Words and photos by John R. Paul
The morning of Stage Six dawned sunny and warm, with racers assembling early to prepare for their 8am start time and remarking how the endurance element of the race was slowly beginning to take its toll. For Team HVA, this morning’s departure proved a bittersweet parting as we were forced to bid adieu to our beloved Miss Adventure, leaving her behind in the Comfort Inn Suites parking lot to be collected by her owner within the coming weeks. Some of us got the sense she had been watching us through the windows while we slept, leaving a slightly unsettling feeling that perhaps we were dealing with a situation similar to that of Christine.
Unlike previous drives, today’s proved rather dull and less than scenic as we found ourselves on the highway for the better part of the morning’s trek from Watertown to the lunch stop in Fairport, New York. Upon arrival, however, we were greeted by a veritable sea of people, all waving miniature American flags beneath a giant flag straddling the main thoroughfare, a brass band marching down the street, the gathered masses cheering and marveling at the assemblage of classic cars, trucks, scooters, and hot rods.
For sheer variety of cars, Fairport by far takes the cake, displaying everything from innumerable American muscle cars, classic post-war family cars, Corvettes of a variety of years, and the occasional European oddball (the Isetta that snuck onto the end of the long line of local cars, for instance, and instantly drew a crowd or the Citroën that was mistaken more than once for a Volkswagen). It seemed that every time we walked through the downtown show area there was something new that had slipped into the mix, hiding in plain sight and waiting to be marveled at by those assembled.
Needless to say, the largest cheers and thrills came with the arrival of the racers who rolled into town following the trek from Watertown, past the enormous crowds, across the railroad tracks (provided they weren’t required to wait for one of the many trains that seemed to come along every ten minutes or so, essentially creating two separate car-strewn islands), up the slight incline leading under the giant American flag displayed proudly by the local fire department, over the rusted trestle bridge (where one car required a friendly push by some of the quick-to-oblige citizens of Fairport), and onto the finish point for the morning where a local group was performing ‘60s-style girl group pop.
Among those gathered was a rather precocious young man of about four or five who stopped me to talk about his grandfather’s “pink Chevy”, of which he was enormously proud for having just helped washed along with his grandfather’s GTO. In true car-guy-in-the-making fashion, he eagerly proceed to tell me all about the cars, how he had washed them, had gone to play golf and go fishing, and finally came down to the show to watch the racers come in. This chatty little guy clearly represents the future of the hobby and it was encouraging to see how genuinely enthusiastic he was about not only his grandfather’s cars, but also all of those around him. Not to mention his early ability to talk your ear off.
As the crowds slowly began to disperse, we made our way back and out of town, off to the evening’s stop in Buffalo at the Pierce Arrow Museum. Along the way we passed our Michigan friends from the previous day, tooling down the highway in their 1914 Ford and garnering a number of looks from the modern machines speeding all around them. Not exactly a sight one would expect to see everyday.
Once in Buffalo, we all spread out to explore the cavernous Pierce Arrow Museum, marveling at the ancient vehicles on display. Along with the many cars on display, the museum holds a plethora of automobilia and other period-specific items and curios from days gone by, nearly all, like the Pierce Arrow itself, historically relevant to the city of Buffalo.
This was the first stop in an actual city, and thus a far cry from the grassy fields and rural settings to which we have been exposed over the last several days. Regardless of the concrete surroundings, the mood remained the same as that which we have experienced at each stop. The fact of the matter is people get genuinely excited about these cars and are eager to learn more while inspecting ever minor detail of these ancient road warriors.
At dinner we spoke with a group of fellow racers who chided us for riding in an air conditioned car on a day when the mercury rose to uncomfortable levels while they were stuck inside their decidedly un-air conditioned classic. The mild temperatures of Northern Michigan and Canada clearly spoiled those of us on the race and, with a return to the Midwest looming large, the levels of comfort will surely be tested as the racers head into Pennsylvania and Ohio over the course of the next several days.
We were also clued into the greatness that is the Fireball Run, an event we will certainly have to give some strong consideration in the future as it sounds to be the source of prime material for entertaining reading as well as the experience of a lifetime. Stayed tuned to find out if that may happen!
Following dinner we headed back out to the asphalt show field to continue capturing more This Car Matters stories and videos. Among those were John Hollansworth’s story of his Peerless speedster, the Green Dragon, which he has raced in a number of rallies over the years and, itself, holds a rather prestigious racing pedigree, specifically indoor track events at the turn of the last century. John’s story proved exceptionally interesting and should make for a captivating This Car Matters film (no sense spoiling the surprise here, you’ll just have to keep checking out our website as new films roll out each month).
Chad Nelson’s Model A also proved an interesting story in that it had been originally acquired to be run in the Great Race in the mid-1990s while he was in high school. He procured the vehicle in the middle of a field when it had a tree growing up through its center. Chainsaw in hand, they were able to free the car, bring it back to their shop and begin working on the vehicle. A number of years passed before they were finally able to run the car in the Great Race, but he is now doing so as part of the X Team Cup which incorporates young kids, allowing them to operate in the navigational role and get to experience time in and with the car, learning the ins and outs and, in the process, securing the future of the hobby.
As the sun set on the city of Buffalo, bathing the Pierce Arrow Museum in a golden hue as the last remaining racers made their way back to their respective hotels for some well-earned rest, Team HVA headed off to Niagara Falls because, well, when you’re that close, why not? Besides, I was the only one who had seen them previously and this is all just one big learning experience all around for Casey.
Upon pulling into the parking lot, rolling up in our white Suburban and matching HVA uniforms, we were promptly asked what we do. When we explained, after having paid for parking, we were greeted with handshakes, car stories and our five bucks back. Continuing on, we were regaled with more stories by a wonderfully stereotypical New Yawk gal who proceeded to talk to us about the Playboy car we had seen at the Pierce Arrow Museum and serve as tour director to the falls.
Finally arriving at the falls, we all took in their majestic grandeur as the last of the day’s light began fading from the sky, traces pastel fingers across the horizon and giving way to the moon’s ascent, mist lazily rising from the falls and dampening our clothing. All in all a fantastic ending to yet another wonderfully memorable day. As with every day on this journey, we eagerly anticipate what tomorrow will hold.
Top Six Things We Learned Today (Bonus Niagara Falls Edition):
- Per our dinner table compatriots, the only time a chicken standing in the road will fly is when hit by a car, specifically theirs. “Why did the chicken cross the road? To get hit by a Ford. “
- Five-year-old car guys will talk your ear off until their mother tells them it is probably enough and that the nice man with a camera has to get back to work.
- Open cockpit speedster sunburns look way worse that farmer tans; it gives the illusion of perma-goggles and gloves. Not a good look.
- Black shirts and khakis are a less-than-ideal clothing combination when faced with brutal sun, searing asphalt and blistering heat experienced all day on one’s feet.
- Katy’s good side is her left, Emily’s her right. Casey and I have no bad sides; we are good all around.
- If you go to Niagara Falls with a digital SLR around your neck, you’re going to be asked by everyone to take their photo in front of the falls. You’ve been warned.