The 2012 Great Race classic car rally kicked off in Traverse City, Mich., in June before traveling…
The Great Race, Stage 4: Girls’ team keeps to the straight and narrow
The ladies tasted victory today when the Hagerty girls’ team beat the boys’ team for the first time. Team Tabetha Salsbury and Kacy Smith came in just at one minute off the perfect score and my navigator Davin Reckow and I finished at 1:48 off the perfect score. Ironically, considering everything we’ve been through to this point, Stage 4 should have been an easy day. Much of the route was on the same single-lane road with minimal turns and the majority of the maneuvers were simple speed changes. Apparently my navigator and I don’t do as well driving in a straight line! I did realize that long stretches without any maneuvers are more difficult than moments with lots of maneuvers because it is easier to lose focus. When you lose focus during a long stretch you can miss a simple maneuver that will cost you time.
I’ve referred to the Great Race as a Time-Speed-Endurance Rally and the “endurance” part has multiple meanings. Not only is it an endurance rally for the teams, but it is also an endurance test for the vintage cars. In the most extreme case, the oldest car on the race is a 1907 Renault. Think about this: 2,300 miles of varying roads with endless quick starts and stops over nine days. There are plenty of people who love their classic cars and spend equal time showing them and driving them. There is nothing wrong with that at all, but it does make you realize it requires a completely different approach to prepare your pre-1969 car for this endurance rally. Most of these cars are not 100-point show cars, but they are in top mechanical shape.
Unfortunately, sometimes the best of preparation still isn’t enough. I’ve often reminded people that anything can happen to any car. I was once stranded on the side of the road in a rental car that had fewer than 500 miles on it, but my daily driver has nearly 250,000 miles on it and I’ve never had to be rescued by a tow truck. This same logic applies to old cars as well, though when they break down the problem often requires more creativity and ingenuity to fix. Both of the Hagerty cars have yet to miss any part of the race due to mechanical issues but it was close in my situation yesterday. Two things happened to the Mighty Model A (1930 Model A Tudor Sedan): The first was a charging system issue and the second was a water pump.
During the morning run we passed by a group of people who were wildly waiving at us and I answered back with a friendly “ahooga” with the signature Model A horn. (Remember me talking about losing focus?) I commented to my navigator that the horn sounded a little “tired” in the morning and we laughed it off. But, a few minutes later it suddenly hit me that there is a reason the horn doesn’t sound like it should. The rally speedometer that I installed for this event blocks the amp gauge so I don’t have a constant watch on the charging system. I held down the horn button again and turned on the lights at the same time; when I turned the lights on the horn sounded even more anemic. Uh oh, the charging system wasn’t charging for some reason.
The good news was I knew the battery would get us through the day without a working charging system if it had to as long as I refrained from using the horn. When we rolled into lunch, it didn’t take long to discover the terminal post on the back of the alternator — this car has been converted from a generator to an alternator, though it is still 6 volt — had come loose internally. To make a long story short we skipped lunch and instead used our time to quickly pull apart the alternator and make the repair. We were back in business with just enough time to stop at the gas station to pick up a lunch of protein bars and beef jerky.
As the day went on I started to notice a rotation noise coming from under the hood. It wasn’t bad at first but gradually became much louder. Seeing that I know this car really well — hence the reason I can diagnose the state of the charging system by the sound of the horn — I knew it was a water pump noise. And knowing how a Model A water pump is constructed, I decided to take my chances to continue the rally as I didn’t think there was a huge chance it would fly apart. Let me tell you, though: By the time we crossed the finish line in Kanata, Ontario, the noise from under the hood was very loud and painful! Sure enough the front bearing was shot in the water pump. I guess 19,000 miles on the last water pump isn’t too bad in 1930 standards. Luckily, a fresh water pump was waiting for me in the arsenal of spare parts and less than two hours later we were back in business.
The Hagerty girls’ team has experienced very few problems with the 1962 International pickup. While I was dealing with the water pump, Tabetha and Tony (our one-man support team) made some adjustments to tighten up the steering system. Otherwise that old workhorse hasn’t complained a bit, though it is very thirsty for fuel. To put it in perspective, at one of the fuel stops the other day the Mighty Model A took 27 liters and the International required 51 liters to cover the same distance. (Since I am writing this in Canada, I feel the need to use the metric system.)
Of the 92 cars that started in Traverse City, 81 are still competing —pretty good odds if you ask me!
The current cumulative standings are:
Team Jonathan Klinger and Davin Reckow: 53 of 81 with 1:34 off the perfect score
Team Tabetha Salsbury and Kacy Smith: 60 of 81 with 2:11 off the perfect score
To put this in perspective the first place team is 11 seconds off the perfect score and the last place team is 33 minutes off the perfect score.