Note: This is the first of a nine-part series of Great Race Director Jeff Stumb’s thoughts on each day on the 2015 Great Race route after returning from setting up the stops for next year’s event. Route 66 is an iconic part of this country and the automobile. They just go together like Mom and apple pie. Once we announced that the 2015 Great Race would have a Route 66 theme, the response was overwhelming. And it has continued through to today.
A few weeks ago, I visited more than 20 cities along Route 66 and met dozens and dozens folks who are working hard to make next year’s Great Race along Route 66 the best it can be. I will share my experiences day-by-day with you to give you an idea about how fantastic the event will be in June.
I had been on parts of Route 66 over the years, including many times on the Great Race. But that was just a few miles in New Mexico one year, 20 or 30 miles in Arizona another year and a couple in Oklahoma on still another. Now that I have run the entire route, I can tell you there is something special about Route 66 in its entirety. Seeing the change in scenery from Illinois and Missouri to Texas and Oklahoma and then to New Mexico and Arizona is amazing.
And seeing how all of the towns along Route 66 promote it – from those who have capitalized on Route 66 for decades to those who are just getting on the bandwagon – was a treat.
It all starts in the St. Louis area. I looked at the new Ballpark Village area of downtown St. Louis, but ultimately decided on starting the race in Kirkwood, about 15 miles southwest and on Route 66. The Great Race had an overnight stop in Kirkwood in 2001, and they won the award for the best city. Everyone in Kirkwood, especially Jim Wright at the CVB and Kirk Hutchison at the local bank, have been overly enthusiastic. Kirk just happens to be the nephew of Great Racer Pat Brothers from Oregon.
And Great Racer Herb Clark, who lives in nearby High Ridge, Mo., has been terrific. Herb caught the Great Race bug as a rookie this year with Don Kloth in their Model A speedster, and he has been a tremendous asset on the ground in the St. Louis area.
We promised to have the Trophy Run head east into Illinois so we could rally on parts of Route 66 in all eight states, and plans are being made to make that happen. We hope to get to Mount Olive, Ill., to see the famous Shell gas station from the 1920s. Of course, we will pass by the St. Louis Arch on the way to Illinois.
Everyone will enjoy the starting hotel, which is large enough to hold all of our pre-race meetings. And there is a lot of activities in the immediate area, including a function at Grants Farm and a reception at Mark Hyman’s collection of fine automobiles.
Once the race starts on Saturday, June 20, we will head west. Missouri is full of iconic Route 66 sites, including the murals in Cuba. Downtown Rolla will host the first lunch stop on the event on Pine Street, which was once part of Route 66.
The finish that day will be in Springfield. While in town recently, I stayed at the Best Western Rail Haven in the very room Elvis Presley stayed in while there in 1956. Make sure to watch the video of my room – complete with a 1959 Cadillac bed – by clicking the link below.
The next report in the series will cover Springfield to Oklahoma City.