Experiences from Former X-Cup Competitors
For Greg Cunningham age 19 was a game changer!
I’ve been very fortunate to work my way into the vintage automobile industry. I’m now 34 years old and have been restoring
cars since I was 16. During my 19 year career with cars, I’ve participated in numerous Great Races, events, and projects.
As I consider all of those experiences, I know the months leading up to and including the 1998 Great Race were the most
memorable and impactful.
This was Great Race’s first year promoting X-cup competition, which is open institutions who work with students and young
adults. My mentor and high school instructor, JD Hanks (who introduced me to restoration) took the initiative to organize
an X-cup team and restore a 1930 Model A Ford pickup. I had restored cars with him before, however the camaraderie formed
by restoring a vehicle with fellow students and then enjoying the satisfaction of accomplishment with the adventure that
came during the Great Race is indescribable.
At the time, that hands-on/team-building project was not an option to me through any other avenue of my education. The mechanical
shop class that I yearned for was no longer offered at my high school. That’s where the X-cup program comes in. It fills
the void that has been created by schools closing their shop classes all across the country. It has truly been a blessing
in my life to have been able to participate in the rally during my formative years.
I call those years “formative” because that’s what the Great Race helped to do. It helped to form my future in both my career
and personal life. You see, in X-Cup you meet a lot of great car guys and girls. Those are friends and contacts that may
stay with you for a lifetime. After my first GR in ’98, I went on to work with my X-Cup leader JD, in our own restoration
shop. Many of our customers over the next 10 years came from participating in the GR. Then in 2008, while looking for some
life changes, I moved to Tennessee to work for Corky Coker. I had met Corky during my years on the rally. Heck, I even
met my future wife Casey, while on the race in the summer of 2004! 10 years later, we have a family of car-boys, who are
sure to have the amazing experiences of the Great Race in their life.
My point is this; you can never know or expect what may happen in your future. So, you might as well direct it towards particular
interests in your life. If vintage and classic cars are on that list, you might not find a more fun way to get into the
hobby or industry than through the X-cup program. And, do it while you’re young! In the least, it’s fun…and at the most,
it can be a life changer.
At age 15, X-Cup changed everything for Chad Nelson!
I never would have thought that a simple conversation when I was 15 would have this much effect on me then and still today.
The summer before becoming a sophomore at Astronaut High while on the way to local short track to race a mini stock, my automotive
teacher discussed the idea of the class building a Great Race racecar to compete as a group in the 1996 Great
Race. Sure I say, sounds cool! Little did I know, we became the first ever high school team to compete and
become the modern day X-Cup. We built a Model A Speedster from a frame that had a tree growing through the
center of it that was found on farmland in the area. We built everything ourselves, and if we didn’t have it,
we made it. Not only did we finish the car, but also raised enough money to compete, travel and return back
home. Our first year, 1996 was a huge success.
We finished every leg of the race, and where also the first ever rookie and high school team to be awarded the Spirit of
the Event Award. Running in the race, makes you think how could I ever be able to do this again. It also makes
you think, how do I not. Our first race took us from Tacoma, Washington to Toronto, Canada. Sometimes there
are not words that can do justice for describing the sights and sounds of crossing America in an antique vehicle.
Some of my fondest memories still today is the way the rocky mountains, badlands of South Dakota, farmlands
in the heartland, and grand canyon look just beyond the hood of the Model A. Plus there was always the way
things looked in the reflection of that chrome Model A headlight as well. Simply breathtaking.
We went on to compete another 2 years as a group. 1998 was officially the start of the x-cup program when another high school
entered from Granbury, Texas. Sadly, I graduated from the program which the school board also shut down after
my senior year. X-Cup had also started a scholarship program which I used to start my education for an engineering
degree. I was able to run a few races on an off over the next 8 years as a navigator when someone needed a
navigator and even one year I was a driver.
Fast forward to what maybe I am most proud about is over recent years I was able to put an x-cup team together from my hometown
Titusville, Florida. Working with same speedster I originally built as a student, I rebuilt everything and
improved the vehicle with a new group of students. We have been on two Great Race’s, and three regional rallies.
There is something to be said for seeing firsthand the reactions of the student’s faces and seeing their experience
firsthand, much like what I went through myself. The travels, the people, the sights, and the competition are
like nothing else. It can never be duplicated or even compared to any other experience.
2014 Chad Nelson is still running strong!
While the last two years I have not competed with an x-cup entry, I have had a navigator who caught the bug bad enough that
he talked me into an entry in the sportsman division. He was one the original students I worked with
over the past several years and has since
graduated from high school. We challenged ourselves even further to build yet another speedster together and race it. We
built it in 9 months and finished everyday once again. While, we did have a flat tire in 2013, we did
make an impression with our competitors while being able to still finish 3rd in the division.
We decided to enter once again in 2014 and without a flat tire, and no mechanical issues won the Sportsman Division and finished
6th overall. We also took home the Best of Show Award for our car we built in my garage at home. Having
10 Great Races under my belt now doesn’t make any of them any less special from one to the next. If anything,
it makes it harder to stay away. Each one has its own experiences of places and people, triumph, and
challenges, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I have never regretted getting involved with the Great Race, but only when I can’t be there. When you participate in the
Great Race, it not only becomes something you do or have done, but it becomes a part of who you are.
2005 Grand Champion
Greg Cunningham’s Old X-Cup Photos:
Team members setting the cab on the 1930 Model A Ford Pickup. Without a shop class available in our school system, the restoration
was performed in 5 months by our team during hundreds of hours after school and on weekends.
I’m installing the fender brackets to finalize the restoration of the chassis. It was kept 100% stock.
I’m painting the cab in a paint booth provided by a local dealership as a sponsorship. Check out the old siphon feed gun.
This was right before the conversion to gravity feed HVLP guns in the industry that are now mandated. Dozens
of paint jobs later, it’s surreal to look back at my 3rd one!
The four students are goofing-off on the way to the start of the 1998 Great Race from Tacoma, WA to Haverhill, MA. We took
pictures of every state sign that wasn’t on a bridge! By the time we were done with the restoration and
fundraising projects, we were great friends!
I’m navigating for Steve Herman in and out of Mt. Rainier national park. This was the “Trophy Run” which is the practice
day prior to the grand start. 16yrs later, I still remember the sights and smells of driving that old truck
up and down the mountain.
Steve Herman and I work on the truck during the last day of the rally going into Haverhill, MA. We had many mechanical failures
that day which happened in record rainfall for that area of the country… talk about being wet!
Team members, (from l to r) Paul Oblad, Matt Brewer, Robert Scott, JD Hanks, Greg Cunningham, and Steve Herman pose with
the exhaust and condenser at the finish of the race. Among other difficulties that last day; the exhaust
pipe, actually, fell off about 75miles away from the finish and the condenser went out, leaving us on the
shoulder of the interstate during an intense rainstorm. A passer-by stopped to see if he could help. He
happened to have had a project in his garage that he stole the condenser out of and brought to us to be
able to drive the truck to the finish. It’s not uncommon to receive help from a stranger or a competitor
who share the love of vintage cars!
Our team, (from l to r), Steve Herman, Greg Cunningham, Matt Brewer, Paul Oblad, JD Hanks, and Robert Scott, pose with the
plaque for 4th place X-Cup and the coveted “Doc Fuson Spirit of the Event” award.
The 1930 pick up as it looked following the ’98 Great Race. It has since completed the Great Race close to a dozen times
with no major difficulties.