Tag Archives: Historic Vehicle Association

Thursday June 28, 2012: Stage Six


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):

  1. 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. “
  2. 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.
  3. Open cockpit speedster sunburns look way worse that farmer tans; it gives the illusion of perma-goggles and gloves. Not a good look.
  4. 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.
  5. Katy’s good side is her left, Emily’s her right. Casey and I have no bad sides; we are good all around.
  6. 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.

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Sunday June 24, 2012: Stage Two


words & photographs by John R. Paul

While skies had threatened later in the day yesterday, they were gracious enough to wait until the overnight hours to open up and begin the deluge. The early morning hours greeted the Great Racers and Team HVA with a rather wicked downpour. Spirits were not to be dampened, however, as even those in the numerous open cockpit speedsters put on a determined face and waterproof clothing to help try and keep out at least some of the rain during the morning’s International Bridge crossing into Canada. With this crossing, the Great Race officially moved through customs and into Canada (and for half of team HVA, as recounted yesterday, the second time in as many days).

With rain staining her windshield and making her lack of an operational wiper motor all the more pathetic, Miss Adventure decided she had put us through enough paces over the last few days and, graciously started right up and saw us off on what was to (hopefully) become our first completed stage of the 2012 Great Race. It also seems Miss Adventure has developed quite a reputation amongst our fellow Great Racers in that nearly everyone seemed to have been aware of her troubles and earnestly wanted to ensure we had remedied said problems accordingly and would be able to get her back into the race on the first raining stage.  With fingers crossed and our collective breath held, we nodded and smiled in the affirmative, regurgitating everything we had learned from Tony and Casey following last night’s repair session. 

As mentioned, she was gracious enough to start right up and see us off on our way. We packed a handful of string to attach to the lifeless wiper blades in case the rain became too much and visibility too poor, however with the help of Rain-X and the wind we were able to make our way through the downpour safely and without incident.

Upon having crossed into Canada we began the race in earnest, quickly picking up on the directions and provided landmarks, smoothly making our way along the course. About an hour into Canada it was decided we should stop at a classic looking roadside diner. After a quick breakfast and coffee break, a few waves to several passing fellow Great Racers, and a few photo ops, it was back to the course and with it, the rain. We counted ourselves very lucky in that we were in a fairly sound car and did not have to worry much about the elements raging all around us. With the exception of raindrops accumulating on the windshield and occasionally obstructing visibility, we were all quite comfortable and enjoying the fact we were actually able to participate in the event without incident for the first day in four days.

We were soon lulled into a sense of comfort and ease as the rain fell and the idyllic surroundings passed us by, growing all the more verdant and simultaneously rocky as we went. For Casey, this was the furthest north he had ever been, so each new site brought a sense of excitement. North of the Soo is truly an amazing landscape, perfect for cruising with its ups and downs, sprawling vistas and, today, fogged enveloped hills. The further we went, the more the earth exposed itself in the form of jagged rock outcroppings dotted with small evergreens somehow making their way towards the sky. 

From a driving standpoint, this was our first encounter with the metric system and the conversion required to calculate the distances and speed limits on the signs into miles. Due to the age of the Olds and the lack of a newer, aftermarket speedometer, we were left working only in miles and making the approximate calculations in our heads. Fortunately, the Great Race directions and instructions were all listed in miles and miles per hour so that, when following the directions accordingly, we didn’t need to concern ourselves too much with the conversion of kilometers into miles and vice versa.

After several hours we stopped with a number of our fellow Great Racers to fuel up, stretch the legs and take on some much needed caffeine; numerous late nights in a row, coupled with the race itself made for a rather tired Team HVA. Several Red Bulls helped to lift spirits and energy levels (effectively giving us wings, you might say), and we were again off in the rain, heading toward our designated lunch stop in Elliott Lake, Ontario.

Along the way we caught up to the Hagerty girls team in their 1962 International pickup, following them for some time along a gently rolling country road. It was here we came across a gorgeous, fog-enshrouded lake by which we stopped for a quick photo op and, while there, action shots of our fellow Great Racers coming up behind us. By this point the rain had more or less let up, however, with the pavement still wet, many of the racers were creating fairly large rooster tails in their wake. 

Just outside of Elliott Lake, the rain began once more, drenching those in the open cockpit speedsters who passed us, looking less than thrilled by the rain’s return. It was on a slight incline heading into Elliott Lake where we encountered our first issue of the day with the car in that it simply refused to shift gears and move forward. Unfortunately this minor setback caused a rather sizeable line-up of racers to form behind us, all of whom were trying to keep on schedule and make it to the lunch stop at their designated time. Fortunately, Casey was able to quickly spring into action, nearly vaulting the seat, hopping into the driver’s seat, kicking the car into gear, and peeling away from the hill and back onto more level ground.

Following this bit of racing excitement and the stench of the burned out clutch, we stopped for a refueling session. It was here we were met by an elderly gentleman who came over to marvel at Miss Adventure. He informed us his father had had a 1956 Olds very similar to ours and was pleased to see us out driving and enjoying it. Throughout the entirety of this race thus far, we have met a number of folks with similar stories, all of whom light up at the sight of all these great old cars and the memories they seem to elicit. This particular gentleman was no exception and walked away with a smile on his face. 

At the lunch stop in Elliott Lake, several local car owners came out to display their vehicles within the ranks of the Great Race cars. One particularly interesting and fairly rare vehicle was a yellow Hudson Metropolitan, complete with a miniature trailer in matching yellow. This proved a hit with a group of local youngsters who were making the rounds through all the other vehicles there on display. In nearly every stop we have seen kids out with their parents or grandparents, all wide-eyed and excited to be out and in the midst of these truly great machines; youthful interest, while perhaps not as large as it once was, is still very much alive and present in both the United States and Canada.

For the last leg of Stage Two, Team HVA, along with the finally-running-properly Miss Adventure, took out the stop watches and kept a watchful eye on the speedometer, fully immersing ourselves in the actual race within the Great Race. With the exception of one unfortunate wrong turn just outside of Sudbury, the team proved very much adept at being able to follow the directions, accelerate when needed, and watch for the appropriate landmarks. Sadly we ended up at the A&W in Sudbury and, prior to that, the final checkpoint, outside of our time allotment and ended the day with a “did not finish” designation, officially. 

This proved to be little more than a minor technicality, however, as the larger victory was the fact that Miss Adventure made it through a full day out on the open road, garnering waves and smiles along the way, and kind words from our fellow Great Racers. Even one of the gentlemen who had been unfortunate enough to get caught behind us at the ill-fated incline in Elliott Lake specifically sought us out to provide words of encouragement. It is this type of classy gesture and friendly word that makes this group of individuals truly something special and an honor to be around. Another great day out on the road with lots of great folks met along the way. Here’s to hoping for a drier tomorrow!

Top Five Things We Learned Today:

  1. Three miles is longer in Canada that in the United States, apparently. Perhaps there is some sort of strange metric conversion going on.
  2. A little rain will never get in the way of driving a very cool open cockpit speedster. Those folks are truly hardcore individuals.
  3. Not to be outdone, torrential downpours will not stop Canadian car guys and gals from coming out to check out some very cool cars.
  4. It is really hard to take photographs in a car travelling over bumpy gravel roads. I mean really hard.
  5. Canadians love Southern accents. Almost as much as everyone else loves Canadian accents.

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