By Jay Follis
The esteemed Great Race, the highly competitive cross-country road rally made up of all vintage automobiles, will be traveling through Michigan and make a mid-day public stop at the Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners, Michigan, on June 29.
More than 120 pre-1972 autos will be traveling more than 2,400 miles from Jacksonville, Florida, to Traverse City, Michigan—much of it along the historic Dixie Highway—in a nine-day vintage car endurance rally competition. Unlike the name implies, it’s not about high speed racing but an endurance rally where following precise instructions and arriving on time each day are key. The 2-17 Great Race takes place June 24 – July 2. The cars are scheduled to stop at the Gilmore Care Museum for a lunch break around 12:15 p.m. June 29 before continuing on to Ypsilanti. The group continues on June 30 to Chesterfield, then Frankenmuth . July 1, they travel to Alpena with an overnight at Sault Ste. Marie arriving on July 2 at Traverse City.
The entire competition takes place without the use of any cell phones, GPS or maps.
More than 100 teams come from all across the United States and foreign countries to compete for nearly $250,000 in prize money, with about six teams from high school and college programs running in a special class. The X-Cup Division doesn’t compete for cash but for possible student scholarship funds and “an experience of a life time,” according to Fred Colgren, Education Director of the Gilmore Car Museum.
Colgren recently announced that a team of high school students from the Museum’s Gilmore Garage Works, an after-school program that provides hands-on involvement with maintaining and restoring vintage cars, will run in the 2017 Great Race. The six qualifying teens making up the only such youth team from the Midwest are from West Michigan Counties: Allegan, Barry, and Kalamazoo.
The Museum began Garage Works in 2008 to help fill the void left after several local schools eliminated auto shop classes. The Gilmore utilized its facility and staff members, along with volunteer mentors made up of area hobbyists. On Tuesday andThursday evenings each semester about two dozen area students team up with a nearly equal number of mentors. Together they have completely restored the chassis of a 1931 Willys and 1909 Buick, a handful of vintage motorcycles, and are currently working on a Model A pickup and a 1948 Lincoln V-12 Sedan.
This June three of the adult mentors (race rules require drivers be 21 or older) and the six students will make up the Garage Works team for the Great Race and run a 1935 Packard, assembled for the race by museum staff.
The students become the navigators, guiding the driver’s way and making all the calculations during the trip. Mechanical repairs are also the sole duty of the team. Following only precise turn-by-turn written instructions that include such directions as how many seconds to sit at stop signs or the exact speed and distance to accelerate to, the navigators must assist the driver without using maps, GPS or calculators, though stop watches and pencils are allowed.
Last year’s overall winner concluded the race in just 1 minute and 20.3 seconds off the perfect race time (a designated time they learn of only after the race).
The Gilmore car selected to run the Great Race is a 1935 Packard that was donated to Garage Works by Bea Dinger of Zeeland, as it was a restoration project left unfinished by her late husband Bud. While much had been done over the years by various groups of Garage Works students, the sedan still required more work than the program had hours available to complete. To meet the race and training deadlines a group of Museum staff and volunteers took on the project in order to give the students a jump start on finishing it in time for the event.
Overall, Colgren believes it is the life lessons that students take away from Garage Works that are most valuable to them.
“You never know the impact you’re going to have on a student,” he explained. “We are thrilled to give our students the remarkable opportunity to run in the Great Race— the world’s premiere vintage car endurance rally.”
The Gilmore Car Museum is a public, 501(c)3 non-profit institution, dedicated to preserving the history and heritage of the American automobile. For more information, visit GilmoreCarMuseum.org.