TRAVERSE CITY — With nearly $120,000 in prize money to be awarded at the end of the event, the competition among teams participating in The Great Race is serious, indeed. However, all you need do is to look at a list of those teams to realize that there’s room for some fun, too.
The Great Race, which began here June 23 and ends July 1 at Greenfield Village — after a lap around four of the five Great Lakes — is open to vehicles produced before the 1970 model year. This year’s race — the 30th such competition — drew nearly 100 cars, each with a driver and at least one navigator. Those vehicles range from a 1907 Renault to a 1969 Saab, and with seemingly everything in between, including Fords, Chevys, Buicks, Hudsons, Packards, even a Studebaker, a Nash, a Peerless and a Hupmobile.
And one team is competing in true comfort — a 1958 Rolls Royce.
Each team has selected a name, and this year’s entries include the Professor & the Tooth Fairy, Old Age & Treachery, Two Old Men in a Studebaker, the Beerster Boys, the Dynamic Duo, Ragtop Rookies and Yooper Special.
And although one team has a much more formal name — Historic Vehicle Association — and a very serious mission — helping to raise money to help families impacted by autism — its driver and co-driver are wearing poodle skirts and period hairdos, and they’ve nicknamed their 1954 Oldsmobile Super 88 the “misadventure.”
Or maybe I just misunderstood and it’s really “Miss Adventure,” though “misadventure” might be more accurate since the car already had suffered mechanical problems even before the competition began.
And that competition is serious. The Great Race — officially Hemmings Motor News Great Race presented by Hagerty — is not about all-out speed but the driver, navigator and vehicle’s ability to reach checkpoints along the route at specified times and mileages. Make a wrong turn or check in a second late and it costs you points and places in the standings.
But while the competition is serious, the camaraderie becomes even more important.
Everyone loves the old cars, but it’s the people who make this event, says Corky Coker, whose family not only owns the company that produces tires for vintage vehicles, but who liked the Great Race so much he became its owner, though you wouldn’t know he was anything more than a typical volunteer if you’d seen him and heard his banter as he directed each vehicle to its parking place as they prepared for the start of the race in downtown Traverse City.
“The spectators who come and the people in the race are the best,” he said. “They’re passionate and everyone is having fun.”
And while they are here to win, he added, once the driving is done every day, competitors will do whatever they can to help keep everyone on the road. Coker said he’s even seen a team loan its spare engine just to keep a competitor from being sidelined.
From Traverse City, the competitors headed across the Mackinac Bridge into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and then crossed the international bridge at Sault Ste. Marie into Ontario. They re-enter the United States at the east end of Lake Ontario, and spend nights at Watertown and Buffalo, New York, as well as Warren and Findlay, Ohio, before crossing the finish line July 1 in Dearborn.