Motor Mouth Blog

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Great Race: Two Days To The Start

The LeMay – America’s Car Museum Studebaker Daytona receives its official race number.

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

Pre-race activity has begun at the host hotel in Riverside, California. The ACM team left home early this morning and made it to the hotel just in time for our registration appointment. The Daytona is running well: all we needed to do was to collect our registration materials, pass through tech inspection (horn, lights, etc.) and have the remaining official stickers put on.

After that we ran the “˜Measured Mile’, a 9 mile test section that allows us to check the calibration of our electronic speedometer. We were running early, since the speedo was set for the previous rally in Joplin a few months ago. Others saw the same thing. We made the correction, ran the calibration in reverse, and we had made the correct change. We were now ready to rally.

The rest of the day was spent greeting our friends and catching up. There was drama already! Just getting the cars to the start can be a challenge. Yesterday we were coming out here to attend a reception and came across a team on the side of the road, with a flat tire on their trailer. Turns out this was the SECOND flat on the trailer, with the tires just shredded. We introduced ourselves, and took the spare to the closest tire store, about a half hour away, and got there just before they closed. They got the wheel on and we followed them in to Riverside, just in case. They replaced ALL the tires on the trailer this morning. Adventure before the race even starts!

We heard stories of other tow vehicles breaking down; the Maine Boys had to borrow a 5th wheel truck to get their cars in, as the rear axle of their truck was being repaired. Twice. Many folks from the east coast had their cars shipped out, but reported problems with making flight connections. There are cars that are here but not running well; a Corvette needed a new distributor right there in the parking lot, which of course became a spectator event. It can be stressful until you are finally ready to race.

Open a hood around car guys and a crowd gathers. This big block ’66 Corvette was running badly, needed a new distributor right there in the hotel parking lot.

For those not desperately getting their cars fixed, Great Race had arranged for a really good cover band to play 60’s and “˜70’s rock hits in an outdoor venue in front of the hotel, while providing burgers, dogs, and drinks. Great fun!

This colorful 1930 Riley 14/6 Speed Six had more trouble than just the water leak. The supercharger seems to be pumping oil in to the engine and it’s smoking badly. Preparation is crucial; if you can’t start, you lose your entry fee. It may not make it to the start. once again, a hood up means a crowd.

The weather is surprisingly cool, even chilly! Amazing since it’s not unusual to be in the 90’s this time of year. We’ll take it! Tomorrow we have the mandatory meeting, rally school, and the Trophy Run, a short local rally used both for practice and its own trophies, plus the better Trophy Run scores can be used to break a tie at the finish.

So far, so good!

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Preparations for the Great Race

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

As I write this it is 2 weeks before the race start, and almost everything is ready to go. Preparation is, of course, critical: It’s not the invasion of Normandy, but the philosophy is similar. With the time and investment the race requires, not to mention the prize money and trophies available, it’s smart to make sure you have what you need, or may need, well before the race starts.

Paperwork: There are forms to fill out, lots of them. Releases, declaration of insurance (a minimum amount of liability is required), entry forms, crew information, support crews, hotel reservations, etc. These, along with the fees, are required six months or more before the race starts. Some documents like your list of hotel reservations are vital to keep with you: the race does not make these arrangements, but give you a list of options. If you break down you are required to cancel your reservations or you will be billed for them. You go nowhere without the dotted I’s and crossed T’s taken care of.

Car: The cars are old and things break, and even new parts can be an issue. Getting the car prepped well before the race is not only prudent, it’s required if you want to get some test miles on it. Sure, like most car guys I am guilty of midnight thrashes and paint drying at the car show. But for the Great Race a thorough shake down is a really good idea, because not finishing is the worst thing possible. Plus you’ll need time to fill in your performance charts. Working all night in the parking lot during the race is dramatic and happens just about every night, but it is not fun, especially rallying the next day with little or no sleep.

I only bring the spare parts I can replace at roadside, such as a fan belt or a trigger for the Petronix ignition. Anything I can’t fix quickly puts me out of the competition for the day, and the sweep truck will be along soon. Once I get back in I have some time to make proper repairs. Same with tools: I bring just enough hand tools for minor repair jobs. The Great Race also has a list of required items, including a fire extinguisher within easy reach, tow ropes, water, flashlights, and other safety related items. These will all be checked for at tech inspection. Then I add in things that may be hard to find, like the Buss style glass fuses that used to be commonplace.

Personal: This list varies with age, if you get my drift. 40 year olds have different “˜requirements’ than those of us in our sixties. For example, carrying a second set of glasses or contacts, just in case you lose one. If you are on prescriptions or supplements, you don’t want to be experimenting with a new regimen on the race: medications can really affect your memory and concentration. And if you do find that you need something, the only time to find a pharmacy or urgent care facility is after the day’s racing is over. I once had a bee fly up the leg of my shorts and sting me while on a timed section. The navigator couldn’t help either, since she is busy keeping us on course and on time. The bee sting be damned, suck it up.

Another issue should be mentioned. While the Rallymaster provides for rest and gas stops, they might not be right where you need them. As we age some “˜things’ become harder to control than they used to be. Some racers have used “˜truck driver solutions’ which can be found at medical supply stores. If you require such equipment its best to have your preferred method of assistance ready to go before you get to the start. More racers are prepared in “˜that way’ than you might think.

Clothing: There was a time when trophies for “˜Best Costume’ were a regular part of the show, but over time the same people always won and it was dropped. The tradition continues however, with some folks dressing up in period clothing, and most wearing “˜Team Gear’ especially made for them. Most towns have local businesses that provide team embroidery, and almost all of the racers will have specialized shirts, jackets, and hats. The coordinated “˜team gear’ is also carried over to support crews. And since we rally in both hot weather as well as rain, it includes everything from t-shirts to jackets. If you have an official sponsor for your car, your clothing will be advertising, in much the same way as in any motorsport. It makes for a colorful crowd!

Laundry is an issue too. If you have a support team, they can get your dirty clothes in to the machines at the hotel before you even arrive. For us, we simply will have no time for laundry, and no support crew, so we need bags and suitcases that will fit in the trunk and carry all the clothes we will need for 10 days or so. Some of that can also go in the back seat, which makes driving a larger car a real help.

You also have to have room in the car for “˜gifts’. Most of the stops we make will have a reception committee from that town, presenting us with goodie bags full of local “˜swag’. We’ve received some pretty nice gifts over the years, including bottles of wine, embroidered jackets, even afghan blankets! You need to have a place reserved to put them all.

Division of Tasks: On our team, I take care of the car and equipment, which includes the navigator’s tools. My wife, as navigator, controls the clock: when we go to bed, when we get up, when we pick up instructions, what clothes we wear for that day. The driver is important but not in charge; someone has to control the whole operation, and in our case that’s the navigator. I do what I’m told: for us it works best that way.

No one is ever completely prepared, however. Unseen issues and innovation are part of the “˜game’, and each day brings unique stories for after dinner each night. It’s all part of the challenge!

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The Great Race Finish Line Experience

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

In the summer of 1999 we saw that Great Race was going to finish in Anaheim, which was not far from us. We decided to go down to watch the cars come in, not knowing what to expect or exactly when to be there. We got there a bit early, and found a large crowd already gathering along the street near the official finish gate. I remember it as a warm day and the concessionaires were doing a brisk business in drinks and food.

The energy and excitement were building; event founder and host Tom McRae was entertaining the crowd, then the color guard came in and the National Anthem was sung. Suddenly the thunder of ancient engines could be heard from around the corner and the cars started crossing the finish line. It’s more than symbolic: you can’t win if you don’t finish, and the cars had to cross that line for their scores to count.

Each team was introduced, including their names, hometown, and the car they were driving. The teams looked exhausted but happy: the Great Race motto “˜To Finish Is To Win’ seemed perfectly appropriate judging by the weary grins on their faces. Car after car came in, an amazing and colorful variety of all makes and models, from all over the country and around the world. We had purchased a yearbook which also gave the info on the cars and owners, plus the info on how the race is run. A growing crowd of several hundred people stood curbside enthusiastically cheering each team in.

Suddenly, there was a gap; race cars were caught in city traffic trying to get to the finish, which can be a real challenge. Tom McRae was filling up the time, and mentioned that for 2000 they were considering opening up the field to pre ’61 sports cars. Janet and I looked at each other: up until then the race was restricted to pre ’49 cars and trucks. We were planning an old car to run the race in at some point, but we did have a 1957 Triumph TR3 at home! We let out a whoop, and Tom came over to us, microphone in hand: “˜What kind of car ya’ got?” “˜A 1957 Triumph, and we can beat these Fords with it!’ “OK, go over there and we’ll get you signed up”.

And that’s exactly what we did. Our first rally was a 3 day regional in Palm Springs that fall, and in 2000 we entered the Boston to Sacramento race, where we finished first in the Rookie class. Along with a trophy and prize money, an entry was included for the next year’s race. And we’ve been doing it ever since.

If you are any kind of car enthusiasts please don’t miss the excitement of the official Finish Line! The competition is very tight, with teams finishing within seconds of each other after 9 days and over a thousand miles of rallying. Sometimes the cars are just barely hanging in there, and the teams are tired but must still perform at their best. The top 3 teams are pulled out of line and must wait at the finish line together to find out who won the $50,000 check and the huge “Eagle” trophy we call the “˜big bird’. The victory celebration is amazing, complete with confetti cannons!

After that the cars will be on display on the Haub Family Field at the LeMay – America’s Car Museum, and you can meet the teams, photograph the cars, and even get autographs in your yearbook. The racers love to talk about their cars and explain how the event works. Who knows, you might even get hooked like we did!

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The Great Race: Finish in Traverse City, MI

Rain on the course on the last day, creating slipping tires when scores are critical. Running alongside the Straights between Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.

Without getting too philosophical, we’ll cut right to the chase scene: we finished 21st this year, out of 121 starters. We completed 2300 plus mile adventure with a total accrued error of 2:16, and arrived healthy and happy. The car was spectacular: reliable as an anvil and just a blast to drive in competition. We enjoyed sharing experiences with our Great Race family and meeting new friends on the way. We talked to a lot of local folks at the stops, including the president of a local Studebaker club who had just lost his wife of 69 years a month ago: our traveling circus brightened his day, while reminding us of how fortunate we are to be able to share these adventures. Continue reading “The Great Race: Finish in Traverse City, MI”

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The Great Race: Championship Day

Imagine driving along 3,000 miles from home in a Studebaker when you come across ‘Studebaker’s Restaurant’! We didn’t have time to go in, but we were on a transit so we could stop for a quick snapshot. I felt sorry for the poor bullet-nose gutted and stuck up on a platform

Sometimes the obstacles move out of your way, sometimes they descend on you like the mosquitoes in Florida. Then there are times when you just plain screw up all on your own without any outside influence at all.

The last 2 days have been critical for our ranking in the finish. We had a lot of really good scores yesterday, with a bad one tossed out. The Grand Championship day does not allow you to toss a bad score, so you’re stuck with whatever you get. We’ve had some very good GC days, and a few really bad ones over the years: they can make or break your finish position. Today’s ranks as the Grand Championship Day From Hell, with Satan himself throwing pitchforks at us.

Continue reading “The Great Race: Championship Day”

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The Great Race: Day 6

Our Daytona at the famous Shell station recreation at the Gilmore Automotive Museum.

Greetings from from Ypsilanti, Michigan!

Rallying in Michigan today was mostly about dealing with other race cars not being where they should be. There is this massive ‘Franklin’, powered by a giant Hall-Scott truck engine, called ‘Zeus’, which is best described as a blunt instrument. Behind Zeus was the Japanese team in the Toyota 2000 GT. Both of them ‘backed into’ the car a minute in front of us, who had to drop back 20 seconds to avoid these two cars trying to be in the same spot at the same time. Eventually this whole furball backed into our minute, causing us to have to back up 20 seconds. Continue reading “The Great Race: Day 6”

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The Great Race: Day 5

Our lunch stop today was in Wapakoneta, Ohio, birthplace of astronaut Neil Armstrong. We just happened to be parked next to the Japanese team driving the Toyota 2000 GT. Along with their million dollar car, they have their own TV and media crew following their American adventure. It’s always quite a show when they come to town.

By Steve Hedke, who is representing ACM with his wife Janet and their daughter Allison in The Great Race, going on now through July 2. Follow along on their adventure here

Today’s Route: Indianapolis > Wapakoneta, Ohio > Auburn, Indiana

‘Knee high by the Fourth of July’: if you’re familiar with that phrase then you must be from the midwest. Indeed, the corn was knee high, and ‘cornfield rallying’ is really a ‘thing’. The farm roads are grids, many times along county lines, and the rallying consists mostly of stop signs, speed changes, and right or left 90 degree turns. Continue reading “The Great Race: Day 5”

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The Great Race: Day 4

We literally don’t even know what state we’re in, but it sure is pretty. They don’t put up the state line signs on the backroads, so this is probably Kentucky.

By Steve Hedke, who is representing ACM with his wife Janet and their daughter Allison in The Great Race, going on now through July 2. Follow along on their adventure here

Today’s Route: Bowling Green > French Lick > Franklin/Indianapolis

It’s a good day when the car doesn’t need repairs, the weather is cool and clear, the scenery is delightful, and you didn’t go off course. It’s a better day if it includes good scores. We had 3 of the 4 legs work out very well, and one not as much. Sometimes though, it’s the rally itself has to overcome the hardships. Continue reading “The Great Race: Day 4”

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The Great Race: Day 3

By Steve Hedke, who is representing ACM with his wife Janet and their daughter Allison in The Great Race, going on now through July 2. Follow along on their adventure here

Greetings from Bowling Green, Kentucky!

Our journey today began in Chattanooga, and we wound our way north to cooler weather and hillier country. The rallying got a lot more fun as the back roads twisted and turned: it’s hard to control speeds when the road won’t stand still. We also had some traffic issues today: sometimes you hit those rural intersections with no cars at all in sight, and sometimes you’re stuck waiting for the traffic to clear as your penalty points rack up. Making up for lost time can be the most challenging part of a day, and we weren’t the only ones. Continue reading “The Great Race: Day 3”

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The Great Race: Day 2

Cars gather after lunch on a narrow country road waiting their turn to start abeam a Speed Limit 35 sign. Imagine living there and encountering such a sight!

By Steve Hedke, who is representing ACM with his wife Janet and their daughter Allison in The Great Race, going on now through July 2. Follow along on their adventure here

After the stifling heat and humidity of Florida, Day 2 up through Georgia was 20 degrees cooler and a welcome relief to both cars and crews. The roads turned from flat to gentle rolling hills, then some actual mountains as we motored into Tennessee.

Once again the top 20 scores were truly awesome: no one has seen such tight competition this early in the rally. Once again the course was fairly easy, but this time the race encountered church traffic, trains, farm equipment and just plain old traffic to deal with. Continue reading “The Great Race: Day 2”

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