Great Race Diary from 2003

June 7, 2013

Great Race 2013

Grab a cup of coffee (or two) and enjoy this awesome diary from the 2003 Great Race. Joseph Roche provided this extensive review of the event, so kick back and have a good read!

My father in law, Jim Rutledge (I call him “Pops”), had gotten interested in the Great Race and decided to do it after talking to Great Racers at a stop in Binghamton NY. He had gone on a couple of races but car and health issues kept him from finishing. I was honored when he asked me to go with him in 2003.
We got ready by competing in a couple of regional rallies in Millville, NJ and Millsboro, DE, and didn’t have a lot of success. The Great Race from Livonia MI to Daytona, FL was to be our “once in a lifetime” adventure. And in order to keep my memories of this adventure as vivid as possible I decided to record a journal of the trip. Some of this may seem a little foreign if you’ve never rallied in this format, and looking back not all of my conclusions were accurate.

But to say we had a good time was an understatement. I’ll admit I’ve been bitten by the rally bug, having been to more than 20 weekend events as a participant, volunteer and even Rallymaster!
I hope you enjoy this account, and if you’ve never given it a try I hope this gives you the courage to do it.

Joseph Roche
2003 Great Race Navigator, Car 86
PS, I am running the 2013 Great Race in Car 53. I hope to see you on the course!

Getting ready and travelling to Livonia MI
Man what a time we had getting going. I spent the whole last week with something else pressing when I should have been helping Pops with the car. We finally got out and ran some times last Saturday, and while we were running 40 MPH stops we started hearing a ‘clunking’ from under the car. Luckily we had most of the low speed runs done before, so we packed it in and headed for the shop.
The noise was in the rear end, so we decided to pull it out and check everything. We pulled it out, looked it all over, pronounced it fine and put it back in. Hopefully all will be fine for the race.
Then Pops decided to change a leaking water pump. He had ordered some new pumps from an outfit in California but they were backordered. He had some other new pumps on hand and we put them in.
We buttoned the car up, fixed some other problems and went out to run our times to complete our performance chart.

Everything was working fine, but when we were done and back in the shop the car was leaking water. Pops crawled under the car and played with the lower hose until the leak stopped. We went home for the night. This was Monday, June 16th.

I came in the shop in the morning. I was going to wash and wax and all that stuff. I decided to bring the car to my house for the wash. When I brought it back water was running out from the same radiator hose. We looked at it again and saw it was really the new pump that was leaking – the one we just put on a few days ago!

We pulled it off and rebuilt it with a kit Pops had in stock, but now we were concerned. The pump on the left side was the same as the pump on the right, and that one was leaking after an hour. We didn’t have any more parts, and we were leaving the next day.

Pops called a place called Macs Antique Auto Parts in Niagara Falls area. They said they had pumps in stock, so we decided to drive there on the way to Detroit. We packed the car and the chase truck and went home to get some sleep for the long drive ahead.

7AM and we were ready to hit the trail. We figured about a 12 hour ride, going through Canada. About noon we showed up at Mac’s. Long story short, the counter guy let us know the pumps he had in stock were ‘substandard’, so we bought a couple of rebuild kits instead and headed out for Canada.
The trip through Niagara Falls into Canada then on to Detroit went without event. We got into the hotel about 7pm last night. Race check in was already closed, so we headed out for the Open House at Jack Rousch’s place. We were very tired from the long ride so we only stayed a few minutes. We grabbed some dinner at a local Ground Round and headed back to the hotel.

This morning we got up and got an early breakfast. Check in started at 8 and we were the first ones in the door. We got checked through right away and headed for the tech inspection area. While standing there I got chatting with a few other competitors. Someone asked where I was from and when I said ‘north of Scranton PA’ another fellow came over and asked me to clarify. It turned out he was from a town a few miles from my home!

They were also running in the Great Race for the first time in an old green Ford truck. We told them what we went through getting here and they offered their trailer, parts, tires, etc. Very nice people. They are complete rookies, having never been to a regional event or anything. We talked for a long time about how the race works. I gave them a copy of my performance chart, since they had nothing. I am sitting outside their trailer as they are installing their Timewise speedometer. They will probably kick our buts!

We leave tomorrow for Michigan International Speedway, then Saturday for Lima OH where our support crew will meet us.

I realized sometime this afternoon we had some carburetor problems, too. I didn’t want to leave that out. We do have a spare carb, so I’m not worried.

We spent the afternoon putzing around, talking to other racers. We were going to do a calibration run, but we only had 45 minutes to Rally School. We would say ‘Let’s go!’, then not go. We went to rally school and again were going to do the speedo calibration, but the Mayors reception starts in ½ hour. We went to the reception and got bored, so we decided to do the calibration after all. We were PERFECT for the 7 miles the run covered, but what a busy highway to hold 50MPH. The speed limit was 70; and trying to hold 50MPH, mark the signs, and watch traffic was too much for the driver to do by himself.
We promised a ride to the guys from Forest City’s support crew. They will get to see how we do the run, and they will get to go around the track with us. It will be a little hard, but we might need them later…

We start just over 12 hours from now and I am excited to get back on the clock and try out all the ideas I’ve had since last October in Delaware. Hopefully we get a good start!

Friday, June 20, 2003
Stage 0
Trophy Run to Brooklyn, MI and Michigan Int’l Speedway
We had plenty of time before our start, because we had the 89th slot. Pops and I spent the morning cleaning the windows, checking the car over, and talking to people around the hotel.
You get to pick up your instructions 20 minutes before your start time. I took a few minutes to check them over and then headed out.

Our speedometer calibration run took us down I275 in heavy traffic. We were slow over the first 15 minutes, then traffic got so heavy we kept not getting the signs. My theory is that the extra weight in the back seat squashed the rear tires, making them act like they were underinflated.
We got to the start with plenty of time to spare, so I got out to do the math. I was already anxious about having to make up 7 seconds every 15 minutes.

It was time to start. We rolled up to the spot and Pops mashed the pedal. There was a very loud noise coming from the engine compartment. We didn’t know what it could be, so we pulled off to the side of the road and lifted the hood. I didn’t see anything, and the noise seemed to have gone away.
We got back in and started off again but the noise was definitely still there. Out we went again, but this time we found that the radiator overflow hose has come loose and was getting into the fan, but only at high RPMs. Easy fix. I stuffed the hose under the overflow tank and off we went, attempting to hack our way back into competition.

Traffic was still very heavy. We made up time where we could but we were about 10 minutes back. We didn’t do anything dangerous, but we had a ton of time to make up.

We stayed on course, caught the cars we needed to, and got back in line just in time to cross the first check point. (or so we thought!)

Out and around we went. We stayed on course but we were so keyed up from the start it took a while to calm down. We had mistakes, got anxious and crazy and everything. We missed some instructions but managed to stay on course.

Lunch time was at the speedway, where we got to take a lap around the big track. I couldn’t believe they let us out on the banking! I figured we would only be allowed on the apron.

The afternoon started much better. We had time to relax and the instructions were coming much easier. Then, while going around a turn our trunk flew open and all the tools flew out. We stopped and gathered what we could, but again we were more than a few minutes behind.

Luckily, the car 2 minutes behind us was a very good car. We decided to hack again and got going, only to miss another instruction (I had neglected to cross off the instruction where we lost the tools). We had only gone a few yards, so we turned around and got back on course. We passed the good car and started to make up the time. We got about a minute back and passed the checkpoint. We had to take our medicine…

The last leg had a transit in it, and traffic was so heavy it took us longer than the allotted time to transit the area. Then when we got back to competition a large dump truck made a slow left turn in front of us, costing even more time. Plus, another competitor was a few seconds in front of us, so making up any more time was impossible.

At the end of the day we got our scores. It turned out that somewhere along the line while we were trying to make up for our bad start we passed a checkpoint and didn’t see it. We were still about 3 minutes back and were still making up the time. When we went through what we thought was the first checkpoint we were now 3 minutes fast. We got double points against us. We lost another minute because of the tool trouble, and 4 more due to the crowded transit/dump truck.
The other legs were pretty good – a total of 17 seconds and an ACE! All together we had a miserable 6:24, good for 75th place.

Now we head to dinner and I try to put all this behind us. The real race starts tomorrow, and all of what happened today is gone and means nothing. I am putting a lot of pressure on myself to do well and I guess is shows. I need to relax!
6:15PM EDT

Saturday, June 21 2003
Stage 1 – Lima, OH
Beautiful bright sunny day in Livonia! We had to leave the hotel about 9:15 to get the car to the sendoff ceremony. Nothing exceptional happened. There was a nice car show and lots of people around. I actually had a good case of nerves as we staged to go through the starting gate.

We went out and found our way out onto the highway and started our speedometer calibration. We were about 15 minutes in, following another car about 20 seconds in front of us when another competitor decided to pull onto the highway right in front of us. There was no reason for that, but we were still about 10 seconds behind them.

Then we realized they were slow. We were catching them at a pretty good pace, and traffic was heavy enough that we couldn’t get out in the middle lane to go around him. So we bagged a leg or 2, got around him and back in line and completed the last ½ hour of calibration. We found we were 6 seconds fast per hour – a lot better than :28 slow from the day before!

We were feeling nice and relaxed as we started our run. The team that caused us grief during the calibration run was supposed to go 2 minutes before us, but he wound up leaving about 10 minutes early. We had been concerned because we knew he was running slow and figured he’d be messing with us again, but now that was averted.

Our first leg went without incident. We felt really good (but were :03 late.) We had a tea stop at a classic car place in Bowling Green, OH. Some rare and race cars were on display.
Our second leg was going well when we missed a turn. I knew it was a ‘Comes Quick’, but missed it when it counted. We recovered somewhat, but the check point was only a few miles up the road and we were :22 late.

In the third leg we had to go through a stop light. Pops and I disagreed on how to handle it, and we got pretty hot. We wound up :09 late. BTW, he was right…

Leg 4 got thrown out due to heavy traffic in a construction zone. I was pretty busy but I think we recovered well. Unfortunately we will never know.

My wife Patti and my Mother-In-Law Johanne will meet us tonight in Lima OH. No offense to Pops, but Patti makes a better roommate!

Tomorrow we head for Indianapolis. Should be fun! We are looking forward to improving on our :33 overall time.
8:24PM EDT

Sunday June 22, 2003
Stage 2 – Indianapolis
Indy! We ended the day with a lap around the Brickyard. It sure is exciting to come around turn 4 and enter the front stretch. We were only doing 60, but imagine 230+!

We had a better day today, but it sure didn’t start off great. We followed our instructions out of the hotel to find the speedo calibration run. Somehow we made a wrong turn and wound up on the right road but in the wrong spot. We still haven’t figured out what happened, but it all worked out.

It was a bright sunny day and we started out in a good mood. Our :33 from yesterday helped my confidence. We know what happened. The trick will be how to fix it.

Our first and second legs went without incident. We could see the car in front of us, and the car behind us as well. Everything looked right! The 3rd leg went smoothly as well. At the end of the 3rd leg we had an :11 day going (not that we knew that at the time!)

Sometime into the 4th leg we had a series of stop, go straight at 40mph. We repeated the same instruction quite a few times. But somehow I got off by one instruction. Finally the last STOP sign we were supposed to go straight out at 35MPH and we were looking for a Railroad Crossing sign. It was panic time when we came to another stop sign. I looked back and sure enough I had skipped one.

Since the car behind us was a good one, we did a ‘reverse hack’. We calculated we were about :40 slow and started making it up. We came to the Railroad Crossing sign and entered a transit without seeing a check point. What luck! I did a little math and figured out a starting time that made up the rest of our delay. I felt pretty good when the car in front of us left about a minute before we did.

The rest of the leg was quiet. We got to the lunch stop and I bumped into the driver of the car behind us. He said he thought we left on the wrong minute. My confidence was dashed again!! Oh well, I though. There goes our good day.

We started off after lunch on a short rally. Things went pretty well. After the first checkpoint there was a closed road, and the rest of the afternoon was cancelled.

When we got into Indy we got to take a lap around the track, then came into the finish. We found out we had a :49 for the day! The only bad score was leg 4, when I screwed up the instructions. Other than that we had a :03 :04 :06 and :05. I’ll take those all day.

I plan on swimming in the hotel after having a real dinner. It’s been hamburgers and hot dogs for 5 days. Yuck!

Tomorrow is St Louis, with a party under the arch. Looking forward to another good day. I feel better about this all the time!
6:36:40 EDT (MARK!)
…about to change to CDT!

Monday June 23 2003
Stage 3 – St Louis
The end of the 3rd stage finds us in St Louis, MO. We held Park Ferme at Union Station. Pretty nice, but it is hot and muggy tonight.

Today was the longest day yet. We were remembering Wayne Stansfield’s 3 ‘S’s today”
1. Start on time
2. Stay on course
3. Stay on Time

We started on time today – that is good! As we ran the first leg another car was in our way, but we didn’t panic. We dealt with it. We backed off 7 seconds and started to make them up when we spotted the checkpoint. There was nothing else we could do, so we got back to speed and went through. It turned out we were :06 late. We could have aced that leg!

The leg ended early because they were repaving a road, so we headed for the morning pit stop. We restarted for the second leg – this was a long ride through cornfields. Lots of timed instructions. One was over 5 minutes! We thought we were right on time, but wound up :27 late. I still don’t know why, so I don’t know if there’s anything to fix.

Lunch was a little town called Marshall, IL. Very nice town!

The afternoon runs were pretty rough. We were doing 40MPH on some twisty little farm roads. We held everything together as people who had gotten off course were passing us to get back in line. We found out that many people had problems today. We felt pretty good because we didn’t miss anything at all!
Our last 2 legs were :07 and :07(early) for a total of :43 on the day. I was quite disappointed when we got the scores, but aside from whatever happened on leg 2 we were pretty good.

I can only hope things start clicking for us. We are getting consistent and stayed on course all day. That is the key to getting the scores we are looking for.

Tomorrow is a trip to Springfield, MO. Is this to be our day? Tune in to find out!
9:56:56PM CDT

Tuesday June 24, 2003
Stage 4 – Springfield, MO
It wasn’t easy but we finally got our :20 day. It was a scorcher too. I saw a thermometer in one town reading 97*. The air was so wet you could swim! I thought sure we would be rallying in a thunderstorm, but no rain.

I don’t want to be short, but we had 2 legs where nothing happened to us. There was a scary spot – a timed instruction that included a one lane bridge – the kind of bridge where the first car there has the right of way. We were lucky – nothing was coming. We heard Jim Feeney wasn’t as lucky. They were on the bridge when two ladies entered from the other side. They wouldn’t move, so the Feenys had to back up and let the ladies cross. I don’t know how they did it, but they wound up with a :25.
Our morning pit stop was in Sullivan, MO. It is a charming little town – reminds me of my hometown of Callicoon, NY.

The second leg brought us into a little town called St James. We were dealing with a slow car in front of us and running along parallel to a 4 lane highway. Apparently a sign very similar to the one we were looking for was on that highway. It met the criteria for the instruction, and many people were confused. I guess we got lucky – we didn’t see it because of the slow car! (We got a :02 for the leg)
Lunch was in Rolla, MO. Another very nice town. They met us with chicken barbeque, baked beans and potato salad. They also served Route 66 Beer – a very good rootbeer. I will have to get some to bring home.

The afternoon was interesting. We had a series of long timed instructions. Our second to last instruction of the afternoon was confusing to me. It looked like this:

Because there was no speed change going in I wasn’t sure if the time portion started at the sign or at the intersection. At the break I quizzed some of the other navigators and got a mixed decision. Some did the sign, some did the turn. I did the sign.
The next instruction was to find a sign that said:

We found one that said:

I marked the time and looked for the next instruction. We drove for a while and later found the ‘right’ sign. We were still confused – which one was correct? Again, a poll of the other navigators at the pit gave mixed results. Some were using the first, some the second. Some never saw the first sign at all! The restart was a mess with cars all over each other.

Later in the leg we were running long timed instructions. We caught a truck hauling a tractor on a flatbed trailer. He wasn’t racing along, that’s for sure! We couldn’t get around him, and he was holding us up. We kept our cool, and ran the timed sections as best as we could. We kept catching the truck at the end of the sections. Each time we cut our speed down to 50%. We were 30 seconds behind when we followed the truck through the check point.

The stage wasn’t over, and we were still behind the truck. Our last timed instruction started just past the checkpoint, and the truck had slowed drastically. We were supposed to be doing 40, but we caught the truck doing 20. Luckily, the run ended without another check point, so I didn’t have to figure that out!

All in all, :03, :02, :07 and :09. Our first :20 day and things seem to be coming together for us. I’m sure the numbers look good to those checking back home anyway!

Tomorrow we go to Arkansas. I guess there are some mountains to climb!
10:38:05 CDT

Wednesday June 25 2003
Stage 5 – Ft Smith, AR
The days are starting to blur together. I had to look at yesterday’s entry to see what today is, and then I had to ask Patti where we are. I can usually keep my head about where I am, but today I have no clue!

We always seem to start on busy roads. I have heard lots of complaints about this, but because it’s my first run I have nothing to compare it to. But when the start of a leg is a sign that reads ‘Dangerous Intersection’, well something might be wrong.

Anyway, we had a brief run in the morning after a lengthy speedo calibration, then a long transit to the ‘Dangerous Intersection’. Along the way we watched a car go off course during the transit. Then Stanley Jones came up from behind, pulled in front of us, and proceeded on past the instructed exit. Then a blue Ford racer was supposed to turn left but went straight. 3 people went off course in front of us in a matter of 5 minutes!

The restart came and we went through a hilly housing development. Everyone called is a ‘maze’. One of the instructions told us to turn left onto ‘Boxford Dr’, but it was a dirt road. There was a marker there, so we turned in. It turned out that we were right, but were so surprised to be on that road (it wasn’t really even a road, it was a path through the woods) that I forgot to tell Pops to change speed to 10. I had recorded the time when we went in, so I knew how much time we needed to recover. But lots of people were upset about the road, and I know one guy who just went home.

After lunch we went to the restart. It was on a VERY busy road. When it was our turn to go there was a dump truck going by. There was another one coming and we tried to make it in between them. That was a big mistake because the first truck wasn’t going fast enough for us to get up to speed before we caught him.

By the time we figured out we were screwed we were in a long line of traffic. It was about 15 minutes before we could mark a spot we could pull off and lose the time we needed. It was really all we could do. And we were already 8 instructions into the leg.

Our afternoon pit stop was in Fayetteville, a sleepy town somewhere in AR, but I have no idea where! As we pulled into town we were handed a souvenir Arkansas map. We aren’t allowed to have maps in the car, but I took one so as not to appear rude.

The last legs started in another busy section. There was a trick sign – it was 2 road numbers side by side. A bit earlier we passed a sign with the same 2 roads, one over top of the other. We passed that and found the right one, but many people were fooled.

Later in the run we came to an intersection and were told to change speed, stop, turn right, turn left and change speed all in about 30 seconds. I had it covered until another car came out from the other side of the intersection on our second! We figured they had gotten off course and would soon pull away but they didn’t.

After a while we decided to lose time and get 10 seconds back from them (10 seconds is significant because you can take time delays in 10 second increments). We followed the car through a checkpoint, then a few more instructions, and to a stop sign where we were to turn left. They turned right, and we figured that was the last of them.

We continued following our instructions and wound up at the same intersection again, coming from where the other car had come from. We were running the same section of road again! Also, we weren’t mad at the other car any more – they were running on their own time. But… I think they must have started at the wrong sign. I am curious how they did in the leg..

Then we went over the mountain! We came down this twisty, windy valley road, eventually slowing to 12 as we went through a park and campsite at the bottom. Then we climbed up the other side at 15, through some more timed sections, and done.

All in all another good day. We started on time and stayed on course for the 3rd straight day. Our times were :02 :10 :4 :10 :05 :07 and :08 (the :05 was a :15 but they allowed us the time delay) :46 for the day, and our factor should bring it to :45 or :44. I know a lot of teams had 2+ minute legs today, so I feel really good about staying on course.

Tomorrow is a long drive to Texas and finally a day off. Until then…
11:05:22 CDT

Thursday June 26 2003
Stage 6 – Grapevine, TX
Rain was forecast for most of the area it looked like we were going through today. Well, because I don’t know where I am most of the time I had to guess. We ran into a little shower during the calibration run, but that was about it.

Today was mostly higher speed runs with lots of times instructions. We had an incident at the end of the first leg where we had to cross some railroad tracks and catch a sign on the other side to start a pit stop. Well go figure, a train was going through. I timed the stop and waited for the train to pass by. We also waited for traffic to go before we started so we could get to the proper speed.

Long story short, a pickup slowed as we took off and took an unbelievably long time making a right hand turn. We couldn’t get up to speed and passed the sign at the wrong speed.

I had all the numbers though, and did the math to figure out that the whole deal cost us 28 seconds. Then I added that to the time we crossed the sign.

I am going to try to make this clear so I can understand this later. I had the error time and I had the time we actually passed the sign. I should have SUBTRACTED that, showing we got there 28 seconds earlier. And the problem was that 28 seconds made the time sound reasonable, even though we were now almost a minute late. I was ready to start off at the wrong minute.

I decided to check my math though. I found out that a lot of people had timed the trip from the tracks to the sign at :26. I used that number and hacked a new start time for the restart (still on the wrong minute though). We started and were in another long run when I realized my mistake. I went back and redid the math again and found I had the right number, I just did the wrong thing with it. It all worked out in the end though, we got a :03 and :06 for the 2 legs.

Then the good news, my first ACE! And the best part is it was an honest ace, and we had more problems and dealt with them correctly. The ace leg was 1:13:35 long and only 11 instructions. That is a long time to run and be perfect. The funniest part is we corrected twice for the speedometer and I joked that I was going to be mad if that cost me the ace.

We had another crazy restart. Heavy traffic got in our way at the start, and then we almost made a wrong turn. We corrected both and came in with a :05, for a stage total of :14! That is by far our best day.

Tomorrow is my anniversary, so I asked the PA guy (Motormouth) to announce it. They had me out of the car when I saw the :14 and I got caught up. I never got back in the car to actually cross the finish line. I don’t know if that is a violation or not. I haven’t seen the final standings yet. I will feel really bad if I screwed up a great day.

So where was I today? I have only some vague ideas. We started in Ft Smith, rallied to Poteu, AR, then Antlers, OK. Lunch was in Paris, TX, then Denison, TX (birthplace of Dwight D Eisenhower, who knew?), Sherman, TX, then the finish in Grapevine, TX.

Oops I almost forgot! Poteu is extremely proud to have the worlds highest hill. Apparently it is 1” too short to be a mountain.

After the reception and a really loud crowded dinner in a downtown bar we headed back to the hotel at the airport. On the way up the stairs from the parking garage my back suddenly went out. Luckily it happened the night before the day off, but happy anniversary to me!

I am writing this in a bit of pain, and I hope a good nights sleep will make my back better…
10:32:10 CDT

Saturday June 28 2003
Stage 7 – Hot Springs AR
After a day off I feel refreshed. Well, a little refreshed anyway. We did some maintenance to the car yesterday. We were going to change the oil but really weren’t prepped for that. So we did a few minor things and then took off to see the town and do some shopping. We had an anniversary dinner in the Rain Forest Café (yesterday was our 16th).

This morning we started off for Hot Springs. Our calibration run took us to the outskirts of Dallas, then north and east away from the city towards Texarkana. We had a stop in a little town called Sulpher Springs, then started off on a ’short’ rally. Our first leg was about 1:20 long with only a few instructions. We emerged and headed for our lunch stop in Texarkana. The first leg and transit were over 3 hours, and that was after an hour of speedo calibration. That’s a long way to go – I figure it was easily over 200 miles before lunch.

Texarkana is an interesting place. It has obviously seen better days. There is an abandoned hotel in the middle of State Line Ave where we had our lunch stop. They apparently are going to rebuild it, but it looks really bad right now. I don’t know why they put us in front of that.

After lunch we rallied to Hope, AR, about ½ hour up the road. There were literally 4 instructions on the leg – start at 40, increase to 50, slow to 35 for 1m12s, then back to 50 and finish. We should have aced both morning legs, but wound up with a :07 and :03. Hope is another ‘nice’ town, if you know what I mean. It is the birthplace of Bill Clinton, and is apparently famous for its watermelon. The watermelon is very good though…

The leg after Hope was long and brutal. All together it was about 2:45 in the car with no breaks. It was 61 instructions long and punctuated by 3 checkpoints. It was a lot of long runs and some turns, a few hard to find maneuvers and some dastardly intersections. It was really grueling, even though it wasn’t as hot as it has been it was still in the upper 80s. I was having trouble staying focused after the long boring runs of the morning.

Good news, we were on course for the 7th straight day, not missing a sign or instruction all day. I hear there were some really high scores, but I don’t have the results yet. All in all we had a :07 :03 :06 :01 and :22 for a stage total of :39, :38 after our factor. We were disappointed after seeing the :22 leg, but we don’t know what happened. It was our 3rd worst leg of the race, but still under a minute – which is my daily goal after staying on course.

The party in Hot Springs was pretty mild, but I don’t know, maybe I’m getting jaded. Or maybe this whole area of the country needs a nice federal grant or something.

Tomorrow we go to Germantown, TN, which is just east of Memphis. I was hoping to get to BB King’s restaurant, but I see how it has gone at every other stop and I doubt I will be able to. I am starting to count the days until the end, too. It has been a long race, and all kidding aside it really has been no vacation. It is hard to go for 12 hours a day and focus the whole time. At least I have something to do. I don’t know how drivers keep their sanity!
10:19:56 CDT
2 more days until EDT again!

Sunday June 29 2003
Stage 8 – Germantown TN
Whew! A hot one today but it started out cool. Our speedo calibration showed us 10 seconds slow in 28 minutes. We decided to try something new and make the speedo difference up during the day.

We started out in the rolling hills of the Ozarks. A relatively easy mix of speed changes and turns characterized the morning run. The afternoon was another series of long runs, and man did it get hot! The thermometer in the car showed 110* after sitting in the sun at our lunch stop.

So where were we today? Our morning pit stop was in Petite Jean Mountain. I saw Bill Clinton’s Mustang, and one of Elvis’ cars. There were plenty of cars to see, but we were on a tight schedule.
Lunch was in a bigger town called Searcy. They served fried catfish for lunch. I just had some baked beans and fries.

The afternoon pit was in Wynne, another sleepy Arkansas town.

So how’d we do? Another ace! Then we were fast, fast, fast, fast. My only theory is we made up what the speedo error was in the morning with relatively cold tires and low speeds. Then it got hot and the car sped up – and we were still making up the time. On the afternoon run we gained :30 and had legs of :09 and :10. I figure a roughly even split we should have been :06 and :05 late had we not messed with the speedo, but then we probably wouldn’t have had the ace. All in all a good day, :32 total.

8 stages complete and we still haven’t gone off course. There aren’t many teams that can say that – even some of the teams that are in front of us. Tight now we get to throw away 3 stages – :51, :44 and :46. The team in front of us is tossing a 1:31. And the team in front of them is throwing out a 1:40 and 1:14. Also, our factor is still hurting us – we have to beat ‘em to tie ‘em, and there are plenty of teams in front of us that have worse ‘before factor’ scores. We would be 3rd place in Rookie if we were eligible.

Tomorrow is a long day, after a great party in Germantown and a soak in the hotel’s hot tub I am ready for a snooze. 5:00AM is going to come way too early tomorrow.
10:48:13 CDT
Back to EDT tomorrow!

Monday June 30 2003
Stage 9 – Chatanooga TN
Today was a long day. We decided it was time to adjust to our perception of what the tires were doing. We were going to go by what the calibration showed until the sun came out. So today it showed we were 3 slow in 23 minutes. We decided to round to 3 in 20.

The weather was cloudy with patchy rain. It stayed cool for the first 2 legs and into lunch. It looked like it might clear up for the afternoon. BTW, the morning pit was in Corinth, MS – my first time in that state. I realize I have neglected to mention all the other states I’ve never been in, so here goes: Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Alabama. I’ve been in all the other states before.

Anyway, Corinth was a nice town affair setup. As I was looking around I found someone selling ‘Slugburger’ t-shirts. Apparently Corinth is famous for Slugburgers, which is hamburger and some sort of filler formed into a patty and deep fried. Sounds tempting… NOT!

Lunch was in Florence, AL, another new state! It was OK, except lunch was the buffet at the local pizza joint. While we were inside yakking about the morning run, the rains came. It rained as hard as I’ve ever seen it rain anywhere. We remembered leaving the windows of the race car open and I made a dash for it. Of course, we were parked about 3 blocks away. I was soaked! We made a dash for the afternoon start, figuring the transit would take longer because it was raining so hard, and we were right.

We ran the 3rd leg just trying to stay on course, which we did. For most of the time we thought we were actually fast, but the scores really didn’t reflect that. The rain slowly let up and leg 4 wasn’t nearly as bad. We were pretty confident that we would have a pretty good day because we got through the rain so well.

We figured the rain would keep the tires cold and we adjusted all day, and we were still slow. We are seriously thinking about running nitrogen in the tires. It isn’t as susceptible to temperature change as air.

The afternoon pit was in Fayetteville, TN. On the trek to Chattanooga the skies opened up again. It was a 99 mile transit and we were not making very good time. For those of you reading this who have never been around old cars, remember this: heaters and windshield defoggers are a relatively recent development. We were much better off than those in the open cars, but we still got wet and couldn’t see anything!

The party in Chattanooga was pretty much a washout. It would have been nice, the place was right on the river and was really top notch. When we rolled through the gate we found out we had a :48 and were really disappointed. :09 and :10 late on the first 2 legs were a surprise, but :27 late on the rain leg was a real surprise. To make the puzzle complete, we were early at the end.

I have no answers right now. I don’t think we made any mistakes, but it only takes 1 to ruin a good day.

We are staying at the Holiday Inn. It is housed in a refurbished train station and is really a unique place,. You can even stay in a train car. I wish I’d have known that! Tonight we went to the bar and bumped into our new friends from Forest City. We shot the breeze pretty good. I can’t believe they are from my area! It is pretty cool.

On the way out of the bar someone asked me how we did today and we got talking. He asked me if we were going to run again next year. I think I would like to, but I think Pops is done. Maybe I can go as support crew, or maybe someone will want me to navigate. Anyway, he mentioned that we have been really good, and I guess I was so caught up in the minutia again that I lost sight of the big picture. This is stage 9 and even in the heavy rain we stayed on course and still scored under a minute. It’s one of our worst stages, and really wasn’t that bad. It beat our best day in Millsboro by :40! We have been really consistent. We have 2 days to get better, and then Championship Day – Stage 12. Whatever we got on that day we have to keep. Our 7 best stages 1-11 and stage 12 make up our overall score, and we are still in the middle of the pack. I have to keep reminding myself this is my first race.

OK. I have had 2 margaritas and am ready for bed. Tomorrow we go 370.89 miles to Concord, NC. We leave at 7:52 so I need my beauty sleep. Plus we are back on EDT so I lost an hour as well!
11:06:12 EDT

Tuesday July 1 2003
Stage 10 – Concord NC
Hurricane Bill is upon us. It rained all day and visibility was poor. Our goal was to make it through the day as safe as possible, to finish first and do well second.

The run started off the same as all others. Our speedo calibration had us 11 slow in 30 minutes. I took what I learned from the last few days and applied it to today’s run over the smoky mountains.
By the way, this would have been a great road to travel in sunny weather, but in the rain it was downright dangerous. The instructions had us going around turns with 500 foot drop-offs at the posted speed on the various warning signs. Those signs are great for sunny days and modern cars. We should have been going slower.

The mountain we climbed went through an Indian reservation and a national (or maybe a state) park. It was downright gorgeous at times. Apparently there was a sign at the top that said 5,000 feet. It was quite a hill.

We had some long runs at speeds like 28MPH, and when I say long I mean it. We did 3 speedo corrections while looking for our next instruction. That is at least 30 minutes peering around corners and maintaining a constant speed.

We came down the other side of the hill and started a transit to Maggie Valley NC for our lunch stop at the “Wheels Through Time” museum with lots of nice cars and many rare motorcycles. While we were there we were informed that there was a bad accident further up the route and our afternoon legs were cancelled. So instead of more rallying we started a 200 mile transit.

We didn’t know what to expect from our score. Pops thought we might have been slow going over the hill. There was another car right on our rear bumper, but they were notoriously fast. When we got our score and found out we had a :45 leg going over the hill we were really surprised. I was gaining time because of the day before, and I figured we’d be fast.

Later I talked to one of the expert competitors who told me she worked her butt off on the hill because her tires ‘squat’ under 35MPH and she has to make adjustments when we run slow. This bolsters my theory that we are having tire issues, and I will try to explain that with my rudimentary understanding of what we are going through.

When the days were hot and sunny we were right on, except for the day we had passengers. On the day we calibrated at 35 is was cool and sunny. It got hot later but it started cool. In the rain at 50 we were 20-30 slow and usually we started OK and dropped off.

As tires rotate they generate heat, and also absorb it from the road and air. The hotter the tire the higher the air pressure, and that makes the tires taller, which makes the car go farther on each rotation of the wheel. They balloon out when hot, and shrink again when they cool off.

Almost every calibration run has a tire warmup period, and we usually run there at over 55 MPH, then slow to 50 and run the course. My theory is we put heat in the tires at 60mph, and if goes out in cooler weather as we slow down. So today when the calibration showed 11 slow in 30 minutes, when we were running low speeds I was using the 30 slow number from our 35MPH calibration run. When we were going faster I used the 22.

On the first leg I gained 10 and we wound up :05 early. Looking back, we ran lots of 40-45 runs and some 25-35 runs as well. I probably should have used the smaller number more.

The second leg was very slow up the hill, then faster down the back side. I used the bigger number and gained 30 seconds,, and still wound up :45 late. It’s better than the 1:15 we would have had if we did nothing, but the :45 had me stumped until I talked to the expert. If our tires squat like hers we would have been even slower than I thought.

I really think changing to nitrogen would help our ballooning issues, but then we have to figure out the squat, and I really don’t know if I want to get that technical.

Anyway, the hurricane is now a storm, and rain is forecast for tomorrow’s run to Savannah. We are hoping for a good day. I guess when you look at today’s run and realize we stayed on course again you could say we were successful. We beat some good teams and finished in under a minute, but when you have a :45 leg and finish with a :54 it’s a hard pill to swallow.

The interesting thing is I thought I was finally getting a handle on this thing, only to find out there are many things I would probably have never thought of, including squatting tires.

OK. Enough is enough. It is late again. I am trying to adjust to eastern time but 2 weeks in Central tims has me an hour behind. We get instructions at 8:07 tomorrow and we have to grab breakfast first. 2 more stages to go. I am beat!
10:32:19 EDT

Wednesday July 2 2003
Stage 11 – Savannah GA
I figured I would try something different today – I am writing this on the transit to the finish line.
Today started off cold and rainy, but it looked like the sun was trying to push through. We had a weird calibration run. We were 6 seconds slow in 20 minutes but for the last 30 we held that 6 seconds. The road was drying out so I figure we were getting some heat in the tires.

We started the rally on another busy highway and immediately turned off onto some way less busy roads. Why can’t we start there? We decided to run the start sign. It is an easy thing to do – you just pass the sign at the speed you’re supposed to be going and if you go by early you’re fast, and late you’re slow. You know EXACTLY what to make up.

The first leg was mostly 40-50MPH, so I went with today’s calibration number. But by the time the leg was over the sun came out so I figured I would go back to some hot day numbers. I was gaining 6 seconds an hour by lunch, and I hope that was the right call.

Our lunch stop was at Darlington Motor Speedway, where we got to take a couple of laps around the track. Those high banks are scary in a 50+ year old car, and we were doing about 70. It was pretty exciting.
The afternoon rally was a busy one. I had a lot of math to do. There were lots of speed turns and a few odd instructions. When it was over I had a headache! I was looking back through those pages and was noticing how many calculations I made. I hope we came out OK. Lots of other cars had gotten off course but we stayed on again. We only had a few bobbles, like a turn across a bust highway with a checkpoint a few seconds up the road. I don’t think that was fair. The afternoon pit was in a little town called Waterboro, NC. Nice place, good people, good cookies!

We are transiting to Savannah, GA. It’s about 90 miles but my exit is only 3 away now.. More later!
7:09:05PM EDT

OK, I got the scores. I was a little disappointed but not too surprised at our :44. During our second leg we saw a turn too late to make it. We stopped, backed up and got back on time. We noticed we were running really close to the car in front of us, but we knew they weren’t really a good team so we didn’t worry about it. Later I was looking at what I wrote down and realized I may have misread my handwriting. I caught the time we went past the intersection and wrote what looked like :32. We got back on course at :11 and I thought we were :39 slow, which we made up. :39 now seems like a long time, but how long does it take to stop from 45, back up that distance, make the turn, and get back to 45 again? I realize the :32 could have been a :52 written in haste while we were doing all that braking and shifting. We wound up :27 early, and probably :20 of that is my mistake.

The :08 late in the 3rd led is from us trying to cross that busy highway at instruction 100. My note there says :08 slow, and we were just starting to make that up when we got to the checkpoint. I gained :03 in the 4th led. I guess by then we didn’t need it anymore because the sun was out and the roads were dry.

In all I can account for :31 of our :45, and woulda coulda shoulda had a :14, and maybe a shot at an ace or 2. Oh well.

Later I was talking to Bill bowman, who said he might call me up to navigate for him next year. I was thrilled at the very ideas of someone noticing our 11 stage record of under 1:00 scores and never getting off course. Who knows, with a sports car and some training maybe we could do well. If not it would definitely be fun!

Tomorrow is the big finale: Championship day. Everyone is telling me how tough it will be. Pops says he wants me to stop timing our maneuvers and use the performance chart we have. I don’t think I could make that switch now. He doesn’t drive like he did when we made the chart, and I have a system down. I don’t want to change that, it is already working.

But being concerned about how busy tomorrow will be I asked Bill what he thought it would be like. He said it won’t be too bad, don’t change a thing. I guess I’ll sink or swim doing what I know.

Thursday July 3 2003
Stage 12 – Lake Mary FL
Well, we did it. Championship day was a bit of a letdown because we didn’t get a terribly hard course today. I expected much worse and was actually nervous about getting through. The thing I didn’t know is we don’t get our scores today. We have to wait until tomorrow night to see how we did.
But the course was OK. We went 390+ miles and it took 12 hours. But we stayed on course and only had a few problems that we were able to recover from. We had a few mental lapses that cost us here and there, but overall I think we did well.

This is going to be a short entry. I’m exhausted. Tomorrow we caravan to the Grand Finish at Daytona Beach. I will write more then…
10:32:50 EDT

July 9 2003
Conclusion – Harrisonburg VA
OK, I lied. It took me a few days to get back and complete this journal. The good news is we had another ace and 3 other good legs. Then there were 2 :14 early. I can explain the second one – we were going through a loop to the same checkpoint as #2, and we rushed to get out in front of another car we thought was on our second. It turned out we were on theirs! Oh well, that’s racing!

I didn’t look back to see if I wrote any of this yet, and the details don’t much matter anyway. I do know I gained :33 seconds in the first leg and came up :03 fast. I dialed :10 more in the second and a few in the third. By the fourth leg the sun was out and we decided the tires were probably pumped up and hot, so we dialed back our factor and I guess it worked very well. I do remember putting in 1 second just before the last checkpoint though. Rate, that cost us an ace!

Our :32 was good for 15th on the day in sportsman class, and there were 4 teams in front of us with worse raw scores. We didn’t get off course again, and I heard lots of teams had trouble that day, including some experts.

We finished the race in 50th place overall but some teams didn’t make it to the finish in Daytona and we moved up to 47th. We did wind up beating every rookie team, and we were one of nine total teams that never had a minute day. There were only 4 sportsman cars in that camp. I feel really good about that!
With all the success I am a bit disappointed we didn’t finish higher. We always seemed to have that one leg that cost us a the :10 or less days, so we were only mediocre while keeping our daily scores down.
The finish at Ormond Beach was great. No one there cared about our little race, but we were at the beach and the water was fine! We did a little souvenir shopping then headed down to the beach for a photo op that basically wasted the rest of the day for us. I guess I should be used to that by now.
The grand finish was at the track at Daytona, where we were part of the pre-race events. And by pre-race I mean PRE- race. We did our thing 3 hours before the green flag. We did get to wander around the garage area for about 20 minutes before they called us back to our cars so we could bake in the sun for an hour before the ceremony. We bought tickets for the race, but we were so tired we left about 20 laps in. At least we didn’t get stuck in traffic!

The car was acting up on the way home from the beach on Friday, and it wasn’t any better on Sunday. We headed north and only got to Jacksonville before I had to pull over. The car wasn’t getting any gas. We had a fuel filter with us so we changed it, but still no gas at the carb. We hooked up an air compressor to the fuel line and blew something out back at the tank. When we tried the pump again we had plenty of gas, so we hit the highway and everything was fine all the way home to northeastern PA.
I drove the racecar home, got a few hours sleep and had to drive to Harrisonburg VA at 3AM the next morning for some work related training. I was about ½ way through the 6 hour drive when I hit the wall. I had to pull over for a short nap. I made it to my training session, got through the day and went to my hotel and crashed. I got 14 hours of sleep last night and I really feel better!

This was a really long grind, and I’m sure I don’t realize yet just how tired I really am. I know I am looking forward to being home for a few days before returning to work. The kids seem to have grown while I was gone and the lawn definitely did!

The big question is next year. I don’t know if I can do it again for a while. Like Pops said after least year, “if the deal is right…”

That’s it. There is no more to say. Thanks for your interest in this journal. I hope it was at least a little bit as interesting as the trip was!
10:21:02 EDT
The end!

5 comments about “Great Race Diary from 2003”

  • Thanks for the memories…one of my all time favorites…the year I got to announce at Daytona! A great journal!

  • This year Joe is my partner in car #53, i hope he has as much fun as he did in 2003! Thanks for the journal, great reading.

    • Hi Bob my name is Lloyd.I live in the uk .last year i bought a 1950 Pontiac streamliner which raced in the great . It still has the stickers on it. O the colour of the car is red.I have looked on the internet but with no joy .any ideas.many thanks from Lloyd

  • I was lucky enough to be on the winning X-Cup team in 2003 with my teacher Mr. Davis! That was the experience of a lifetime, and to have the halfway stop be in my neck of the woods in Grapevine, TX was icing on the cake! I’ll never forget all the amazing classic cars and the great racing teams who I competed with. Truly an amazing thing to be a part of!

  • Hi I live in the uk and have got a 1950 Pontiac streamliner that raced in the 2003 great race. Would anyone have any film of this car in this race many thanks from Lloyd.

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