Great Race Launches From Chattanooga On June 11

Monday, May 16, 2011

Chattanooga has been chosen as the start city for the 2011 Great Race, and local business Coker Tire Company is the title sponsor, race organizers have announced.

The Great Race, America’s premiere old car rally, is expected to bring up to 75 antique automobiles to town for official start on Saturday, June 11, but most teams will be in town for several days prior to the event getting ready.

The Saturday start is free to the public and be held on Chestnut Street in downtown Chattanooga in front of Coker Tire Company’s headquarters. It will be just part of the day’s activities. Additional details will follow in the coming months.

Chattanooga joins great American cities Charleston, Atlanta, Washington, Philadelphia, Seattle and Los Angeles as the starting line for the Great Race.

The Great Race, which was run coast to coast for 25 years from 1983-2007, is not a speed race, but a time/speed/distance rally. The vehicles, each with a driver and navigator, are given precise instructions each day that detail every move down to the second. They are scored at secret check points along the way and are penalized one second for each second either early or late. As in golf, the lowest score wins.

Cars start – and hopefully finish – one minute apart if all goes according to plan. The biggest part of the challenge other than staying on time and following the instructions is getting an old car to the finish line each day, organizers say.

The first car is expected to leave around 9 a.m. and another car will leave each minute for the following hour and a half. The cars will be on display all morning before the start to allow spectators to visit with the participants and to look at the cars. It is common for kids to climb in the cars for a first-hand look.

Cars range in age from 1911 to 1969, with most having been manufactured before World War II. For the first time, a 100-year-old car will be participating in the race – a 1911 Velie owned by Howard and Doug Sharp of Fairport, N.Y.

Jeff Stumb, from Huntsville, Ala., has competed in the Great Race several times in his 1916 Hudson with his wife Karen.

“I love this country and wanted to see every corner of it,” Mr. Stumb said. “And I love old cars. So the Great Race has been a way for me to see places in the United States that most people never get to see while driving my 94-year-old car.”

Over the years, the Great Race has stopped in hundreds of cities big and small. “We have been to Austin, Nev.; Fayetteville, Tn.; Twin Falls, Idaho; Corning, N.Y.; Hayes, Kan.; and many others in between,” Mr. Stumb said.

“When the Great Race pulls into a city it becomes an instant festival. We have seen as many as 40,000 people at stops, like in Huntington Beach, Calif., and Sioux Falls, S.D.”

In year’s past, the drivers and navigators vote on their favorite stop.

The event’s main sponsors are Hemmings Motor News and Coker Tire. They were also involved as sponsors of the Hemmings Challenge in 2007-2010 in Branson, Mo.; Rogers, Ark.; Springfield, Mo.; and Bowling Green, Ky.

The Great Race was started in 1983 by Tom McRae and was sponsored by Interstate Batteries. It takes its name from the 1965 movie, The Great Race, which starred Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Natalie Wood and Peter Falk, which was a comedy based on the real life 1908 automobile race from New York to Paris. In 2004, Tony Curtis was the guest of the Great Race and rode in his car from the movie, the Leslie Special.

The Great Race gained a huge following from late night showings on ESPN when the network was just starting out in the early 1980s. The first entrant, Curtis Graf of Irving, Tex., is still a participant today and will be racing a 1932 Ford this year.

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