Sunday July 1, 2012: Stage Nine

Words and photos by John R. Paul

Clichés have it that all good things must come to an end. The 2012 running of the Great Race is, of course, no exception and, as Saturday turned to Sunday, all those involved in the race found the final fleeting moments of the race passing them by like so many highway miles. For some, it had been a rough road riddled with breakdowns, missed turns and hot days spent baking in the sun. For others, while a struggle, it proved to be an extremely rewarding and satisfying experience. While I cannot and do not wish to speak for my compatriots in Team HVA, I would count myself firmly in the latter (though we admittedly did experience our fair share of the former with Miss Adventure). 

But before everything was to come to an end, a winner would need to be crowned and awards handed out for the victors of each class. Today’s finale found the racers making their way from Findlay, Ohio, through Ypsilanti, Michigan and finally onto the brick roads outside the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn. Inside, hundreds of automobiles stood silent watch, mere relics of a near-forgotten age. Outside, the remaining Great Race vehicles stretched their legs, took in the fresh air, enjoyed the summer sun, and rolled their way through the final miles of the 2,300-plus route that was this year’s race around the Great Lakes. 

Going back and forth from a world in which they sit silent and lifeless to one in which these ancient machines still rule the road is akin to seeing majestic beasts in the zoo after having seen them in the wild, in their natural habitat. While it is certainly understandable why these vehicles must be preserved in a museum setting (and the Henry Ford has a phenomenal exhibit featuring scores and scores of great cars, trucks, buses, and just about everything else), there is just nothing like seeing them out on the open road doing what they do best.

On the lawn outside the Henry Ford, hundreds gathered to watch history come alive and the Great Racers cross the line, the culmination of a truly epic endurance event. All in attendance, including family and friends, were eager to show their admiration, waving flags and signs welcoming the racers to the finish. As the drivers made their way through the gathered masses, all possessed radiant smiles of elation, triumph and a bit of relief that the race had finally come to its conclusion. 

Those of us on Team HVA still in attendance (Casey, Katy and myself) joined the throngs welcoming the racers home, congratulating friends we have made along the way and sharing a knowing smile, silently acknowledging the mutual experiences, good and bad, of life on the road. 

Once all the racers had arrived and the overall trophy awarded, all cars still operational (and even several that weren’t, rolling with a bit of assistance from some of the other racers willing to provide a tow) within the race took a parade lap around Greenfield Village. Here racers were finally able to drive their cars and make turns without having to calculate for speed, time, acceleration or deceleration and simply enjoy their old cars in a historic setting. It seemed a fitting way in which to end the event, returning to the grounds on which what we have come to know as our automotive heritage began; a homecoming of sorts, both literally and figuratively.

The most important take away from all of this seems to be that there are people out there who genuinely care, people who are invested not only in their passion for the hobby, but also in one another. With the race coming to an end today, I must admit a slight twinge of sadness in the knowledge that I will not be spending any more time with those we have met along the road, though I certainly hope we can all remain in touch and perhaps participate in another Great Race some time in the not too distant future. There is a sense of something very special coming to an end, leaving us only with the memories of all we have experienced and the characters we have encountered along the way. 

While sad, I find a great deal of comfort knowing that these folks are out there and that it is almost certain our paths will once again cross. It is, after all, a small family (numbering, approximately, in the hundreds of thousands) in which everyone looks out and cares for one another. It is this sense of community and the open road itself I think I will miss the most.

I hope all who have read this have enjoyed at least portions here and there and were able to catch a glimpse of this seemingly secret world of car guys and gals. I have had a wonderful time and I hope I was able to convey it appropriately. I thank all those we have met along the way (especially Mike and Cindy with Reliable and Conrad in Bancroft, ON), all those who have followed along at home, and all those who share in the mutual passion that keeps this whole crazy show on the road.

Top Five Things We Learned Today:

  1. After a week on the road living out of a suitcase, your clothes start to carry an odor that would indicate you have been on the road for a week living out of a suitcase.
  2. Cars inside look sadder than those outside rolling down the road. Their grilles tend to look frownier.
  3. Left turns in an enormous truck and trailer combination displaying any sort of advertisement is great free promotion. Provided the oncoming traffic slows.
  4. Car shows on scalding hot bricks are pretty much just as bad as those on molten blacktop. Note to future car show planners: please secure a grassy, preferably shaded, location so as to ensure minimal water weight loss, heat stroke, and salty, sweat-stained clothes.
  5. Dorothy Gale was right: there really is no place like home.

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