Photo courtesy of The Great Race
A 1914 Overland on display during the 2011 Great Race, which went from Chattanooga, Tennessee to Bennington, Vermont.
By MIKE NORTON
Summer is here in earnest, it seems – and in Traverse City the pace of all the various festivals and events is beginning to pick up. Here are three great opportunities for the coming weekend:
On Saturday, downtown Traverse City will be the starting line for the 2012 Great Race. At 11:30 a.m. as many as 120 classic automobiles will drive past the starting flag on Front Street to begin this nine-day 2,300-mile road rally that will take them through Ontario, New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio before ending back in Michigan — in Henry Ford’s hometown of Dearborn — on July 1.
The cars and their drivers will begin lining up at 6:30 in the morning, and from 8:30 until the race’s official start time they’ll be available for public viewing and photos. There’ll be some amazing old beauties on display, from a 1916 Hudson and a 1934 Ford Speedster to a 19512 Packard and a 1969 Jaguar.
The Great Race was started in 1983 when 69 motorists made the first trip from Los Angeles to Indianapolis. (It takes its name from a 1965 film starring Natalie Wood, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis.) The rally gained a huge following from late night showings on ESPN, as subsequent rallies went from Disneyland to Disney World, Norfolk to Seattle, Ottawa to Mexico City and other routes, always following scenic local highways rather than high-speed interstates. After a brief hiatus, the race was revived under new leadership last year with a successful run from Chattanooga to Bennington, VT.
From Traverse City, the race will make its way north into Canada by the start of the second day, where it travels east toward the Canadian capital city of Ottawa before turning south to re-enter the United States at Thousand Islands, NY. From there, the event will make its way west through Pennsylvania and Ohio before finishing on July 1 at The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn.
The rally is not really a speed race. Instead, each vehicle is provided with a driver and navigator who are given precise instructions each day. Following specific course instructions, teams navigate through 4 to 7 timed checkpoints each day. Their arrival time at each checkpoint is recorded and compared against the perfectly driven route, with each second off the perfect time, (either early or late) counted as penalty points. The winning team is the one with the lowest overall score (the most accurately driven route) at the end of the event.
Participating autos must have been built between 1911 and 1969, and most are prewar vintage. The 2011 winner was the first 100-year-old car to enter the race – a 1911 Velie owned by Howard Sharp of Fairport, NY. This year’s oldest entrant to date is a 1907 Renault driven by Alan and Mary Travis, followed by three 1916 Hudsons: a four-passenger speedster, an Indy racer and a Hillclimber.
The age of the cars is part of the rally’s appeal. Contestants like the fact that the older vehicles benefit from a scoring handicap that reduces the advantages of more recent models. And spectators enjoy seeing elderly automobiles out on the road and not just in parades and museums.
But contestants don’t simply compete to have a good time – there are some fair purses up for grabs in this race. A total of $118,500 will be awarded to winners – including a guaranteed minimum of $25,000 for this year’s Grand Champion.
Local car aficionados and officials of Hagerty Insurance (the world’s largest insurer of collector cars and boats) are preparing a wide array of events and celebrations to mark the start of the rally. Hagerty is a major sponsor of the event, and the reason race organizers chose Traverse City as the starting point for the 2012 event.
The Holiday Inn West Bay is serving as race headquarters for meetings and technical inspections. On Friday the cars will participate in an annual Trophy Run to Empire and the Sleeping Bear Dunes that will give drivers, navigators, crews and staff some practice before the official start on Saturday.
Family fun of a less automotive kind can also be enjoyed Saturday at the Boardman River Nature Center on Cass Road, which is holding its sixth annual Boardman River Nature Fest from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. It’s an all-day event dedicated to getting everybody out to enjoy the natural beauty and diversity of the Grand Traverse Natural Eduication Reserve, right on Traverse City’s doorstep, and thanks to some generous sponsorships by Cherry Capital Subaru and other partners, most programs at the event are free.
What kind of programs? Well, you can learn to kayak on the tranquil Sabin Pond, get up close (but not too close!) with Rebecca Lessard and her ambassador raptors from Wings of Wonder, hang out with some tame farm critters with the local 4H club, take guided hikes through the Natural Education Reserve, learn to cast a fly rod, look at the sun through a specialized hydrogen-alpha telescope, and work on nature-themed arts and crafts.
Want more information? Call (231) 941-0960!
Finally, fans of elegant horsemanship will want to head for Flintfields Horse Park near Williamsburg for Dressage by the Bay, which will be held Friday through Sunday. Dressage has been called the “figure skating of the equestrian world,” a discipline in which horses are trained to move with grace, beauty and skill by following a complex routine of movements at the subtle – and almost invisible – commands of its rider. Horse and rider combinations compete in a 20 x 60 meter arena, with 12 lettered markers placed at specific points along the rails.
Dressage by the Bay is a precursor to the month-long Horse Shows by the Bay, an international show jumping event held July 4-29 at Flintfields.