Motor Mouth Blog

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Great Race Day 9: Official Finish at ACM

You have to cross the official finish line to be scored, and at long last, there it is!

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

We rallied close to Tacoma today for the final day of the Grand Championship. The scores were very close going in to the day. We had to negotiate several turns, speed changes, and lots of traffic from churches letting out. This was a tough day, which it needed to be for us to move up in the standings. In many cases our final positions were determined by how well you could handle the multitude of issues that slowed you down or had you stopped entirely.

What makes this doubly hard is that everyone is tired; physically, mentally, and many of the cars had issues. Our car developed this rather scary habit of jamming its accelerator at full throttle, to where the brakes could barely hold it back. Tightening the return spring helped for a bit, but the problem came back. I assume it’s a motor mount that has let loose. We also had our heavy tire wear issue, and we are just about out of rubber. We might have been able to do one more day and that would have been about it without a full day off to fix stuff.

Just the prettiest places to drive, but we are ‘on the clock’ holding a speed and watching for the next sign.

Our final score was 8th place overall and second in the Expert division. We also won a special award for ‘Our Best Friend’, which is presented to the team that best supports the Great Race. Plus we pulled 12 Aces, or perfect leg scores; our personal best and 3rd out of all the teams. Total cash winnings were $7250. We are very happy with our results!

The car goes on display in the lobby of LeMay – Americas Car Museum tomorrow for a six month visit. A nice display above the car explains how the race works and a bit about this particular Studebaker. We will also have our awards there for everyone to enjoy. She’ll be in great hands.

We would like to thank all of you who have been following along on our great automotive adventure, and we hope you felt like you were riding along with us. If you get a chance, come by ACM not just to see our car, but to enjoy the really splendid collection they have there. This is an organization that encourages owners of classic cars to get out and drive them. Remember to also check out the photos on the Great Race website; they are amazing thanks Tommy Lee Byrd!

If this whole deal peaks your interest, we will be doing a presentation at the Museum sometime later this year. We’ll answer all questions and explain in detail what it would take for you to join in for your own once in a lifetime adventure. Next year’s race starts in San Antonio, Texas, right in front of the Alamo, and heads east from there. There is a waiting list, but they do leave spots open for rookies.

So, thanks again for being there!

We’ve enjoyed sharing with you. See you down the road!

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Great Race – Day 8 (Championship Day 1): Vancouver, WA to Spanaway, WA

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

The atmosphere was charged and solemn this morning as the navigators gathered round the table to pick up their route instructions. Usually there is lots of joking and camaraderie, but today everyone had their game faces on. This is the first of two days where there are no bad scores dropped. Everything counts. If you make a mistake or a truck stops in front of you or you have a mechanical issue, how well you deal with it will determine how successful your day is.

We heard the news this afternoon that last year’s Grand Champion, Jeff Fredette, one of the top teams and an exceptionally nice guy, is out of the race with either a broken axle or drive shaft. We hate for one of our “family” members to finish like that. But it’s been happening since Day 1 and part of the challenge is that this is an endurance race not only for the driver and navigator, but also for the car. We try to make sure that our car is properly prepared and maintained, but we’ve experienced being on the side of the road waiting for the sweep truck to pick us up and watching the race go by. It’s about the worst feeling you can have. We know Jeff will be back next year! We hear he and his navigator son Eric are driving the course in a rental car for the last day, just for fun. Kudos, Jeff, pick up an ACE or two!

Today’s route took us back to Oregon for a morning pit stop in the quaint town of Astoria, where I was delighted to see a dear sorority sister, Anne Teaford-Cantor and her husband Shel, who live there. Although we could only stop for ten minutes, it was a wonderful treat to see them. The route took us over the Columbia River on the Astoria-Megler Bridge. Then on the way in to lunch we had views of Mt. Saint Helens.

Longview hosted our lunch stop and treated us not only to a terrific lunch buffet in one of the restaurants, but their local car show stretched for blocks and blocks as we drove out of town. Wish we’d had more time to check them all out as they were exceptional cars.

We were focused on being precise, not missing instructions, signs or turns, and really thought we’d pulled a good day. There were a couple of minor corrections when we got behind slow traffic or had to wait for cross traffic at a turn, but thought we’d made the appropriate corrections. We even had a deer standing in the road in front of us today. For four out of the five legs, we had great scores, including another ACE. However, we had one mystery leg of 8s late, which didn’t help us move up today. We are currently in 10th overall, 4th in Expert, BUT positions 3 through 10 are all within 6 seconds. So there will be some reshuffling tomorrow. It will be exciting!

We had a special treat tonight as we finished at the LeMay Collections at Marymount, which is a large part of Harold LeMay’s personal collection. Then we took a bus to the private family collection, which is only open to the public one day a year. It was mind-boggling the number and variety of cars and other equipment (not to mention other collectibles including hundreds of dolls!) that were packed into various buildings all over the property. It reminded us of the Winchester Mystery House!

Tomorrow is another early 6:30 am start for Team LeMay – America’s Car Museum – but running up front also means we’ll be one of the first cars into the finish gate for all the festivities tomorrow afternoon. We are already in Tacoma, so the course tomorrow will be in the local area and we’ll be off the clock by 11:30 am. That doesn’t mean it will be easy. We expect tricky turns, mazes, and speed changes in quick succession. We’ll do our best!

Thanks to everyone who has been following our adventures and sending us words of encouragement. You are all so very appreciated!

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Great Race Stage 7 – Bend, OR to Vancouver, WA

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

This morning’s speedometer calibration was in sections, which gave us the opportunity to make an adjustment and then run the next section to see if it was accurate. So we started out feeling pretty good about our day. The course instructions seemed very simple, nothing that would be a particular challenge, and we hoped for another strong day.

As often happens in the Great Race, things just drop in your lap. A fiasco at the start where a well-meaning member of local law enforcement didn’t want us blocking the bike lane as we lined up behind the start sign and made us all move to nearby parking lots meant a number of racers missed the sign since there were no cars lined up behind it. So they went past it, realized they missed it and turned back. One team literally made a U-turn right in front of us as we drove down that road after our start. Then a few other bobbles, nothing serious, just sloppy, and we ended up with a total 14-second score (including an ACE).

That allowed a few other teams who had great days to slide ahead of us in the standings, so we are now in 7th place overall and 3rd in Expert. However, there are 8 teams separated by less than 10 seconds and all scores count for the next two days. Anything can – and will – happen! It’s going to be an exciting finish!

A highlight of today was the lunch stop at the Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum in Hood River. We didn’t have nearly enough time to explore all they had displayed, so we will definitely plan to stop on our next trip north.

We were also thrilled to welcome our newest Great Racers, Pat and Renée Crist, who took a turn behind the wheel and navigator stopwatch to try their hand at this strange hobby of ours. Renée is ACM’s Curator of Collections and has also been a personal friend since junior high school! We loved giving Pat and Renée a quick tutorial and then set them loose. They were running at the end of the field and by all appearances performed well AND had a good time. They will be running together again tomorrow, and Renée will be paired with a seasoned Great Race navigator on Sunday for the finish. It was great to see their smiling faces as they came in the finish gate tonight. We are so grateful for everything Renée and the ACM team have done for us to support and encourage us. We’ll do our best to make you proud!

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Great Race Day 6: Trees, Rain, and Snow

Photos: Driving the Studebaker through redwood tree, as shot by the Great Race photographer Tommy Lee Byrd.

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

After finishing second overall and first in the Expert class yesterday, you hesitate to change a thing. Like a baseball player with his favorite socks, you feel like you can’t experiment as much. Yet you can’t be casual about trying to simply hold your position. Other teams, really good ones, want that spot too.

Today we had temperature, altitude, and terrain changes as we went up to 7,000 feet to see Crater Lake. Plenty of good rally roads here in central Oregon, well paved and light traffic. Much of our rallying time on the clock consisted of long runs with few speed changes. Any fraction of a mile per hour off, as in the speedometer calibration run, can affect your whole day. The data we got changed during the run, from late to on time. We seem to run late in cold weather, and it actually got colder as the day progressed (including snow alongside the road) so our guess as to how to set the speedometer may have been off. We finished 19th for the day, and we are now third overall, but still first place in the Expert division.

While the scenery was spectacular, we need to be as close to error free as we can for the last 3 days if we hope to finish first in Expert, which is now an obtainable goal. We really want to bring home trophies for the LeMay – America’s Car Museum Great Race display. So far we have two, but we may be able to do better. Oh, and we did have another Ace today!

We had a nice crowd at the Bend, Oregon, dinner stop, despite rumbly skies and scattered showers. They had the added delight of watching me swap the wheels from front to rear on the left side due to tire wear. I found out that other racers have swapped over their spares for the most badly worn tire. Worn tires are not fun in rain, and safety has to prevail. We should be good to the finish now.

Tomorrow ACM Curator of Collections Renée Crist and her husband Pat will be joining the Great Race for the first time in their Porsche 356. They will be joining 4 other Porsches in the race. They can’t be scored since they couldn’t make the start, but they will get to experience the race first hand. We will help as much as we can of course, and look forward to them joining our merry band of travelers.

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Great Race Stage 5 – Eureka, CA to Grants Pass, OR

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

Today’s route took us back and forth from California to Oregon, with beautiful views of the ocean, more drives through the redwoods, and some great mountain roads. The weather was much cooler and overcast in the morning, and gave way to rain, sometimes heavy, beginning around lunchtime.

We were very grateful to be snug and warm in our car with rolled up windows and working wipers. Some of the older cars, especially the open roadsters and racers, were not as fortunate. What they have is a score advantage in that the older the car, the larger the age factor that is applied to reduce their score. Since we have a newer car, our age factor is minuscule so we have to be that much better to be competitive.

Today was not without controversy. There is an advance team that tests the route a day ahead to alert the rallymaster of road conditions that require changes to the route instructions. Then the rallymaster runs it again early in the morning to catch anything new. Today there was a construction crew who had closed a lane on the route, backing up traffic, so the rallymaster moved a checkpoint earlier on the course and posted a sign that the leg had ended. Unfortunately, the construction crew shut down and took our sign with them so many racers did not realize the leg was over and continued to rally for a another 40 minutes and never saw another checkpoint for all their trouble!

Most of today was short bursts of rallying followed by scenic transit drives. We were trying to apply some theories from what we’d learned from previous days, and it seemed to work today. We had a total score of 9 seconds error over 6 legs, and we were thrilled. It was the third best score of the day and first place in the Expert Division. But even better, our four worst legs have now been dropped from the cumulative score and we find ourselves in the rarefied air of being in second place overall and first place in Expert!

Our tire issue did not get any worse today, so here’s hoping it stays just like this for the next 4 days.

We are realistic enough to know there are still four days of tough rallying ahead and anything can happen at any time. But for tonight, we are thrilled and looking forward to tomorrow!

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Great Race Stage 4 – Chico to Eureka CA

‘Avenue of the Giants’: the massive redwood trees dwarf Rex Gardner’s ’35 Ford coupe.

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

Another great day rallying and another day where road conditions held some surprises for the field. We pulled a very early number (#3) for today’s stage, which had a 7:30 am start time. Which meant I picked up instructions at 7:03 am. Backing everything up to have breakfast before we left our hotel to drive to the hotel where they handed out route instructions, it was a VERY early alarm!

After the usual tire warmup and speedometer calibration through central California farmland, we had two legs of stops, turns and speed changes, a lovely hour-long transit that took us along the shore of Clear Lake, and another short leg before lunch. When we arrived at the lunch stop in Willits, we were told there was some police activity behind us on the route and they closed the road and re-routed the field. So, the first two legs ended up being thrown out. Well, it was good practice anyway.

Another nice lunch stop with a great crowd in a shady park and we had another hour-long transit to our afternoon leg, which was all of 18 minutes. It wasn’t without excitement though. We were about two minutes from the end and there was a flagman in the road (again!) holding a stop sign. We stopped under control, calculated our time loss at 50 seconds, and crossed the checkpoint exactly 10 seconds ahead of the car behind us.

The short afternoon was so we could take advantage of the unique tourist offerings in the area for the benefit of racers who come not only from all over the country, but from several international locations including Japan, Canada and the UK. First we stopped in Leggett at the Drive-Thru Tree Park, where those who had cars small enough could drive through the cut-out redwood tree. After we all got an official photo taken by the Great Race photographer, we drove along the Avenue of the Giants redwood forest on our way to our overnight stop in Eureka.

Allison watches as Gary and JeanAnn Martin maneuver their Nova through the drive through tree. Official Great Race photographer Tommy Lee Byrd (seen kneeling) will have mounted 8×10’s waiting for us at the finish.

When we arrived in Eureka, with the two legs tossed out there were only three remaining. We had a one-second score on each leg for a total of :03 for the day. We were thrilled, but knew there would likely be other teams with the same or better score. When there is a tie, the older car wins. Since we have a newer car, we are used to being “old-car’d”.

Coming in to the Old Downtown section of Eureka, CA

Looking at tonight’s scores on the Great Race site, that is indeed what happened. We came in third for the day (second in Expert division) and are now up to 6th place overall with another of our previous high scores having been dropped. We are still fourth in Expert.

We are seeing some excessive tire wear on the front; could be that one of those rough roads knocked the alignment out. We will see if we can get to a tire store after tomorrow’s finish.

Tomorrow’s course will take us to Oregon and more spectacular scenery as Team LeMay – America’s Car Museum heads to the Grand Finish at the Museum in Tacoma on Sunday!

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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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Great Race Day 2

The desert can provide some stunning geologic sights; this was near Red Rock Canyon in California.

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

A person could live in California their whole lives and never have a reason to go north from Lancaster on Highway 14 (Old Route 6) and all the way up through the Owens Valley, but that’s what we did today. The contrast could not have been sharper.

From the land of test pilots and “The Right Stuff”, we climbed out towards Bishop, Lone Pine, and Mammoth Lakes, gaining altitude and transitioning from desert to piney forests. (I am happy to report that the ecologically vital Mono Lake is once again filled to capacity after our long drought). It was cloudless blue skies, cool temperatures, unlimited visibility, and plenty of snow on the Sierras and majestic Mount Whitney.

Checkpoint! These crews are out here for hours clocking the cars as they pass by a precise predetermined point for them, but is a surprise for us. That’s why you have to be on time, all the time. They will yell out “MARK” when you hit the point, which ends that leg and immediately begins the next. The driver holds the speed, and the navigator writes down the time we cross the point, just as a backup. In reality you don’t do anything when encountering a checkpoint.

There are days on the Great Race when the goal is to cover lots of miles, and we had extensive running at 50 mph, the top speed that the Great Race will use in deference to the antique cars. Our best performance today was :02 late over 1.33:00 of rallying! Having your electronic speedometer accurately adjusted is critical, and everyone had to readjust theirs from yesterday. There were not a lot of ‘maneuvers’ because of the lack of alternative roads along this route.

We had 4 really good legs today, and one where we ran slow, despite the fact that we executed everything by the book. It might have been that we under compensated for slower acceleration times at altitude. Certainly the conditions were unique, and we always try to learn from our shortcomings should we run in to this again.

Currently the LeMay – America’s Car Museum entry is running around 21st overall and 4th in Expert, and while that’s not bad considering a field of over 110 cars, we expect to move up in the rankings as the race progresses.

Our 1964 Studebaker Daytona is always a big hit, and we had nice size crowds at our lunch stop in Bishop (excellent tri-tip!) and our overnight here in Gardnerville, Nevada. Both cities did a fine job of hosting our traveling circus. We did lose a few more cars due to attrition, and there are some undergoing repairs in the hotel parking lot tonight as I write this.

Quite the view as we waited for our start time after lunch in Bishop.

Stick with us: it’s an endurance event, and positions will change over the next several days. Two days with 8 excellent leg stores is very encouraging, now we just need to have to have a good day. Maybe tomorrow…

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Official Start in Riverside

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

Official start this morning on Mission Inn Ave in Riverside! The entire street was filled for blocks with Great Race cars and hundreds of spectators for a couple of hours, then the ceremony kicked off with a color guard, the National Anthem, and then the green flag dropped for each team. Thanks to friends from work and our Studebaker and Triumph car clubs who came to see us off. It means so much to us to see you there!

After an hour-long speedometer calibration on the freeway and before we were even officially on the clock we were treated to lunch at the Route 66 Museum in Victorville. Then for the next two and a half hours we rallied through a succession of mazes – multiple turns within a residential area at low speeds, often seeing other race cars in the vicinity going in other directions. Great fun but you have to stay focused as one wrong turn can ruin an otherwise great day.

A quick trip up into the hills above Lancaster for some mountain driving and it was into town for a great reception on The Boulevard. We were provided with “Boulevard Bucks” we could spend on dinner and treats at our choice of a couple dozen locations, then off to the hotels.

There were five legs today and we had excellent scores for four of them, including two ACEs. Then there was a mystery score of 16 seconds late on Leg 4. We thought we’d executed everything perfectly but sometimes there’s no logical explanation. Thankfully the way Great Race works is that there are a certain number of leg scores dropped from your total, based on your division. So we will be able to drop our four worst legs. Hopefully that will be the worst but you never know what’s coming the next day.

Tomorrow will be a long day, with an early morning start, all the way to Gardnerville, NV with a lunch stop in Bishop. Another adventure awaits!

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Great Race Trophy Run

Navigator Janet Hedke with the tools of the trade.

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

Each race officially begins with a general meeting for all participants: race teams, support crews, timing and scoring, and checkpoint crews. This year that consists of nearly 500 people working their way up to Tacoma, and we filled a large meeting room at the Marriott in Riverside this morning.

Cars were still being repaired, and at least one was abandoned: that team bought another car to race. Hey, it’s Southern California and we still have lots of old cars around. And it’s not the first time this has happened.

After the meeting we have the Great Race director of competition explain how the race is run, followed by the presentation on the techniques for rallying. Once those are over its time to leave for the Trophy Run. This year’s run was held southeast of Riverside in the shadows of the San Jacinto Mountains, which is “˜horse’ country with many large ranches nestled in to the rocky countryside.

The Trophy Run is a half day rally designed to get your skills up before the “˜big’ race. Scores don’t count for the main event, but trophies are awarded for the best in each division. We are proud to announce that the LeMay – Americas Car Museum entry finished 4th overall and first in Expert Division! On top of that we earned 3 “˜Aces’, which means we had perfect scores on 3 of the 5 legs. We also got “˜Ace’ stickers for the car, and watch for those as the cars come in to Tacoma: there is a prize for the most Aces, and you’ll see them all along our doors.

As you would expect we feel really good about going in to the official start tomorrow. Our Studebaker is performing nicely, clearly our speedometer is calibrated correctly (at least for now), and our team is healthy and ready for the adventure to come!

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