Great Race 2019: Our plan to drive 1100 miles in a 1917 Peerless Green Dragon
The Great Race is an epic adventure, although it’s a different type of race than you might be imagining. In fact, it isn’t really a race at all. It’s time-speed-distance-rally meets rolling-interstate-car-show, attended by 300 of your closest friends. Still, even that doesn’t sum up the guts, glory, and pre-war goodness that make the Great Race such a beautiful spectacle.
The simplest explanation is usually the best, and so here it is: Co-pilot Brett Lirones and I will attempt to cover roughly 1100 miles in a car built more than 100 years ago—Hagerty’s 1917 Peerless Green Dragon. Strap your lap belt, kids, because the 2019 Great Race is on.
The core of the Great Race is the route. When the event was first held in 1983, the routes were no small trip, taking driver and navigator coast to coast in a grueling two-week rally. The route varied each year in those days, and that tradition continues, but now the overall commitment is a bit lighter. For 2019, the plan is to run from Riverside, California, to Tacoma, Washington. The 2018 route took participants from Buffalo to Halifax, Nova Scotia.
We aren’t exactly driving a trusty Toyota Camry from Southern California to the Pacific Northwest, so this isn’t a simple road trip by any stretch of the imagination. Each of the 120 cars, all built prior to 1975, set off from Riverside staffed by a driver and navigator. Each person has a specific job, and they rarely switch on the road.
The goal of the race is to arrive at undisclosed checkpoints on the route at exactly the correct time. For the top-tier teams, competition is measured in seconds, not minutes. And because you can’t maintain a constant speed to get to your destination, taking corners at 50 mph or whatever, the navigator creates speed charts that calculate the time lost for accelerations and turns. Using those charts, the navigator marks the directions, making alterations to fit the car they are navigating. That requires a lot of math. Navigators get the day’s route and instructions just 30 minutes before the car is scheduled to start the route for the day.
Each team is made up of three parts—driver, navigator, and car. This year Team Hagerty is on a bit of a redemption mission after having a rough go last year.
Team Hagerty’s navigator is Brett Lirones. He’s a fan of modern Pontiacs and Chevrolet LS engines in general. Brett daily drives a C5 Corvette during the summer months, meaning the Great Race is a great departure from his norm. Me? I’m a noted Corvair fanatic.
We were rookies last year, so we’re excited to leave the start line with a bit more experience this time around. Pre-war cars have always been interesting to both of us, but driving Hagerty’s 1917 Peerless is by far the most time behind the wheel or in the passenger seat either of us has spent in a true pre-war machine.
The Peerless is a true classic, and it has a storied history with the Great Race. As a matter of fact, the Green Dragon is the longest-participating car in the event, having shown up every year since 1997. Featuring a Peerless V-8 measuring 330 cubic inches and rated at 80 horsepower, the Green Dragon started life as town sedan or touring car before being repurposed into a board track racer at some point in the 1920s. The conversion involved removing that town sedan body and fabricating a speedster body similar to what it wears now.
The most popular question we get is “What happens when it rains?” The answer is a simple one—we get wet. That’s part of the fun though, and the folks who run open cars are in a class all their own when it comes to the internal hierarchy of Great Race participants. You’ll immediately be able to pick out those people on rainy days—even before the race begins. They’re the ones standing around without an umbrella. Hey, there’s no sense delaying the inevitable.
How to get involved
This adventure will begin Saturday, June 22, in Riverside, and snake its way through numerous towns northward before the grand finish June 30 in Tacoma at LeMay, America’s Car Museum.
Each day’s lunch and dinner stops bring all the cars to one spot, creating a large rolling car show. Check out GreatRace.com for photo galleries from previous events, along with how to sign up for the 2020 race if this whole rally thing seems like your speed.
I’ll be writing updates that you can find here on Hagerty’s website, along with more regular updates on Hagerty’s Instagram and Facebook pages. If you can make it out in person, I encourage you to connect for a lunch or dinner stop, and be sure to stop by and say hello to me and Brett. You can’t miss us—we’re the two sunburned (and possibly soaking wet) guys in the Green Dragon.