The Great Race 2014 Road Trip Adventure: Two Dudes Chase 100 Vintage Cars from Maine to Florida in a Brand New Rental Suburban

The Great Race 2014 Road Trip Adventure: Two Dudes Chase 100 Vintage Cars from Maine to Florida in a  Brand New Rental Suburban

(Words and photos by Tommy Lee Byrd) – 

When I’m not hammering out articles for BangShift, or wrenching on an old car, I’m at my day job, which is a pretty good gig. I handle the photography, writing and most of the social media efforts at Coker Group, which is the parent company of Coker Tire, Honest Charley, Great Race and several other automotive-related businesses. Part of my job is to dedicate two weeks of the year to covering the Hemmings Motor News Great Race presented by Hagerty, which is a time, speed, endurance rally for vintage cars (1972 and earlier). It’s a crazy adventure that involves hyper-precise driving, a wickedly reliable car and a bunch of people who actually enjoy math.
The Great Race isn’t your typical race. The goal isn’t to be the first to the finish line. The goal is to precisely match a pre-determined time, which is set by the “Rally Master”. You must follow his instructions, which include tricky turns and precise speed changes to challenge the racers. And while it doesn’t have the initial wow factor of a wheelstanding drag car or a sideways dirt track car, the Great Race is super challenging and it requires a lot of figuring to nail the time. The goal is to end up with a zero second differential between your time and the pre-determined time.
These guys spend upward of $1,000 for a super precise speedometer, built specifically for this type of rallying. Even though the speeds may sometimes seem leisurely, the driver and navigator are constantly on edge, trying to be dead on the numbers. And if a tractor, train, draw bridge or any other object slows you down, you have to make up the time.
That’s when the math comes into play. Just to give you a glimpse at how precise these teams drive, the winning team’s final score was 1:00.76. That’s 2,100 miles of back roads with only one minute separating their time from the “perfect” pre-determined time. The top 14 finishers came in at less than two minutes from the perfect time.
Having grown up in a drag racing household, I had a hard time getting on board with the precision driving aspect of this race. I guess it’s most similar to bracket racing, in that you get penalized for going too quick. With a $150,000 purse, I guess I can see why they take it so seriously! Now that I’ve been covering it for the past four years, I’m learning to find the exciting aspects of the event. If you’re not wise to the intricate instructions, you’ll end up watching 100 cars sputter by at 15 miles per hour, and that’s not fun. Finding the right spot to shoot helps make things a little more fun, and it certainly helps for good photo opportunities.
This year, the Great Race had more than 100 entrees, ranging from a 1915 Hudson speedster to a 1972 Corvette convertible. Many of the cars and trucks are built with period correct speed parts, or they are restored to stock, as the scoring system has a multiplication factor for vehicles that are original. In other words, if you have a new crate motor in your Model A, you will be penalized with a lesser multiplication factor. A few of the modified vehicles in the field included a small block Chevy-powered Hudson Hornet (painted to look like Doc Hudson from the movie “Cars”) driven by NASCAR legend, Humpy Wheeler, as well as a giant 1952 GMC truck with a modern chassis and diesel engine. Other interesting entrees included a Chevy Corvair van with hippy-inspired paint, a 1970 Nissan Laurel fielded by a Japanese team, and a ’69 Dodge Charger with the always-popular “General Lee” paint job.
One of the personal highlights of the event include watching a team of folks remove and eventually re-install the engine and transmission in a 1933 Ford truck in the Valley Forge Casino Resort parking lot. A vital piece of the transmission broke and the only way to access the transmission (without a lift) was to yank the entire engine and trans. It was awesome, and it happened to be Jeff and Eric Fredette, who were in second place overall, at the time of the repair. The next morning, they drove away from the hotel, and wheeled the bright yellow pickup to a stellar score, which sent them into the lead. They would eventually lose the lead on the eighth day of competition. The Fredette’s always take the attack approach on the course, and we lost count of how many times we saw them pitch their truck into the corner hard enough to put it into a full on drift.
The race was won by Barry and Irene Jason (Irene is the driver, Barry is the navigator) in a 1966 Mustang coupe. Previously, the race had only been won by Pre-WWII cars, as the scoring multiplication factor is higher for older cars. The Jason’s proved that they are the top dogs in vintage car rallying, getting their third consecutive Great Race victory. They took home $50,000 for their win.
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The Great Race started in Ogunquit, Maine, which is a cool vacation town with a bunch of fancy hotels and eateries. The opening reception was held at the Beachmere Inn.

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The grand start was held at Ogunquit beach on Saturday, June 21st, and thousands of
people came out to see 100 cars roll away from the starting line.

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Bob Varsha was the Grand Marshall for the event and waved the green flag for each and every team that passed through the starting line gate.
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Race owner, Corky Coker was on hand, as well as Wayne Carini, from Velocity’s “Chasing Classic Cars”. Who wins the mustache battle?
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Get this guy a sway bar! This Hudson dragged the rocker panels on multiple occasions, even on mild corners. This is a pretty extreme case, as you can see by the distorted tire.

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The Fredette’s (Jeff and Eric) sling this ’33 Ford truck around like it’s a go cart and  always have a smile on their face. They use the attack approach to matching the predetermined time, and it certainly works—they finished second overall.

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We walked into a bar like we owned the place, and went up to the upstairs balcony to  get this shot. This is in Brattleboro, Vermont.

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I honestly don’t remember if this was in Vermont or New York, but we stopped at this guy’s place because he was sitting outside watching the cars go by. The barn and surrounding farmland made for some cool shots.

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The Valley Forge Casino Resort parking lot was a hot spot for repairs, including the most intense repair of the event. The Fredette’s had to completely remove the engine and transmission in the parking lot.

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Team Coker Tire sported a cool bare metal ’32 Ford roadster pickup. It’s Flatheadpowered and features a Mitchell overdrive.

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I had fun chatting with this guy, who cheered on each and every racer that went by.

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Covered bridges are cool, and anytime we’re in the Northeast, the rally master sends us through one. This one, however, was the most high-traffic covered bridge we’ve ever seen.

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The racers are on the clock for the majority of their day and stuff like tractors, trains, draw bridges, etc. will totally throw off their time. The ’69 Camaro RS/SS convertible probably put the 396 to use trying to make up for lost time.

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Yep, there was an AMX on the Great Race this year.

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Transverse leaf springs and solid axles offer some intense body roll on many of the pre-WWII cars and trucks. This Ford produce truck is leaning hard under an accelerated left turn.

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Ok, so it isn’t just the pre-WWII cars that suffer from body roll. This ’57 Ford is working hard. This is the McPherson College team, which one the X-Cup division.

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Some of the rally instructions call for “mazes”. A Maze is when the route overlaps, or where racers pass each other in opposite directions. A flower-painted Corvair van turns
opposite of a ’37 Bugatti tribute car.

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I love seeing old cars along the route and this year I was able to work this old Edsel into a couple of my shots.

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Being at the right place at the right time makes for some cool shots of the drivers and cars working hard.

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The General Lee had mechanical issues early on, but made it to the finish. We were slightly disappointed that we didn’t see one single burnout or drift out of these guys

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Now this thing is rowdy. It’s a GMC five-ton pickup that rides on a modern chassis. It has a modern diesel engine and some majorly huge Michelin tires.

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I’m personally glad they raised the age limit of the Great Race to allow muscle cars to come out and play. I dig this Mercury Comet.

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Chad and Jennie Caldwell bring the whole family along on the Great Race and debuted a new car this year—a 1931 Auburn boattail roadster. In case you’re wondering,
the color is Cyber Green from a new Camaro.

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The Villages, Florida was packed with people, and the crowds extended down the side streets and areas surrounding the finish line.

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Barry and Irene Jason won the Great Race in their 1966 Mustang. This team is unstoppable, as this is their third win in the a row. This is the first time a team has won the event in a post-WWII car.

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