Great Race – 3,500-km torture test

Great Race
1918 American LeFrance Speedster


Great Race
1929 Ford Model A Speedste

What began in 1983 as a plan to race pre-World War II automobiles from Los Angeles to New York, has morphed into an annual event. The location changes each year, and is restricted to 120 entries for logistical reasons. It is over-subscribed well in advance. The 2019 event is already filling up!

Great Race – no modern aids allowed

After what has been described as a 3,500-km torture test of man and machine, the 2018 version of the Great Race is in the books. Of the 120 teams that started the event in Buffalo, NY; 108 crossed the finish line in Halifax, NS, nine days later.

Great Race
1937 Ford Tudor

This year’s route took contestants from New York to Nova Scotia with lunch and overnight stops in Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The exact route is a closely–kept secret. Teams receive an instruction package at the start ,each morning. The package contains route directions only, with no road or street names. For example, the instructions might be to drive for a specific number of minutes or seconds at a set speed and/or to take the second paved road on the left.

Great Race
1932 Ford Speedster

The teams must rely solely on analogue instruments, no digital aids of any type are allowed – no GPS systems or even a digital watch! There are penalties for passing checkpoints too soon as well as too late.

Great Race
1916 Hudson Pikes Peak climber

In the interests in encouraging older vehicles, the scoring system contains a handicap component. This ensures a mid-sixties muscle car does not have the edge over a 30-horsepower runabout 50 years its senior. For the 2018 event, entries must have been manufactured in 1972 or earlier. If a vehicle has been updated in any way, its age and scoring, is based on the most recent component.

Great Race
1953 Chevrolet Bel Air convertible with modern brakes, small block V8 etc.

Entries are divided into five divisions.

Grand Championship – Previous winners

If any member of a team has been involved in a previous winning entry, that team will be entered into the Grand Champion class. This is “the top of the food chain.” Generally speaking, most entries in this class have been involved in the Great Race for many years.

Great Race
Jody Knowles and Beth Gentry, driving their 1932 Ford cabriolet were repeat winners in the Grand Champion division, having won the same class in the 2017 event. The Georgia-based team also finished 2nd place overall, with a score of 1 minute, 9.66 seconds, less than three seconds off the winning time!

Expert – veterans

This division is packed with veterans. They will likely have been entered in previous events, but have never won. They have to comply with a set of unique rules based on previous finishes. This is generally felt to be one of the most competitive divisions in the race.

Great Race
This year, the overall winners came from the Expert class. Jeff and Eric Fredette, of Illinois, picked up the $50,000 (US$) cheque. Various Fredette family members have been involved in the Great Race since 2003, finishing second on a couple of occasions. They finally won this year in a 1933 Ford pickup.

Sportsman – fun for new and old

This division is designed for folks who want to run the event and have fun doing so. This is the favourite division for spectators and Great Race fans, due to the variety of vehicles and competitors of all ages.

Great Race
Organizers say this was the most impressive group in this year’s race. The winners were Brent Powley, Keith Wallace and Rick McIntosh in their 1930 Ford Model A Speedster. The Lockport, New York team finished 9th overall with a score of 1 minute, 50.40 seconds.

Rookie – for first-timers

This division is packed each year with a wide variety of interesting vehicles.

Great Race
Kari Schives and Kaitlyn Stahl, in a 1965 Ford Mustang won this division, with a score of 3 minutes 7.20 seconds.

X-Cup – for the young ones

Developed for young people who are generally enrolled in a shop class or part of a group that builds a car specifically for the event. Under class rules, the driver must be 21 years of age or older, and the navigator 21 or younger.

Great Race
The winners in this division were a variety of young folks running under the mentorship of Tom Littrell. The Galax, Virginia team won the division last year in a Ford Modal A. This year, they prepared and won in 1959 Plymouth Belvedere, with a final score of 5 minutes, 57.21 seconds.

Numerous other awards were presented at the conclusion of this year’s race, including:

Tom McRae Spirit of the Event

“This most cherished and anticipated award, recognizes people within our Great Race family who embody the spirit that made the Great Race what it is today,” says Jeff Stumb, Great Race Director.

Great Race
This year’s winner was Scott Henderson whose “heroic act” may have saved lives. Henderson pulled in front of the 1955 Buick wagon of Carl Schneider and Jack Juratovic, which had lost its brakes descending Mt. Washington. He was able to bring them to a complete stop, sacrificing the side and rear of his mint 1964-1/2 Mustang in the process. You can see the damage to the side of the Buick.
About Richard 166 Articles
At the age of five I was already obsessed with all things automotive being able to identify the make and model of car by just the sound of its engine going down the street in front of our house in the small town on the south shore of Nova Scotia. Although I have been covering and writing about the automotive scene for more than 40 years and the light still grows brightly.