Some time in August of 2014, I was reading Hemmings Motor News and saw an advertisement for the 2015 Great Race. The advertisement said “A Time-Speed-Endurance Rally for Vintage Cars”. I had no idea what that meant, but it looked like fun, so I called the phone number and got a hold of Jeff Stumb. Jeff is the Director of the race and answered my questions. I had never been in a rally, didn’t know what to do or where to do it. I asked Jeff, what can I do to get the most out of this experience? I’m 70 years old and I only want to do this if I’ll have fun. Jeff started me on one of the most fun journeys I’ve ever had.
First he asked if I had a car. I have several cars, but I wanted to enter a car that was suited to the course, so the research began. The Great Race website provides all the help you need, from preparing your car, to calibrating you speedometer, and more. I decided to buy and build the car first. (1939 Buick Business Coupe). After locating and purchasing the car, we used the Rules and regulations to guide our restoration. I called Jeff again to ask how many cars fail to finish and why. He gave great advice, helping every time I called. He said to make sure your car is race ready, this race is hard on cars, you cannot expect to roll a vintage car out of the garage and expect it to go the 2,400 miles. He also said make sure it’s comfortable, you will be spending 9 days driving everyday between 250-300 miles. He said to put miles on your car, drive between 600-700 miles, to be sure it’s ready.
Taking Jeff’s advice, I headed to Las Vegas from Phoenix, we broke down 3 times and took 3 days to make a 5 hour drive. We weren’t ready. After that trip, we rebuilt the engine, installed a second fuel pump, a new alternator, etc. On two other testing trips, we broke down twice. We finally felt we’d worked out all the kinks and took the car for a trial rally in Missouri (allowed for Rookies) and broke down after one day of racing. Shipping the car back to Phoenix, we were pretty discouraged.
Learning how to rally was as foreign to me as learning a foreign language, but Jeff encouraged me to continue watching the tutorials on the web site and call a fellow racer named Wayne Bell in Las Vegas. Wayne told us to come up to Vegas and he would help us out, so off we went. He helped us not once, but twice with building our performance charts for the car, and tutored me on navigating. If you asked Wayne, he would probably tell you our “Rookie Team” were full of enthusiasm. He might say we were willing to put in the time practicing, but perhaps somewhat challenged in rallying. Bottom line, we had a car that kept breaking down, we had more of a navi’guesser’ than navigator (me), and a driver that had spent little time behind the wheel.
We had a determination to compete and be competitive. We remembered what Jeff had said, “the more you practice and prepare, the better you will do and the more fun you will have”. We were then assigned a mentor, Steve and Janet Hedke. Help was also arriving from previous Great Racers. Something happened that really surprised us at our practice rally in Joplin, Missouri. Everyone was helping us. They helped us with navigation and with mechanical problems (Alternator burned up). They helped us with the calibration of our speedometer, and people gave us spare parts. We only raced for 1 1/2 days before we broke down and had to ship the car back to Phoenix, once again. We were discouraged, but on the plane ride home, I wrote on a cocktail napkin my Great Race Goals. 1) Finish the Race 2) Finish in the top 10 in the Rookie Class 3) Finish in the Top 50 % of the entire field. 4) Have fun.
You may now begin laughing, We’re rookies, we’ve never been in a rally before, the navigator doesn’t know what he’s doing yet, and we’re at 30,000 feet flying home After barely over 1 day of an actual rally under our belt, our broken car was on the bed of a truck heading for Phoenix. In the short time we spent in Joplin, we had met many of the veteran Great Racers, learned a lot, and had a lot of fun. I was beginning to “Get it”.
Being the eternal optimists, we continued to work on the car and practice driving and navigating. When the final day came to ship the car to Kirkwood Missouri, Joe Perkins and I flew into St. Louis ready for the race. We had a chase vehicle, driven by Scotti Lee, Phd a former technical Executive with Ford Motor Company. This little dysfunctional “Team 92” was finally ready after 10 months of preparation.
Team 92 Results:
– Finished the race crossing the finish line at the Pier in Santa Monica, California
– Finished 5th in the Rookie Class
– Finished 39th overall
– Had more fun than you can imagine
After the awards ceremony, we loaded the car on a truck and shipped it to San Francisco as the centerpiece at a July 4th company picnic. Then Joe Perkins and I headed for LAX and jumped on our flight back to Phoenix. We were tired and slept the entire flight. When we landed in Phoenix, while standing at the baggage carousel, Joe turned to me and said, “Larry, that was the most fun I’ve ever had in my life”. And I wish I had said it first!
I hope this encourages rookies to join the Great Race, as for us…we’re only Rookies once. Next year, the teams in the Sportsmen and Expert Class are really good!