10 states, 2,400 miles and over 100 classic cars

FARGO, ND — It’s a nine-day, 10-state, 2,400-mile classic car parade with vintage vehicles, some more than a century old, hopping across much of the United States. More than one hundred teams participated in the June event, known as the Great Race, charting a course from Rhode Island to North Dakota.

A Time-Speed-Distance rally, or TSD, the Great Race began in 1983 and follows a new course each year. Competitors must drive each precision-based segment of the event in a specified time, at a specified average speed. This year’s iteration began in Warwick, Rhode Island, and ended in Fargo, North Dakota. The rolling hills and congested highways of the East Coast gave way to the lush plains and cornfields of the Midwest. The newest car to enter the race was a 1974 Plymouth, while three 1916 models – two Hudsons and a Chevrolet – shared the mantle of the oldest.

The goal of the Great Race, said Jeff Stumb, event director and auto enthusiast, is to “get old cars out of garages and museums and onto the road.”

The event is loosely based on the 1965 comedy “The Great Race” starring Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, which was inspired by a 1908 race from New York to Paris, a harrowing event that took six international teams 169 days to complete. to run 22,000 miles

This year, the RPM Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides grants and other resources for young people interested in vehicle restoration and preservation, as well as mentorship opportunities, sent a team of five women: two student navigators and three adult hostesses-mentors (including this reporter).

Nick Ellis, the foundation’s executive director, assembled the team. According to Mr. Ellis, women make up less than 10 percent of the automotive workforce.

“In conversations I’ve had with auto shop teachers across the country,” Ellis said, “I hear over and over how the relatively few young women in their classes are just as capable, if not more so, than their men. counterparts.”

There have to be “examples of challenging this perception,” Ellis continued. Young women must “imagine themselves behind the wheel of a race car, sanding a fender, holding a wrench, etc., if we are going to be successful in revitalizing this industry.”

So, in June, our newly formed team of students took off from Rhode Island, accompanied by a cherry red 1966 Ford Mustang, which was on loan from the LeMay automobile museum in Tacoma, Washington.

Our drivers included Saber Cook, a 28-year-old professional race car driver and mechanical engineer, and Mallory Henderson, an experienced Great Race sailor who was getting behind the wheel of the race for the first time.

Ms. Henderson, 24, and her father, Scott Henderson, were hometown representatives for the final city of the 2013 Great Race, which ended in Mobile, Alabama. Since then, they have become a mainstay of the event. In 2018, when competitors’ brakes failed on a 1955 Buick at Mount Washington in New Hampshire, Mr. Henderson rescued the team by using his own car to stop the rampaging vehicle.

Mr. Henderson, who died that fall, is remembered for his brave act. The student category of the Great Race, known as the X-Cup, was renamed the Scott Henderson X-Cup Division. His coordinating scholarship and endowment program is now the Scott Henderson X-Cup Scholarship.

Our student sailors were Olivia Gadjo, 20, who recently graduated from Alfred State College in New York with a degree in motorsports technology, and Kinzie Wilson, also 20, a student at Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina. who will graduate in December with a specialization in motorsports management and a specialization in digital sports media.

Ms. Gadjo, who plans to take more motorcycle and welding courses, is restoring a 1988 Ford Bronco II that her uncle gave her. Ever since Mrs. Gadjo’s broadcast teacher, Mike Ronan, told her class about the Great Race, she had hoped to be in it. “I was ecstatic and saw it as the opportunity of a lifetime,” she said.

Ms. Wilson landed her first job in 2020 with NASCAR and the Mario Andretti Racing Experience while finishing high school and starting college. She has worked almost every position on the track.

“I bought my first car, a 1996 Corvette, when I was 13 years old and immediately took it to the race track,” Ms. Wilson, who is from Mansfield, Texas, said with a smile. “I explored the world of racing trying almost every type of racing I could.”

“After I graduate, I hope to find a job in Europe,” added Ms. Wilson. “My grandmother was born and raised in Italy before coming to the United States. It would be great to work in Italy. I want to work for Formula 1 or for a car manufacturer.”

After the introductions, but without the in-person training that a typical Great Race team often benefits from, we were off. Success came early, with an “ace” (a perfect score) in the first day’s practice run, earned by completing the segment in exactly the right time. But so did the mechanical problems with the 56-year-old car.

“Almost every day of the race, our team had a plan,” said Ms. Wilson, “and the car had a completely different one.” Gracie, a nickname we gave the ’66 Mustang, had a “love-hate relationship with the team,” she added.

“Gracie collapsed, stalled several times and wobbled when she wasn’t happy,” Ms. Wilson continued. “Each time, we did what we had to do, to keep her running and over the finish line the next day.”

Doing what we had to do was a lot of work, he added: “We were in the engine bay for hours rebuilding the carburetor, putting in an electric fuel pump, replacing spark plugs and more.”

Mrs. Gadjo appreciated working as part of a team. “Everyone has a strength that benefits the team,” she said. “It’s about the team as a whole and not individual moving parts.” From her teammates, she learned to have confidence in her abilities and not let anyone make her doubt herself.

“We also dealt with a lot of teams, and even fans, criticizing us because we were an all-female team,” Wilson said, adding that people were asking, “You girls really driving?” But, she said, “it just pushed us to work that much harder to get there.”

Despite these digs, the overall response was overwhelmingly positive. Dylan McCool, a YouTube star, and Rowland George, a senior advertising executive at Hemmings Motor News, a monthly magazine focused on classic cars, along with Bryan Vanzandt, one of the outlet’s social media influencers, battled the issues. from overheating and vapor lock on his 1969 Chevrolet Chevelle SS but he helped us diagnose our accelerator pump leak and cheered us up.

However, most of the work was done by us, the women of the RPM Foundation. Two moments stood out for Mr. Ellis. First: the team’s willingness to “tackle one of the most complex mechanical procedures, a carburetor rebuild, in a parking lot in the middle of the night with only flashlights to illuminate their work.”

Second: The following night, the team’s newly installed mechanical fuel pump failed and the Mustang had to be towed. “The team was tired and sleepless from the long day and night rebuilding the night before,” he said. “So, I offered to let everyone go to sleep while I installed an electric fuel pump. Every one of them stayed to help with the repairs.”

Two teams from Auburn, Indiana, sponsored by the National Auto and Truck Museum and the Old Ford V-8 Foundation Museum, helped another ailing team change its transmission in an overnight surgery in a parking lot three days after that one of his cars lost his.

With so many classic cars covering so much ground, mechanical mishaps and parts problems were frequent.

Still, volunteers helped make the Great Run run smoothly for the 550 people who participated. “We started with a record number of teams: 130,” Stumb said, and “111 finished the event nine days and 2,400 miles later.” We were one of those teams, ranking 90th.

The motto of the Great Race is: “To Finish is to Win!” It’s a testament to teamwork, collaboration, and old-school know-how.

“Remaining in your car when given the option to rest instead demonstrates tremendous determination and dedication,” Ellis said. “I couldn’t be more proud of our team.”

The RPM Foundation will become a permanent fixture in the Great Race X-Cup segment, Ellis said. He plans to recruit new teams to compete.

“Women should consider the automotive industry as a career because there are so many opportunities,” added Ms. Gadjo. “The industry is recognizing that women have a lot to contribute and is looking for them to fill positions. There is a great demand for professionals in this career”.

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