29 June 2012

The Great Race, Stage 6: One Great Race isn’t enough

Wow, what a ride this has been so far! It is a mixture of all emotions—excitement, exhaustion and even moments of complete frustration. One of the veteran racers made a comment the other day that really hit home to me: “If this was easy, everyone would do it.” And I am here to tell you how true that statement is.

First of all, The Great Race is one of the most exciting and thrilling events I have ever participated in. I highly recommend that anyone who loves classic cars and competition experience it at least twice. Why do I say twice? More on that later.

This event is not for the faint of heart. I think a lot of people envision it as a peaceful ride through the countryside exploring the scenic back roads of North America. While much of the route is very scenic, you rarely have a chance to admire it. The driver instead is intensely focused on driving the precise speed and making very consistent speed changes. The navigator is feverishly anticipating the next move and calculating any necessary speed adjustments to keep the team on track in order to best match the unknown perfect score.

I always knew this would be an intense event, but now that I am experiencing it firsthand I realize my impression was very conservative. Each day the route and maneuvers become increasingly difficult, and it is far easier to make an incorrect move without even realizing it until several minutes later. Both the Hagerty Boys’ and Girls’ teams have been victims of this. As the week has progressed and the time has flown by, the number of teams has dwindled: Ninety-two teams started in Traverse City on June 23 and there are currently 78 teams still competing. And I am proud to say that we are still in the game.

You may be asking yourself, where is the fun in this? When you cross the finish line at the end of each day and receive your daily score it is a great sense of accomplishment. The score is factored through four or five checkpoints each day, and the cumulative result of how many seconds (or minutes) you are off in each segment makes up your final score. For example, our best day was 18 seconds—which made us the top finishing Rookie team of that day—and our worst day has been just over three minutes. The cumulative score factors in everything up to this point minus your five worst scores. So far our cumulative score is 3 minutes and 50 seconds. We’ve had segments that were as little as one second (very exciting!) and segments around two minutes (not nearly as exciting).

So, how is the Mighty Model A faring? Well, during the first few days people were complimenting me on how effortlessly that car handles this race. However, the previous two days have been a different story. I ran into a string of bad luck between unplanned issues and faulty replacement parts. Over the course of two days I have had to replace the following parts: two water pumps, two sets of points, one head gasket, one alternator, and a broken latch on my front tool box.

The water pump issue started because the current water pump started leaking during the race. I wasn’t complaining because it had close to 19,000 miles on it, which is a lot in Model A miles. However, the first one I used to replace it threw the front bearing the next day so that meant overnight shipping a “new” one to the next hotel. I can tell you it was making a horrible noise when we rolled into Kanata, Ontario, the other night.

I proactively replaced the ignition points early on in the race and for some annoying reason the points I used to replace them lasted only a day and we were forced to make a side-of-the-road repair to replace them with yet another new set, hence one of the two-minute segments.

The more serious repair I’ve had was replacing the head gasket the other night. The Mighty Model A started running hot and overheated on me. I am not sure if the overheating caused the head gasket to go bad or the bad head gasket caused it to overheat, but the good news is we were back on the road yesterday morning after nursing it across the finish line.

Why do I say you need to experience this at least twice? As a rookie team each day brings new surprises and a huge learning curve. I think coming back for a second year—at least—gives you a huge leg up on the competition. I can see why there are many teams that have competed for more than 10 consecutive years—the thrill of beating that clock never goes away. And the friendships among the teams are priceless, which is what makes events like this in the classic car hobby the great events that they are.

Three days left and I hope to see you in Dearborn, Mich., on Sunday as we cross the finish line!

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