27 June 2012

The Great Race: Beautiful scenery, hospitality, and friendly rivalry mark Girls' Team's experience

We are finished with the first four days of the 2012 Hemmings Motor News Great Race presented by Hagerty with five more days to go—and I am finally getting an update out to you. I apologize for the delay—there’s not a lot of time each evening once we get to the hotel and after working on the race vehicles.

I’m driving a 1962 International Travelette ¾-ton pickup with my navigator, Kacy Smith. The pickup is part of the Hagerty Family Collection and is an attention-getter and crowd pleaser to say the least! Kacy and I are one of the only “all-girls” teams running, and we’re out to show that ladies are just as able as any male to pilot, navigate, work on and enjoy classic cars, which also adds to the excitement from the crowds.

A little bit of quick background on The Great Race—it is a “timed-distance” endurance rally, meaning it isn't necessarily about who crosses the finish line first or drives the fastest, but rather who keep closest to a specific time of arrival throughout, taking into consideration differences for speed changes and such. This year, the race started from Traverse City and will travel about 2,300 miles around the Great Lakes for nine days before ending in Dearborn, Mich., at The Henry Ford Museum. We started Saturday morning and will finish this coming Sunday evening. Each day we have a lunch and dinner/overnight stop in different towns, where we are welcomed with great enthusiasm and excitement and hosted for a cruise-in and lunch/dinner. It is incredible the amount of people who come out and the efforts that each town puts forth —the level of hospitality continues to blow me away.

From Hagerty, Kacy and I make up the “Girls’ Team,” and the “Guys’ Team” is made up of our coworkers, Jonathan Klinger and Davin Reckow, who are driving a 1930 Ford Model A Tudor sedan. Some may say they are our biggest competition, as it is our personal mission—and the hope of many others—that we have a better overall score than the boys by the end of the race.

I should mention that Jonathan, Davin, Kacy and I are all best friends, so this “battle of the sexes” is all friendly fun that will likely end with all of us celebrating our victories together over a tasty steak dinner after the race is over, no matter who ends up coming out ahead. The Great Race is an incredible experience in itself, but doing it with a group of friends makes it even that much more memorable!

Day One was filled with a ton of excitement, adrenaline and overwhelming smiles. The Grand Start of the Race took place in downtown Traverse City and was quite the event. A huge crowd of people came out to send us off, and it was a rush like I've never experienced before. Kacy and I were No. 2 off the start line—a bit nerve wracking for the two of us to be so far in front of the pack of 91 racers, but an incredible feeling. We were sent off by an impressive cheering section, and were so overwhelmed with the crowd's energy and excitement that we missed our first turn right out of town! Fortunately, we weren't the only ones to have missed that turn, the Guys’ Team did, too. Go figure—the two local teams who know the downtown roads like the back of our hands miss the first turn of the whole Race.

We headed north and crossed into the Upper Peninsula by way of the Mackinac Bridge where we stopped for our lunch break in St. Ignace. This was my very first time across the Bridge, and let me tell you, it was incredible. And to be going across it in a 1962 International pickup? Even better! The water was the most gorgeous blue/green color I've ever seen. If you've never been across and you have the chance to go, jump at it. The image will stick in your mind for many, many years to come.  We finished out Day One with an overnight stop in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., where were welcomed to town by a large cheering crowd of locals. The cars were on display right by the famed shipping locks while the racers enjoyed visiting with locals, talking cars, listening to good music and enjoying each other’s company.

Day Two started out early with a start time of 7:30 a.m. We traveled from Sault Ste. Marie to Sudbury, Ontario, with a lunch stop in Elliot Lake, Ontario. The areas that we drive through each day are incredible—and absolutely beautiful. However, the day’s route was a bit trying. The road we were on was lovely—a winding road with forests on each side and a river that ran along the road in some area, with occasional sightings of lakes throughout. Doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Well, the trying part was the fact that about 3 miles of the road was unpaved—never a good combination with classic cars—and it was one of the bumpiest, curviest and narrowest roads I’ve been on in a long time. I definitely had my work cut out for me trying to keep the International going down the road at the correct speed for the correct amount of time.

Oh yeah, and it rained throughout the day. But that’s why the race is also an “endurance race,” and we made it through and only came out about 16 seconds off of our timed mark for that specific leg—an accomplishment Kacy and I were pretty proud of. However, we learned a very valuable lesson that day. At the very end, we missed one little turn that basically took us around the block and then out onto the main road where the timed-course ended. We contemplated turning around and correcting our mistake, but then decided to just continue onto the main road seeing it was the end of the course. The problem: they very last check point (where they check our times) was in that little loop that we missed. So, we unfortunately did not get a score for that leg—and ultimately earned a “Did Not Finish” for the day, putting us back at place 81 in the overall race results for the day. The good news is that because we are Rookies, each day we are able to choose one leg/score to throw out, so by throwing that one out, we still made out alright and ended up in 63rd place overall (cumulative).

Day Three took us from Sudbury to Barrie, Ontario, with lunch in Parry Sound at a very cool place, the Bobby Orr Hall of Fame. (Bobby Orr is a famous hockey player.) This day was also full of incredible sights and a lot of calculations, speed changes and fun. A highlight of the morning was seeing a huge bull elk. Unfortunately, it happened to be dead on the side of the road. Apparently it was involved in a bit of a car vs. elk tussle the night before. I’m just sure glad it wasn’t any of the race cars! Overall for Day #2 we came in 59th place out of all the racers at 58 seconds off our mark. Not too shabby for a couple of rookies, I think! When we got back to the hotel, we decided to do some general maintenance to the International to keep her tip top and in shape. I checked her fluids in the front and then decided I better check the level of the gear lubricant in the rear end, as I noticed a few drops on the ground when I pulled out of a fueling station earlier in the day. Fortunately, the grease level was just fine and the only thing she needed in the front end was a top off of engine oil. Jonathan and Davin had some problems throughout the day with the water pump on the Model A, so they spent the evening replacing that and doing other general maintenance.

Day Four of the race brought great news—we finally beat the guys! Now we only need to keep that streak going for the next five race days. Days seem to be flying by much faster than I anticipated. Kacy and I had a good day—we had our speedometer calibrated and tuned in just right, and we hit every one of our start times right on the mark without encountering any mechanical problems along the way. We traveled from Barrie, Ontario, to Kanata (Ottawa), with a lunch stop at Barry’s Bay. This marked the longest travel day for us—and let me tell you, it was a long haul! In following the route directions, we looked for one specific sign for about an hour before finally coming up on it. The stretches of road were long, but overall the maneuvers (speed changes, turns, etc.) that were required, in general, were not very complicated. It was a welcomed break that also allowed us to enjoy some of the amazing scenery at various points throughout.

We made it through nearly the entire day with no wrong/missed turns and were feeling pretty good about being close to our marked times, until one of the very last maneuvers when we second-guessed ourselves on a turn that ended up causing us to fall about 2 minutes behind where we should have been and having to frantically try to catch up before hitting the next checkpoint. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to exactly where we should have been before crossing the check point, but we were able to make up a lot of the time and came in only 45 seconds late. So, for the overall score of the day we were 1:11 off, and the Guys’ Team was off by 1:48, meaning we came out on top the day. Cumulative results: The guys are sitting at 53rd and Kacy and I are at 60th.  We are slowly gaining on them with plenty of time to catch up.

Tonight, we did our nightly check of fluids and general maintenance on the International and tightened up the steering gear box. I had about a half-a-turn of play in the steering wheel and noticed the bolts on the gear box were loose. A few quick turns or the ratchet on each of them definitely helped. I’ve had quite a few people comment on us girls working on the International ourselves; my response to them has been, “My dad always told me, if I can’t work on them and fix them, I can’t play with them!”

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