4 reasons every car lover should check out The Great Race
There are an endless number of ways by which to compare two drivers. The most popular are feats of flat-out speed, competitions that demand the driver be finely attuned to the car’s performance and handling characteristics while pushing their own physical and mental limits. Some people have the risk tolerance for that, but another group of driving enthusiasts figured out how to get all the challenge of racing but at a milder pace—and with way better scenery.
These people founded the Great Race—and yes, I know I just told you that it wasn’t racing. It is a wild driving experience, though, and one that doesn’t require participation to enjoy. As I write, the race is about to leave St. Augustine, Florida, on its way to Colorado Springs, Colorado. It’s essentially a traveling car show of over 100 vehicles and teams. Every lunch and dinner stop is a chance for locals to get up close and learn about these cars and the event. If you are even remotely nearby—and here’s the route, complete with addresses and times—the Great Race is well worth your time.
Cars are driven like they were meant to be
The Great Race has rules, like any competition does. The most visible is the age of the vehicles competing: They must be built pre-1972. The less visible rule is that the rally portions of the drive are scored in a way that gives preference to older cars. The relative luxury of a 1960s car might make the drive more enjoyable, but if you want to compete for the potential $50,000 prize, you’ll be wise to lean towards early cars, which come with unique challenges when considering the route and timing of this rally.
The cars that take part in the Great Race range from the relatively mild to the positively wild. Sure, there are ’60s muscle cars with air conditioning and stone-reliable V-8s, but there are also absurd early cars like the 1918 American LeFrance Speedster that sports a massive four-cylinder engine and chain-drive to power the rear wheels.
The challenge is fascinating
Each car is driven by a two-person team: a driver and a navigator. They follow a set of instructions handed to them by the rally master just 30 minutes before they start each day’s drive. The instructions are best described as cryptic, and navigators work quickly to decipher the pages and prepare their drivers for the day’s challenges. The goal is precise and consistent driving. I can tell you from experience that making a 1916 Hudson accelerate and brake at exactly the same rates over thousands of miles is demanding, but following the instructions isn’t that much easier in a 1968 Ford Mustang, as the team of Christian Lauber and Brandon Gregg has found over the last seven years of rallying.
“On the surface, when people first hear about the race, it sounds pretty simple,” says navigator Brandon.”Turn where they tell you to turn, and go the speed that they tell you to go. It’s really not that simple—the rally master assumes that every single motion you do, it’s done instantly. So when you need to slow down to take a turn, you need to be able to account for how much time you lost [getting] there. It turns a Sunday cruise to church into a real competition.”
It’s all about the love of driving
Yes, following the rally instructions and managing a vintage car over 2000 miles of driving is a challenge. At its core, however, the Great Race is a unique way to see parts of the country that a lot of drivers would never touch. The rally master designs the route to avoid highways or interstates and to keep the teams on winding back roads where they can’t see far enough ahead (or behind) to take cues from other rival cars.
The route is one that would never be suggested to a person trying to efficiently get from point A to point B. For Christian, that is the point. “It’s a lot of fun to go around with car people and see a lot of the back roads of this beautiful country that’s been lost because of the rise of GPS!”
A rolling group of people driving roads they have never seen with 200 of their friends makes for interesting conversation every evening, especially when locals ask, “What route did you take to get into town?” Rarely do participants have any idea; they just know the route was fun and pretty. And that’s okay.
They want you to join in
2023’s Great Race starts in St. Augustine, Florida on June 24 and will traverse most of the U.S. over the next nine days. Each lunch and dinner stop is effectively a pop-up car show of over 100 well-traveled vehicles—and you can meet the teams taking on this wild challenge. Take a look at the map above; you won’t regret taking the time to engage with these driving enthusiasts. They just might convince you to get on the waitlist for the 2024 Great Race. You’ve been warned . . .