It is now day six of the 2019 Great Race rally, and with more than 1000 miles of driving behind them, we’re pretty beat up. I don’t mean figuratively. The 1917 Peerless Green Dragon is competitive, and it has proven itself for many years before I took the steering wheel. All this means I feel the pressure to honor the car and put together a solid score, despite the fact that most days my navigator, Brett Lirones, and I feel a bit wet behind the ears about this whole time-speed-distance rally thing.
It’s not all about competition, although it can be if you are into that, since the rally master lays out a route that is also the road trip of a lifetime. Even though the first few days were big on mile count and small on challenging rally maneuvers, the field of 116 race teams has already seen the high desert of California, driven along the Highway 101 with salty air wafting into their nostrils, and gazed skyward at the majesty of the redwood forest, which contains thousands of trees that are at least 100 years old.
We’re stringing together a great scorecard thus far, currently sitting in 14th place overall. It has also been an honor to add multiple Ace stickers to the car. Participants covet these Aces, since the only way to get one is to execute the rally master’s instructions perfectly and arrive at the checkpoints at perfect time—down to the second.
It isn’t easy, but the old saying about a blind squirrel applies as much here as other parts of life. I am absolutely confident luck was the third passenger in the Green Dragon on Day 2, when we scored an Ace on a stretch of rally just shy of two and a half hours. To execute the long maneuvers (holding exactly 50 mph for 20 minutes, for example) takes skill, but also careful preparation like setting the speedometer calibration perfectly.
Each day starts with a speedometer calibration run, and it was fascinating to watch the altitude and heat play games with the adjustment of the precision Timewise speedometer. Every morning, I check the tire pressure as part of the car warm up, and as we reached an altitude of more than 7000 feet, the tire pressure dropped from 38 psi to 33 psi, yet the rollout of the tire got longer. How could the tire pressure drop so significantly while the overall diameter grew? Best I can guess, the amount of air inside the tire did not change while the atmospheric pressure on the tire diminished, allowing that inner air to expand the tire more than normal. If you can explain it better, please tell me about it in the comments below.
The scenery has been sublime, with multiple experiences that alone would otherwise be the highlight of a classic car road trip. One of the more cliché examples is the drive-through tree in Leggett, California. I am not normally the type who goes for tourist traps like this, but I happily forked over a $10 bill to the gentleman working the wooden shack on the gravel road so I could drive the Green Dragon through that 2400-year-old, 315-foot-tall monster of a redwood tree. It was humbling to see a living thing so massive, and I was so in awe I purchased an ice cream cone from the gift shop and sat in the grass, staring up at the absurdly huge tree before hopping back into the car and motoring through the redwood forest to reach our dinner stop.
The rally is just now about half over, but most of the mileage is behind us, meaning the remaining days are shaping up to be more technical and demanding of the three of us—me, Brett, and the Green Dragon. As competitors in the Sportsman Division, we get to “throw out” our six worst scores over the course of the rally. However, none of the legs from the last two days—also known as the “championship days”—can be thrown out. Not only will we be tired and beat in our 102-year-old chariot, the rally master often adds additional challenges in these days to separate the best from the rest.