge Dart, 2 minutes and 33.44 seconds
X-Cup: Galax, Virginia, 1928 Ford Model A Roadster, 4 minutes and 34.56 seconds
There is no question that our motto of “to finish is to win” held true today. The folks who crossed the finish line in beautiful Traverse City, Michigan felt like they had truly won this great adventure that we call the Hemmings Motor News Great Race presented by Hagerty. The real winners of this event are the hundreds of thousands of people who saw these old cars in their hometown, on their back roads and out on the interstate. They got to see a rolling car show of epic proportions, and you never know–our little 2,300 mile, 9-day ride could’ve kick-started a love affair with old cars for lots of boys and girls. For us, the finish line ceremony is full of emotion. Families, friends and fellow racers are so happy to see that their loved ones tackled this great challenge. It’s so easy to concentrate solely on the magnificent cars on the race, but we want to make a post that focuses on the people…this is what finishing the Great Race looks like!
If there has ever been a family that truly “gets” Great Racing, it’s the Knowles and Gentry family. Joe Knowles planted the vintage car rally seed many years ago, and it has trickled down through the generations. Even though Joe went to be with the Lord several years ago, TWO of his cars rallied with us this year on the Hemmings Motor News Great Race presented by Hagerty. The Pop’s Passion team of Jody Knowles and Beth Gentry have been running in the Expert division for years in Joe’s 1932 Ford Cabriolet, and they have always performed well. And while they’ve always been in the money, they had never sealed the deal with a Grand Championship. So, to say that the tensions were high at the finish line is a giant understatement. It came down to two teams, and as Corky Coker announced the winner, the whole Knowles and Gentry clan erupted in screams, laughter, tears and hugs all around. It finally happened for this long time rallying family, and it was in front of a crowd of thousands in Traverse City, Michigan. The excitement and the emotion of this moment was something to behold, and you can bet that Joe Knowles is one proud pop right now.
Great Race rally days are all different. Early days are not as challenging as later ones, and the later ones are all challenging in different ways. Today, our last full day of rally action, was a fatigue-test day. It seemed less technical than yesterday, being flatter and with minimal double-back mazes, but it was more exhausting by its length and the relative emptiness of the countryside (funny, we started in the Georgia Pines and are ending in the Michigan pines, just Norther White vs Southern Yellow types).
Seven legs were scored, as the last of eight had to be dropped due to unexpected back-up on the Mackinac Straits bridge that held up all of us (and thousands of other holiday travelers). We made only slight changes in procedure after yesterday’s debacle, but it worked! Today we were on our game, better than ever. With a 10 second raw and 9.2 second score for the day, we placed fifth overall today (!), winning the day in our Sportsman Division for a second time this year (!!). Notably, today and tomorrow are ‘Championship Runs’ so no dropping the worst leg on those days. Instead, it’s important to be consistent to net a low total. And we were: 1,2,3,0,3,1,0: Yep, two more aces (total seven !!!) and a mix of early and late. Yeehah, Indeed! As Motormouth would say if he were here, “How Cool Is THAT?!?!” Our trials and errors in earlier days are unforgotten, so we can’t move up much in the cumulative scores either with today’s success or tomorrow’s possibilities, but we are on Page One, in 49th overall and 18th in Sportsman.
Most importantly, we came in with clean hands again – no issues with the car except a sticky throttle that required some averaging during speed-hold steps, and made shifting a bit risky if not blipped to slow the engine before clutching. Regular readers may recall this was present earlier this week, but it was definitely worsening today. The complex throttle linkage includes one rod with little ball joints at each end. They’re terribly worn and binding when the rod is under tension of the throttle return spring. To fix that we moved the spring perch back further up the linkage, so that the troubled rod need not carry that load. Smooth as glass! Unfortunately, it also produced a very unpredictable idle speed that varied from a few hundred to nearly 2,000 rpm. Hmmm… We consulted with Steve Hedke (another Great Racer with a Stude – though one fully 10 years newer), and looseness was found between throttle plate shaft and the bellcrank that is moved by that worn rod. The shaft is brass, so it was a simple matter of peening its end with a phillips driver and hammer, to spread the brass more tightly into the bellcrank plate. Perfect idle repeatability was achieved! Together, the non-sticking throttle and predictable idle should make tomorrow’s driving even smoother.
Yesterday, I mentioned the over-the-top Bavarian Lodge. Today, I’d like to also call them out for a very nice touch that I only noticed this morning. It’s easy to overlook the little things when you’re focused on the Great Race itself, but really, experiencing at least a bit the places we go is a big part of the purpose and value of zooming all over America in old cars. In the Inn, each guest room door has a number as well as a family name on it. Turns out, those names recognize the founders and builders of the town of Frankenmuth, and in each room is an explanation of the selection process and a brief genealogy of that room’s named family. I wonder how many of us noticed and read these. Or as Motormouth would say if he were here (and we do SO miss him), “How Cool Is THAT?!?”
Lunch was great! We were treated to superb Summer food: juicy fired chicken, green beans, and cole slaw – all delicious – at the Yacht Club in Alpena, MI, on the shore of Lake Huron. A fast but satisfying stop! I did get one quick photo of the two microcars running this year, the Fiat Multipla and the Subaru 360 of Team Nippon – doing a friendly face-off. As Motormouth would say if he were here (and you bet he’ll be back!), “How Cool Is THAT?!?!”
Dinner was also grand, especially the warm bread pudding for dessert – compliments of the host city of Sault Sainte Marie. A good crowd, too. I’ve really been impressed with how many people recognize either our Studebaker or Mascot Bender himself (rarely both, I guess it’s a generational thing). Either way, it’s fun to talk about them with the local folk who turn out for us.
Tomorrow is our last rally day and it’s really just a half-day on the road in scoring legs, as we will roll into our Finish at Traverse City. We started here in 2013 (I think), and had a huge, huge crowd (the most ever, bigly! ahem – it really was). We’re all eager to share this year’s Great Race with this enthusiastic bunch again. Traverse City is also home to our sponsor (and soon-to-be funder of Bender’s new paint work to cure the evil fence scratches), Hagerty Insurance. This is one GREAT company. I could write a book about them, all good. I won’t because I need to sleep tonight, too. Still, I’m looking forward to getting old Bender up on the lift in the Hagerty garage (graciously opened to us), to check the underbits before heading off homeward with my much better half, Sue, who’s meeting us at the finish.
Speaking of sleep, I got lucky again this evening. The hotel had filled all the regular rooms by the time I checked in, so they upgraded me to a suite larger than some apartments I’ve lived in. Too bad we’re not staying longer!
Well, that’s it today. If the level of wit and entertainment in these postings seems to be slipping as the Race goes on, my I refer you to the first paragraph here. Fatigue is surely to blame. Fatigue from a LOT of Fun (and some frustration). But today – we were redeemed! It IS possible to do this well, after all. Can we prove it wasn’t just luck by doing well tomorrow, too? Who knows? Tune in tomorrow, same time, different place.
Well, tomorrow is the big day. Though it seems like just yesterday this journey began, it will end tomorrow. After a tough day, Genna, and I remain in the lead of the Rookie Division. We have had an absolutely wonderful time throughout this journey, and have all of our friends and family to thank for that. I especially would like to give a shout out to “Pops”, Mr. Mike Weaver. He is such a sweet man, and has helped Genna, and I embrace every moment of this race. I would like to thank Kate Weaver, and every one at Rome Grinding Solutions as well, they have encouraged us, and supported us through every moment! Tomorrow, the grand finish will take place in Traverse City, Michigan, and teams will head back home. Tonight, it is time to rest. Once again, Genna, and I can not express our thanks for all of the continued prayers, and support!
The end is drawing near! We’ve just completed day 8 of the 2017 Hemmings Motor News Great Race presented by Hagerty. This morning, our route began in beautiful Frankenmuth, Michigan, exiting the Bavarian Inn through a very cool covered bridge. Then, it was a lengthy speedometer calibration run before the racers went “on the clock” for the morning route. Within the first hour of rallying, the racers went through two large loops, which mixed the cars up a little until the loops were over. After a scenic drive, we ended up on the coast of Lake Huron in the town of Alpena, Michigan. Our stop was breezy and cool, but the welcome was warm! From there, the racers rallied hard through the forests of northern Michigan. Ultimately, we’d end up at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan for an even cooler stop. With temperatures struggling to reach 60 degrees, and a steady breeze, it was quite cool, considering it’s the first day of July. But, we’ll take a cool evening over heat and humidity at this point in the race. Today’s daily winners are Jeff and Eric Fredette, with an outstanding 4.89 second score in their 1933 Ford pickup. They are closing the gap on the current leaders, Jody Knowles and Beth Gentry…it all comes down to a tough Championship Day rally tomorrow! Stay tuned, you’ll find out the winners and see the spectacular finish in Traverse City, Michigan, home of Hagerty classic car insurance!
This afternoon was with out a doubt the most difficult day of The 2017 Hemmings Motor News Great Race Presented by Hagerty. Though traffic was heavy throughout the entirety of the day, and roads were rough, my navigator was able to keep everything together, and after pulling through the gate we had a total score of nineteen seconds leaving us eighth overall for the day, winning the day in the rookie division, and maintaining our lead of the rookie division. I was also proud to know that my Mom, Beth Knowles Gentry, and my cousin, Jody Knowles also won the day and were able to maintain their lead overall as well. Tomorrow will be a long day, with competitors finishing in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. Hope to see you there, and as always thank you for your prayers, and support!
Today was all Michigan, all the time! We’re spending a few days rallying up, down and across Michigan, on our way to a finish line in Traverse City. But today’s trek took up from our starting point in Ypsilanti into the heart of some rush hour traffic on the speedometer calibration run. Then, we peeled off the highway for some VERY short rally legs–we’re talking 4 or 5 maneuvers and then a check point. There was a total of nine checkpoints today, making for another tricky day. It certainly kept the racers on their toes. Our lunch stop was held at the outstanding Stahls Automotive Museum in Chesterfield Township, Michigan. Ted and Mary Stahl (and their children) are huge supporters of the Great Race, in terms of racing teams and sponsorships, so it was great to spend a little time at their place. A great turnout of folks and classic cars came out to cheer on the racers, as they near the final days of competition. Racers and staff were treated to a delicious meal, complete with a wide range of desserts. The Stahl collection is truly amazing, with Cords, Packards, Auburns and more on display. One of the most interesting aspects of the collection are the automated musical instruments, and one vehicle in particular stuck out to us–the Thomas Flyer. This is a real deal car, purchased from the Harold Coker collection.
After we got back on the road, the route took us through miles of countryside, and featured some loops and mazes along the way. Finally, it was time for a big finish to Day 7 and we did just that with a spectacular crowd in downtown Frankenmuth, Michigan. We had a special guest stop by today, and he’ll be with us for the rest of the race…that guest is Wayne Carini, a great friend of Corky Coker and the star of “Chasing Classic Cars” on Velocity.
Today, we said goodbye to Mike Goodman, our main announcer for this year’s race. He filled in for MotorMouth, and with Corky Coker, Jeff Stumb and Jason White by his side to give him a break. Mike had to run back home to Tennessee for a previous arrangement, so Corky, Jeff and Jason will be your announcers for the rest of our journey. Tomorrow, we continue our northward trek, with a lunch stop at Bay View Park in Alpena, Michigan, and then an overnight stop in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. Follow along as we get down to the nitty gritty and see who’s gonna win this thing!