The Herald, Sharon,
PA Published Friday, June 12, 1998


Vintage cars make history in 4,000-mile trek across America

By Lawrence Sanata
Herald Staff Writer

It was Tom McRea's dream come true, for the 16th year running. Two hundred competitors in 100 rip-roaring old cars, being met in the center of town by more than a thousand cheering, flag-waving fans.

``This is the real America,'' the bearded organizer of the Great Race said minutes after screaming down Washington Street in a hellish red 1937 Buick speedway racer and coming to a skidding halt smack dab in the middle of downtown New Castle.

``America is not the six o'clock news. Thank God,'' he proclaimed after removing a black leather driving cap and goggles, exposing a shaggy white beard and a red, white and blue silk scarf around his neck.

Sordid headlines, the Texan drawled, don't tell the story of ordinary people striving for adventure and others cheering them on. That, he said, is what makes the Great Race great.

Competitors ate lunch Thursday in New Castle and took a break from their 14-day 4,000-mile rally across America.

The downtown was crowded with spectators, many wishing they could compete in the grand rally. One car after another was met by boisterous applause and Zambelli fireworks.

The fact that The History Channel filmed a segment about Zambelli Internationale a couple of years ago played a big part in the race passing through town, said Debbie Baron, who helped with local preparations.

Considered by many to be the richest and most prestigious vintage car rally anywhere, the race is sponsored this year by the History Channel.

New Castle also used it as the start of the city's bicentennial celebration.

Racers in a half-dozen categories are competing for a share of some $250,000 in prize money. Most paid ``private entry'' registration fees of $6,500 which did not include gasoline, meals and overnight lodging.

One-hundred vehicles left the starting line May 31 in Tacoma, Wash., but the number has dwindled as the race takes its toll on cars and competitors as they head to the finish line in Haverhill, Mass., near Boston.

Drivers and navigators are permitted to have only a clock with a second hand and pencil and paper as they compete in the time-distance rally. Teams earn points for completing legs of the journey in an allotted amount of time. Each day, they also receive new instructions for that day's events.

Competitors include husbands and wives, business associates, friends and even teachers and students.

James Lacoy drove into New Castle with 17-year-old Jeremy Adams in the passenger seat of a 1930 Ford Model A Speedster.

Jeremy is one of eight students who are competing from Astronaut High School in Titusville, Fla. They take turns riding with Lacoy since race regulations prohibit anyone younger than 25 from driving.

Three years ago, the Astronaut teacher and his students competed for the first time in the race. Since then, a special X-Cup category was developed for high school teams. Along with no registration fee, student teams compete for $25,000 in scholarships.

Lacoy found the Speedster in a palmetto thicket. ``The gentleman who owned it said `Heck, you can have it. I'll give you the title.'[TH]''

Students in Lacoy's auto mechanics class rebuilt the car.

Looking weathered and weary, John Hollansworth of Hot Springs Village, Ark., and Bob Baltzel of Connersville, Ind., parked next to the school's entry in their larger and more elaborate 1917 Peerless racer.

A42 Both retired _ Hollansworth as a vice president of Western-Union and Baltzel as aschool administrator _ the two said the race seemed only natural for guys who liked old cars.

And the hail, sleet and snow they drove through in Idaho and Colorado, and the rain in the midwestern states and the fog outside of New Castle didn't mean a thing, driver and navigator said.

More rewarding, the 67-year-old Hollansworth said, is the ``camaraderie of the people ... every place we go we are well received.''

He has competed eight times, while his friend has competed five times.

Their Peerless is a replica of the Green Dragon built by the Peerless Co. in Cleveland and raced by Barney Oldfield in the early 1900s.

G.R. Pike of Searcy, Ark. credited a friend for his involvement in the race. Unfortunately, the engine of the friend's 1917 Stutz Bearcat blew up in Kansas City, forcing him to drop out.

Still, Searcy said, ``It's a lot of fun. You meet a lot of good people all over the country. It's just something we enjoy doing.''

Inside the cockpit of the 1916 Hudson Speedster driven by him and navigated by Bobby Hadskey of Germantown, Tenn. was a plaque with the words, ``In memory of Gertrude.''

They gave the name to a pig they encountered in Kansas. ``She kind of got in the way. We run over her and knocked off a rear wheel,'' Searcy explained solemnly.

McRea founded the race in 1982 inspired, he said, by the movie, ``The Great Race.'' The 1965 comedy, starring Jack Lemmon, Peter Falk, Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood, was itself based on the 1908 New York-to-Paris Great Race.

Open to virtually any vehicle built before 1951, it has drawn competitors driving everything from a 1938 Kenworth truck to a 1928 Henderson motorcycle, and a 1922 Mercedes Sports Wagon to a 1948 MG TC.

Organizers said the Great Race has visited more than 550 cities, logged some 10 million miles and disbursed more than $3 million in cash and prizes.

Cities also compete cash. A $5,000 award will be given to the public library of the host city deemed most impressive by race organizers and competitors.

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Updated June 12, 1998
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