Motor Mouth Blog


The Great Race: Choosing a Rally Car

Our ’64 Daytona going through tech inspection and receiving its sponsor decals. Required safety equipment includes a fire extinguisher, first aid kit, drinking water, tow rope, flares, and safety vests. Tech also checks for horn and lights, free play in steering and brake pedals, the authorized speedometer, clock, and covered odometer.

By Steve Hedke, who will be representing ACM with his wife Janet and their daughter Allison in The Great Race June 24 – July 2. They are posting regular updates on their adventure here

Choosing the right vintage rally car is all part of the fun.

The Great Race is a Time-Speed-Distance competition where you are given the time and speed, but not the distance. Rally computers are not permitted, and GPS lags behind the car and is virtually useless. You get a pencil, the route instructions, a time of day clock and a stopwatch. That’s it. The lowest error on a timed section wins, and it’s calculated to the hundredth of a second. Best score possible is a 0, called an Ace. Many Aces are scored in each race: the competition is that close! There is a prize for the most Aces, and you’re going to need 10 or 12 to win.

Older cars are not as nimble as newer ones, and to balance the playing field an “˜age factor’ is applied to your final score. The older the car, the more seconds get removed. But if it takes forever to stop, accelerates slowly, has trouble getting around corners, or can’t hold the assigned speed on a hill, you have to mathematically compensate for the lack of performance, and that’s not easy.

Leaving home in Santa Clarita for the 1200 mile journey along Interstate 40 to Joplin, Missouri. Even through the rally car could be driven there (and has before), most teams use trailers just in case something breaks during the rally.

Therefore, you look at the rules and figure out the oldest car you can get that still performs. Simple, right? Just get a street rod and you’re all set. Not so fast: a car’s age factor is based on the newest major component it has fitted to it. So if you have a ’40 Ford with a Ford 9″ rear axle, it is scored as a ’57 because that’s the first year the 9″ became available. If your ’32 Ford has a cast iron small block Chevy V8, it’s scored as a ’55. If your ’55 Chevy has a 396 big block, it’s scored as a ’65. Get the idea?

The rules do allow certain modifications for safety and reliability, like fitting 4 wheel hydraulic brakes to cars that came with mechanical. They also permit 12 volt conversions, alternators, electronic ignition (contained in a stock distributor), electric fans, electric wipers, period correct replacement wheels with larger tires, radial tires of the same size and type and so on. Period correct speed parts are also permitted.

49 teams gather for the mandatory pre-race meeting before the rally school session.

If you go for the maximum age factor by driving something like a 1916 Hudson, all you need to do is get “˜close’ on your score and let the age factor do the rest. That is, assuming you can finish without breaking anything. 10 to 15% of the cars that start Great Race don’t make it to the end, but two 1916 Hudsons tied for first in 2016!

A few years ago a veteran team started rallying an ordinary first generation Ford Mustang coupe with a six cylinder, automatic, radial tires, disc brakes, and air conditioning. They won the whole deal. They came back the next year and did it again. That’s like a quarter of a million dollars in prize money! It gets your attention. They did it with lots of practice, knowing their age factor would be of little help. They had to be nearly perfect all the time, and they were. It was the first time a post-war car had won The Great Race. It got our attention.

Rally cars arrive at the host hotel in Joplin under threatening skies. Just a few years ago this exact area was hit hard by a tornado. Host hotels are chosen for their proximity to the Interstate, numerous choices for meals nearby, and the parking required for tow vehicles and trailers. it’s the only kind of racing where a Packard coupe routinely beats Pontiac GTO’s!

Stay tuned for the next blog post tomorrow when we arrive in Florida!

Steve, Janet, and Allison Hedke
Greatrace 45

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