Brad Phillips and Jen Murray get along like siblings. Which is exactly the potential powder keg you want trapped inside an old truck for a competitive, two-week, cross-country rally. Not.
“I’m really looking forward to rallying with Jen again,” Phillips deadpanned as the two geared up to represent Hagerty in the 2,500-mile Great Race road rally that begins June 18 in San Rafael, Calif. “For days … weeks, even. Good God.”
Murray didn’t hesitate. “Yes, it’s going to be a looooong couple of weeks, Bradley. Get ready.”
Joking aside, Phillips and Murray are hoping their precious little experience as road-rally teammates improves their chances in the Great Race. The two drove a 1966 Volkswagen Beetle in May’s Rally Round the Erie Canal and were pleased with the results.
“It was fun to train Jen as a new navigator, and I think she picked it up well,” said Phillips, a Client Relations Manager for Hagerty’s Private Client Services Group. “We finished first in our class in the Trophy Run and fourth in class for the event. We even picked up a couple of Aces (perfect scores).”
“Not too shabby for our first run together,” Murray added.
The Great Race, which begins Tuesday, is a controlled-speed endurance road rally for 1972-and-older vehicles. It isn’t based on speed but instead tests the ability of a driver and navigator to follow precise course instructions.
“We learned a lot about how to communicate with each other,” Phillips said. “It takes two people working together – driver and navigator – to be successful.”
Phillips will be competing in his second Great Race; his first was in 2011. He has competed in regional rallies across the country with the Vintage Car Rally Association and the Northeast Rally Club since 2008. Phillips also served as a member of Hagerty’s Great Race support team from 2012-2014.
While Hagerty’s other Great Race entry – a 1917 Peerless – is a perennial contender, Phillips and Murray will compete in a 1946 Ford pickup that is making its first appearance in the event. Phillips was one of four Hagerty employees who resurrected the truck in the “Swap to Street Challenge” at Hershey, Pa., last October.
“The Swap to Street truck has never competed in a rally, and it can be hard on equipment if you’re not paying attention all the time,” Phillips said. “We will probably do thousands of starts, stops and turns over 2,000-plus miles of rallying, so keeping an eye and ear on brakes, clutch and engine is going to be really important if we’re going to make it to the end.”
Phillips, who has been with Hagerty for seven years, and Murray, an Agency Operations training consultant in her second year with the company, have diverse automotive backgrounds. Phillips grew up around cars and has vivid memories of his grandfather’s 1950 Dodge and his father’s vintage Corvettes. His first car was a 1965 Mustang. Murray, on the other hand, admits she didn’t have much interest in classics until she joined Hagerty. Like many of us, however, she was bitten by the bug and is currently looking to acquire a 1950-60 Ford truck or Jeep. “The energy around this hobby is so great here that it’s impossible not to develop a passion for it.”
Both are looking forward to everything the Great Race has to offer – the people, the cars, the sights and scenery.
“Most of all it’s about meeting new people and the relationships you’re able to build with other team members and crews,” said Murray, whose parents will be in Moline, Ill., on June 26, greeting her at the finish.
“The Great Race is a special, bucket-list type of event,” Phillips said. “I’d probably die if I wasn’t involved in it in one form or another. One of the best things you can do with an old car is to drive it. This event celebrates people who like to get out and really put these vehicles through their paces in a competitive setting across thousands of miles. What’s not to like?”
Well, there is the dreaded “conversation trap,” as Phillips calls it.
“What generally happens is that you are driving along at the speed you are supposed to be driving, and something nice outside the window catches your eye,” he said. “You make a comment, a conversation ensues, and a false sense of security and calm washes over you … then suddenly it’s ‘Wait! Was that the next sign we were looking for? Turn around!’ But hey, it’s all part of the fun, right?”
Fortunately, Murray said Phillips is “awesome at calculating how much time has been lost and how to make it up.” Phillips’ biggest flaw? Murray said he “needs to learn to love and appreciate five-hour energy drinks” as much as she does. On second thought, Phillips needs more energy about as much as a dog needs more fleas.