Sisterhood of the rallying Ford: Young women take home Great Race 2021 title
Some people have “it.” The fascinating thing? “It” manifest in various forms, depending on the individual (or team) in question. Winners of Great Race 2021, sisters Olivia and Genna Gentry, have “it” in abundance. Their accomplishment speaks for itself, but how the two young women are choosing to continue to invest in the sport they love says a lot about their passion and commitment to the sport.
The Great Race traces roots to 1983, but the elder Gentry, Olivia, 21, wouldn’t even be born until 2000. The pair boasts a mere four years of rallying under their belts, but don’t let that fool you. The sisters have distance rallying in their blood.
“I was born just three weeks before the Great Race, and my mom still navigated that year,” Says Genna, 18, the navigator for the team in the ruby-red 1932 Ford. “I couldn’t imagine how she would take care of me at night and then still be out on the road all day.” Olivia, the driver, has attended every Great Race since her birth.
That kind of family dedication and institutional knowledge is part their success, the duo says. Many new Great Racers come prepared by talking occasionally with veteran mentors in the weeks leading up to the race, but Olivia and Genna grew up with them. “Any and every question we had those first years, and even now, we can easily talk with our mom and come up with the best solution.” However, despite being present event year after year, the sisters concede that rallying themselves was a whole different ballgame.
“We were there all those years but we didn’t try and understand the navigation and actual rally parts. We were there on vacation, usually mad when Mom wouldn’t take us to the pool every night,” said Genna with a laugh. ” Now that we are doing it, we understand why that didn’t happen.”
Olivia drives the Gentry’s 21-stud flathead-power coupe, and she admits she has the easier job. (Easier, but not easy by any means, as I know well.) Though it’s fun, the Great Race isn’t the vacation it once was. The days of rallying take their toll. The coupe they drive is a three-speed transmission with no overdrive, meaning the transit sections (parts of the route that are not being timed) can sometimes be just as taxing as the sections on the clock. “The middle transits are actually quite stressful, because sometimes we are pushing the car harder there just to make sure we hit the restart on time,” said Olivia. “We really only get about 53 mph out of the car with no overdrive, and it’s quite the handful going that fast.” That characterization is worth a lot coming from Olivia, who also wheels cars at dirt tracks around the family’s Georgia home during the other 51 weeks of the year.
The car might be a handful, but the sisters certainly have the ins-and-outs of rallying down pat. Over the nine-day event for 2021, the Gentrys posted single-digit scores on all but one day—which was a 10. The total score over the rally was 41.31 seconds, which most rookie (and a few sportsman) teams would be happy to have for a day, much less the entire event. As the scores rolled in day after day, the sisters avoided mentioning how they were in the lead, or that the second-place car was the one for which their mother navigates.
“Those last days are the hardest days. When we were packing up to go to the start Mom joked that it would be us and them at the finish line waiting to be announced,” said Genna. “No one who is leading the first day ever wins. Then the next day we were still leading. We just wouldn’t talk about it, and then before we know it there were no more days. You never really know until it’s over. That last stop sign where we went off the clock was a little surreal. We had to really come to grips with it. The 8-second lead we had at the start of the last day was pretty big in Great Race terms, but it could still disappear pretty quick. We really didn’t know until they announced it.”
That announcement, which came in downtown Greenville South Carolina, confirmed that the final standings were just as their mother predicted. All three top contenders were driving ’32 Fords this year: Gary and JeanAnn Martin in a blue coupe (third place), Jody Knowles and Beth Gentry in a red and black roadster (second place), and the Gentry girls in their maroon coupe. Collectively there were decades of Great Race history and experience in just those three cars, but it was the young Gentry women who kept it cool and collected on that final day of rallying to bring home the big $50,000 grand prize–winning by a tidy nine seconds.
To be Grand Champions on just their fourth attempt is an impressive feat. You rarely hear of mountaineers speed climbing the same mountain twice, but reaching the top of the Great Race mountain is not the end for this dynamic duo.
“This is something we hope we can do for a long time,” said Olivia, concerning what comes next.”We want to continue to get better and keep having fun with the Great Race family.”
That Great Race family is one the Gentrys are working to expand. Immediately after winning, they announced they would be mentors for an all-female X-cup team to help further encourage women and young people to join the classic car hobby. The X-cup program is a kind of introductory rallying class targeted at colleges or car clubs, and it consists of an adult driver and multiple students or young people who can rotate navigating. Could the up-and-comers Olivia and Genna mentor one day surpass them? Possibly, but at the current rate we wouldn’t bet against the Gentry clan, which is a budding dynasty with years of success surely ahead. We wouldn’t bet against a team that so clearly has “it.”