Words and photos by John R. Paul
The arrival of the penultimate stage brought temporary relief from the previous day’s humidity, along with a welcome breeze. None of this was to last, of course, as the temperatures were soon approaching the upper thermometric reaches and testing the tolerance of both racers and spectators alike. Fortunately for the racers, the storms that had raged through the night before had missed the majority of the course and did not impact the day’s stage from a racing standpoint. Unfortunately for those in the city of Findlay, Ohio, the massive storms left a wake of destruction, causing numerous power outages in the midst of a major heat wave and damage to both trees and homes, all the result of extremely strong winds.
Before the Great Race made its way to storm-damaged Findlay, it was off to sweltering Mansfield, Ohio, where racers found themselves arriving near the town carousel, its manic music blaring across the show field, creating a sense of surrealism that, when coupled with the oppressive heat, made one feel slightly delusional. This did nothing to keep the locals from turning out, however, all eagerly applauding each racer as they rolled up the hill on Main Street, passing the carousel, cruising under the inflatable banner, and into the molten parking lot.
As the racers entered the city of Mansfield, a lone Model T stood silent watch from the open door of a restoration shop, looking rather sad and forlorn, unable to join its automotive brothers and sisters as they sped along the road. Ancient buildings hovered nearby as well, most older than even the oldest vehicle in the race, a 1907 Renault. Surely were they able to convey any sort of memories they would recall having seen such vehicles long before in days gone by when Model As were commonplace and not the oddity they sometimes seem on todays roads; history observing history.
While certainly our proximity to the Fourth of July is having an impact, every American city and town through which we have passed has been festooned with seas of the red, white and blue in all sizes, all displayed proudly and prominently for the racers; truly a patriotic lot, these car guys and gals, as well as all of those who have come out to pay tribute to both the racers and the cars on display. It is this sense of pride, community and patriotism that helps mark the automobile’s significance within American culture (and, after our trip north of the border, Canada as well) and gives us hope that, as this sense of pride is passed through the generations, the hobby will continue for years to come. With all of the younger people we have seen in attendance, there is certainly a youthful vitality coming along behind the current crop of car guys and gals to pick up and continue the traditions now passed from generation to generation.
One such story involved Beth Gentry and the 1932 Ford she inherited following the passing of her father. Beth tearfully recounted the several Great Races in which she and her father had participated in this very car. To honor his memory, she and her nephew Jody Knowles are competing in this year’s edition (and doing quite well, I might add). She seemed to swell with pride at the thought of her father’s joy and satisfaction in her participation in the race and carrying on his legacy and passion for the hobby with the very car he loved so dearly. Certainly a very moving story indicative of the familial connectivity and generational ties present within the hobby.
Driving into Findlay, it was apparent they had not been spared from the storm as Mansfield had. The hotel at which we were staying had lost power and was scrambling to prepare rooms for the arriving racers. Others in town were not so lucky and were without power with temperatures reaching into the nineties outside. As we made our way into town, we noted side streets littered with downed trees, broken branches, and power lines snaking their way toward the ground. A massive clean up effort was already underway in an attempt to regain what had been lost in the storm.
For the day’s finish, racers found themselves driving in the shadow of city hall, its massive façade and statuary staring down from on high, backlit by a halo of clouds, passively betraying the ferocity they had only recently unleashed. Alluding to the storm, Corky Coker commented on how all of this had been a reminder of who was truly in charge, while at the same time stating he hoped that the race could bring some temporary respite from the ravages of the storm and provide an ample distraction for at least an hour or two.
While the main thoroughfare was lined with race vehicles, several blocks down from city hall side streets were populated by a number of local classics. It has been very enjoyable to see the sheer variety of cars and trucks that turn out each night in each new city. Certainly being able to see the race vehicles on a daily basis has been phenomenal, but, admittedly, it does tend to get a little old seeing the same cars over and over. Being provided with a chance to see a wider array of marques lined up in each town provides not only a change from the norm, but also presents a number of new and interesting visuals to take in. A change of scene never hurt anyone, as the saying goes.
Before the proceedings came to a close, we captured several more This Car Matters videos featuring participants in this year’s Great Race. We hope to have these prepared and ready to go within the coming months. In the meantime, we do have several completed videos up and running on our YouTube page (we also have tons more Great Race photos on our Facebook page) for those interested in checking them out and seeing what it is we are looking to do while out on the road and hanging out with all these great car guys and gals. We were again reminded just how genuinely nice this community of individuals is. All have been extremely warm and friendly toward us and it seems we have come away with a multitude of new friends with whom we hope to keep in touch over the coming years. It is truly one big family with a singular shared passion in the automobile.
Top Five Things We Learned Today:
- Old carousels are loud. Old cars, however, are be louder (especially when gathered in great numbers).
- When you’re tired, do not state you require a kick in the pants because there may be some in the group far more literal minded and will proceed to provide the requested kick directly in the pants.
- Touching stories that cause those telling to tear up may also result in members of the film crew having to struggle to keep it together.
- Each of Casey’s ID photographs features him sporting a different type of facial hair. The kid is a master of disguise.
- While Emily may not always be the best with directions, if Tim Hortons (for John, Timmy Hohos for Katy) is used as a reference point she will be all over it.