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Great Race Day 3: What Goes Up…

Snow capped peaks were just part of the views as we crossed Donner Pass.

By Steve Hedke, who is representing LeMay – America’s Car Museum with his wife Janet and their daughter Allison in the Great Race

There are few ‘easy’ days on the Great Race, and there certainly are hard ones. Every so often you have a day that just defies description.
Our day began in Gardnerville, Nevada, from which we headed north to Reno, then we hung a left for California and famous Donner Pass. Our first ‘on the clock’ run was just west of Truckee, high up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains: slow speeds, rough roads, and high altitudes were the challenges. Up over 7,000’ we still had snow on the ground alongside the cars, the cool air was refreshing compared to what was to come.

Winding down through the pass on secondary roads once again provided some spectacular scenery and a nice rally, until we saw that dreaded sign “flagman ahead- prepare to stop”. Dang! We saw a group of about 5 cars waiting for the flagman, right where we were supposed to be doing 40 mph.

“First Sweep” is a team from the rally staff that goes out on the course the day before to make sure the roads are still open and all the signs are still in place that the route instructions have us looking for. The “Fast Sweep” team leaves before the racers to make sure that everything is still in place.

Almost inevitably there will be a road crew that pops up after the sweep teams and before the rally gets there. Surprise! How well you deal with this is part of the game. Obviously you have to stop for the road crew, calculate how much time you have lost, and if it can’t be made up you fill out a time delay form. If you can’t go back to the assigned speed, you may have to go slower, say half speed, and factor that in to your time delay as well. If you get stopped again while at half speed, well, you have a couple of overlapping calculations happening at once. In short, a mess.

Everyone had time delays today. So much so that timing and scoring had over 200 time delay sheets to process. We turned ours in at the control point at the lunch stop in Grass Valley; she already had a stack of documents to call in.

Grass Valley is one of those quaint gold rush communities with the false front downtown shops. A fine and unique lunch of Cornish Pasties was provided, along with a lovely garden setting to enjoy them in. As we descended the Sierras for the rolling foothills south of Oroville the temperature went up- a lot. Narrow, twisty, and rough old roads gave the cars and crews a pounding. It was nearly impossible to hold speeds when the road constantly undulated and snaked its way along. If you own a collector car chances are these are roads you would avoid at any cost. In fact, ‘pathway’ might be a better description.

Some of the local hot rods that come out to greet us, this time at our lunch stop in Grass Valley.

Then, just as we were all tired and uncomfortably hot, we were brought to an oasis. A ‘Pit Stop’ is a Great Race feature that we haven’t seen much of for a while. It’s a brief stop to get gas, a snack, and a bit of a rest. It is about half an hour long, hosted by a town on the route. Oroville provided us with a place to park along their old downtown Main Street, volunteers provided cold drinks, snacks, and air conditioning in their restored silent era ‘State’ theater, where an organist played their Wurlitzer pipe organ! What a treat!

Back in the cars, we ran the last 2 legs of the day still descending, heading for flat ground in to the central valley of California. Still in the Sierra foothills, the roads got even narrower and rougher, as the weather grew hotter. Wrestling our cars down these roads at 20-25 mph is about as tough of a job as the drivers and cars can face. Everyone was glad to see the finish line except for the timing and scoring crews, who were still working on the hundreds of time delays. A nice supper in the town square gave us all a chance to rest and cool off.

Seldom traveled roads are a feature of the Great Race.

The LeMay – Americas Car Museum Studebaker sucked up everything the rally route could throw at it, and once again we had some very good leg scores with 2 more Aces! A couple of higher scores at the end kept us out of the win column, but considering the circumstances we did really well. We were especially proud of the :02 seconds we ended up with through that nasty construction zone! We are still 4th in the Expert division, 14th overall (we moved up a few spots there} and running strong.

We head for the Pacific Coast and the Redwoods tomorrow; that will be beautiful too.

Thanks for riding along!

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