By Dave Hauman
Since 2000, when I watched The Great Race pass through in Bloomington, Illinois, it had been an aspiration of mine to participate. In 2016, when my 1970 Jaguar E-Type qualified, I, along with Kool Kat’s Krewe members Dave Fitch and Craig College, signed up to race. The course that year ran from San Rafael, California to Moline, Illinois, which just happens to be my hometown.
The Great Race is not a race in the traditional meaning of the word. It’s not about all out speed. Rather, the organizers label it a “timed endurance rally.”
It is definitely timed. The recommended speedometers are calibrated down to the 1/10 mph. The special recommended clock needed to be synchronized with Greenwich Mean Time each morning before the beginning of each run. The goal is to arrive at the designated end point at exactly the designated time—to the second. Not one second early, nor one second late. Believe it or not, several cars achieved perfect scores for some segments.
And the Race definitely requires endurance. The first car leaves the starting line at 8am, meaning that most days begin no later than 7am. A public car show ends each day’s run meaning that bedtime is usually sometime after 9 or 10pm. Going through the desert in 90-plus degree heat in a non-AC car, meant a constant struggle to stay hydrated. My wife Diana estimated I lost 10 – 15 pounds over the course of the 10-day race.
Between each starting and stopping point, there are turns, stop signs, traffic lights, etc. So it’s necessary to know how long it takes for your car to come to a complete stop from a designated speed. And likewise, how long it takes to go from a standing start to reach a designated speed.
We performed multiple trial runs going from zero to 5 mph, zero to 10 mph… and also, the reverse, 20 mph to zero, 15 mph to zero, etc. In this manner, when the instructions say stop for 15 seconds at a stop sign and then proceed at 30 mph, the navigator can deduct whatever time it takes to get to 30 mph from the 15 seconds and tell the driver to start moving again in, for example, 10.5 seconds.
Craig and I were running these trials on a county road outside of town one day, using a farmhouse as our turnaround point for each run. After several runs, a woman came out of the house. I poked my head out of the car and said, “You are probably wondering what we’re doing?” She nodded and I gave a brief explanation. She then asked: “You mean you’re going to drive from here to California just to turn around and drive back?” I responded, “Yep, that pretty well sums it up.”
The first few days out of San Rafael went well. We were raw neophytes, but nevertheless our scores were mid-pack. Not great, but not embarrassingly poor either. We were fairly satisfied with ourselves. And then misfortune smiled a sinister grin.
In the middle of Wyoming, our generator (or dynamo as the Brits would have it) went out. Trust me, there are no replacement generators for an E-type in the state of Wyoming or any of the adjoining states. We bought a second battery and a charger and continued the course swapping out batteries. Our scores plummeted, but we were still in the race when many of the 125 cars that started were not.
We limped along until we reached a park in Mason City, Iowa. Craig had gone ahead in the chase car and arranged extension cords so that we could charge batteries while having lunch. With the hood up and charging cables attached, a couple drove up in a ’69 E-Type coupe. The fellow hopped out and asked what we were doing. With the entire car plastered with Great Race decals, we told him that our generator had quit. “Well,” he said, “I have a spare generator in my trunk. Would you like it?”
It took less than a New York second for us to respond “YES!”
When I asked how we could pay them, the wife responded that it was enough to keep another Jaguar on the road. Nevertheless, when I got home, the first thing I did was order a new generator to be delivered to their house.
And if the odds of this happening weren’t long enough, we learned later that the couple wasn’t even from Mason City, but rather lived outside of town. They thought it was such a lovely day and should have a picnic in a city park. They chose that park at that time to have their picnic.
If any readers know Dave and Luanne Parson of Mason City, Iowa, please thank them again for us. If not for their kindness and generosity, we wouldn’t have finished the race under our own power.
And once again, my belief that car people are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet was confirmed. MM