Some Final Words

The Great Race was a pretty amazing ride. We spent ten full days as a team from when we were reunited in St. Paul on June 20, to the finish line and awards ceremony in Mobile on June 30. We covered 2100 miles on the trip alone, not including Brian and Tony driving the car to St. Paul, or Brian driving it back to McPherson. And in those 2100 miles, neither us nor the car fell apart.

Team Victory

Photo Credit: Jonathan Klinger

And for the first part of this post, I give a huge thanks to my teammates Tony DiValentin, Brian Martin, and Nik Montagna. You guys were all around awesome. Through early mornings, long days, hot weather, confusing directions, and bad driving conditions, you all helped keep things fun. In a race that can get stressful and sometimes ugly, you guys never failed to keep the mood lighthearted and positive. You were also dedicated to keeping this car running, keeping other people’s cars running, and making sure that we finished well. You guys were a big part of what made this trip fun and successful, and I’m proud to have run this race with you.

Next we want to thank everyone who has been involved in getting the Fairlane ready to go. This of course includes all of the students and faculty that have worked hard over the years to restore it. This also includes all of the many people and organizations that have donated to the project and are listed below:

Amelia island Concours d’ EleganceThe Start
Ross and Rhonda Barton
Joseph E. Brown
The Carb Shop – Salina, KS
Mark Chambers
Mrs. Charles Chandler
Don Corie
Jim Dodson
Amanda Gutierrez
Arthur Hicks
Frederick and Carolyn Hilbert
Dwight and Ruth Hill
Jim HowardFairlane
Charlie Johnson
Kenneth Kennedy
Edward Levin
George Michel, II
Kyle and Tashina Miller
Roger Morrison
Gary & Suzy Page
John Prather
Santa Fe Concorso
Sarasota Classic Car Museum
James A. Schmidt
Seams Unlimited – McPherson, KSOn the Street in Mobile
Wendall Smith
Ron and Geniene Staymates
Stewart’s Sports – McPherson, KS
Superior Auto – McPherson, KS
Swift Family Trust
The Tranny Shop – Wichita, KS
Wittig Companies
Louis and Karen Witwer

I am told that more donations and gifts are still coming in, and so this list may not be perfectly comprehensive. But even if you’re not mentioned by name here, we still give you great thanks for your support. Afterall without all of the people working on the car, and donating to the project, we wouldn’t have had this car to race. So for getting us to the event, we all give a big thanks.

We also want to thank the many sponsors, volunteers, host cities, and fellow competitors of the Great Race. They did a great job putting on this event, making us feel welcome, keeping things running smoothly, and most of all, making this event fun.

And we also want to thank all of the people that came out to see us and who followed us online. You gave us that extra support and motivation to keep going. Bringing Home the Trophy

And finally, we’re glad we were able to represent the school well, and give you all something to root for. We hope you enjoyed following us, and hope that you’ll give just as much support to the next McPherson team that competes in the Great Race.


Day 11: …And Across the Line!

All good things must come to an end, and so we find ourselves at the end of the 2013 Great Race. It’s been a pretty amazing ride, and it all came to a close at our final stop in Mobile, Alabama. Brian and Nik took over for our final day, driving and navigating us to the finish. With a thirty second lead over our nearest class competitors, we were feeling confident, but also concerned.At the Track It was enough space to have some room for error, but not too much. And while we felt we did fairly well in our run, we wouldn’t know until later in the day.

When we finally got into the Mobile area, we took our lunch stop at the Mobile International Speedway. According to our instructions, we were allowed to take two laps at 25 mph around the racetrack. Since I had never driven the car more than a few feet in the parking lot back in St. Paul, I got to do the two laps around the circuit. It was pretty cool, even if it was a little slower than we might’ve chosen to drive around an oval track. We also had a tasty fried seafood meal that continued the welcome trend away from pulled pork.

Photo Credit: Nik Montagna

Photo Credit: Nik Montagna

But, even though we were done with our timed section, the only scoring information we received was our actual times arrived. There was no information on how far off we were.

In fact, we weren’t going to find out who won until we rolled across the official finish line in downtown Mobile. That finish line really was the finish line too. If the car didn’t cross the line there, we wouldn’t actually finish. But we didn’t have any problems getting there, and the car never had any issues sitting in the long line to cross. There were a few cars that had some trouble. High heat and no moving air tends to be tough on an old car, and the Ford roadster ahead of us quit on its owners for a while. They pushed it down the street, and just before the line, they got the car started again.Almost Finished

Then came our time to cross. After one more of Corky Coker’s recitations about McPherson College, the auto restoration program, and us as a team, he told us that we needed to pull forward just a little more under the inflatable archway.

The arch was the finish we needed to cross for us to receive our results. He then announced our final standings, starting with our overall position. He then added that he had an extra card that said not only had we finished well, but we had won X-Cup! All four of us went wild! We were so excited. We had come into this race simply hoping to finish, and not end up last. In the end, we won our class, and we even finished better than every other rookie team this year!


Photo Credit: Dennis Montagna

This race has been an incredible experience, and there are still some things left to say. So stay tuned for one more post featuring some reflections, some extra little odds and ends, and many thank-yous to our supporters.


Day 10: Holding Strong in Cajun Country

Finish in CovingtonWe are just one day away from wrapping up this cross country road rally. Today’s run took us out westward out of Baton Rouge, only to double back and bring us to our night stop in Covington, LA. The legs today were certainly more varied than yesterday. Instead of many long, steady speed sections, we got plenty of turns, and even some tremendously slow sections. This afternoon, part of the route snaked racers around a neighborhood at speeds ranging from 10-25 miles per hour. We were also fortunate that, although it still got very hot today, it cooled off much more quickly than the last few days, thanks in part to some late afternoon rain.

Cajun FoodWe also had the good fortune of a change in cuisine today. This entire trip, it seems like we’ve been subsisting on pulled pork sandwiches at every other meal. So we more than welcomed a switch over to some local Louisiana food. In Crowley, we were served some crawfish etouffee, some jumbalaya, and some boudin, all of which were quite good. And we got some more jumbalya in Covington.

Working at NightWe did experience a touch of trouble today. It wasn’t terrible, but it did have us concerned this afternoon. Heading into a transit section between timed routes, we discovered that the radiator had started developing a few small leaks, and we didn’t have a whole lot of spare time to stop. At a gas station, we pulled off and got to examining where the leaks were. Some application of high temperature putty managed to stop most of the leaks, though there was still a small one toward the bottom of the radiator. Fortunately, when the car was running, the leak stopped. With the quick patch job, we managed to make the next section and finish out our day without any significant loss of coolant. Tonight, after getting back to the hotel, we got the coolant drained out and some more thorough patches applied. So the car should be good to go to wrap up the rally tomorrow. And with the exception of this small radiator issue, and needing some timing adjustments early on, this Fairlane has been a trustworthy companion for the rally.Under the Streetlight

And we’re going into tomorrow’s run with some other good news. We’re still first place in X-Cup! We’ve even managed to move up to 35th overall. Of course this race isn’t over yet, but if we can pull off a strong run tomorrow, we should have a good chance of winning our class. Wish us luck!


Day 9: A Good Solid Day

Forest StopIt was another hot day down here in the American South. Thankfully, it wasn’t quite as hot as yesterday, but not cool by any means. We were really feeling the heat at our lunch stop today. Stepping out of the car onto the sun baked pavement we were hit with a wave of hot air. A couple of stops in the air conditioning, and some long, higher speed roads down shady paths helped keep us going.

Those long stretches were a bit of a mixed blessing. The directions were pretty simple, the roads were nicely shaded, and they were occasionally quite beautiful. But on the other hand, they were monotonous. One stretch in particular, down the NatchezForest Driving Trace Parkway really got tiresome. It felt like the longest stretch of road we had been on. Hardly any signs, hardly any speed changes, and the scenery looked virtually the same the entire way. Later in the day, we ended up on some other wooded back roads. They were far prettier with leafy overhanging branches.

At the end of the day, we finished plenty strong. We managed to avoid the majority of obstacles, including a train that delayed a number of team several minutes, and made up any time lost quickly and effectively. Our finishing score was 31.79. And while that score is a little higher than yesterday, today’s run consisted of more timed legs. We still have yet to score an “ace” (and subsequently get Tony a haircut), and we’re starting to feel a little pressure there.Leading But we do have some good news. Today, our solid score brought us back to first place in X-Cup! We’re also currently 41st overall. So with that, we hope to at least keep making some small gains and keep our class lead, and maybe we might even pull off an “ace.”


Day 8: A Strong Day, A Hot Day

VicksburgWe’ve ventured all the way down to Vicksburg, Mississippi today, and finished fairly strong. Today it was Tony at the wheel, and me navigating. We ended with our best stage score yet, a 25.25 second error. That being said, it was only three legs, so it was naturally going to be lower than normal, but still, we were quite pleased with the outcome. This also means that we are running neck and neck with another X-Cup team from Ponca City, OK for first in class. We’re currently a bit behind.

Getting to the finish today wasn’t too difficult as far as obstacles and delays were concerned, but the weather was pretty atrocious. It was sunny, but also miserably hot. At one point this afternoon, I checked the local weather to find that it was 100 degrees out, with a “feels like” temperature of 114 degrees.Number 22 Once again, we’ve been incredibly thankful to have a car with a hard top. Keeping the sun off us helped keep things bearable, and the cloth seats have saved us from the searing pain that would have come with vinyl upholstery. It ended up being a tough day for drivers having to deal with the heat, as well as many cars. Four cars were picked up by the “vulture wagon” today (the tow vehicle for break downs). Fortunately, our Fairlane has been holding up nicely, even in this heat.

It is at this point that I want to give a shout-out to Nik for his contribution to another team in need. Car 22, the other 1957 Fairlane in the race, had its driver drop out for the day due to the heat. The navigator asked if one of us would volunteer to fill the navigator spot while he filled the driver spot to finish the stage. Nik readily obliged, and he navigated in the much hotter, much noiser, number 22 Fairlane for the entire afternoon session.SunsetFortunately, when he rejoined us at the finish, he seemed to still be in good spirits, and also seemed to be sporting a darker tan than earlier in the day.

We finished today’s stage at a picturesque riverfront in Vicksburg, with the sun setting over the river, and some live music playing over the crowd. Perhaps best of all though, we got to have dinner in the air conditioning! We’ve only got three days left after today, and they’re sure to go by quickly. But we plan to make the most of them, and to keep working on our times. And you’ll be sure to get the details here and on Facebook.


The Great Race Day 7: Life in the Car

Final StopToday went pretty well, especially when considering yesterday’s somewhat disappointing run. The weather stayed clear for the most part, with only occasional showers. None of the legs were washed out, and we managed to avoid a lot of traffic. That being said, today was pretty warm, but otherwise, not a bad day. And the day got better when we got our results. Thanks to some time spent by Nik and Brian getting the speedometer calibrated, as well as good driving and navigating, we managed a solid score of 43 seconds off for six legs. We’re hoping to get even better tomorrow, and maybe even pick up an “ace.”

I did want to spend a little time talking about what it’s like in the car and on the road. In a race like this, where a leg can be lost with a single missed word, or being just a couple of miles per hour off, things can get tense. I can imagine that it could get particularly intense for frontrunners that havIn the Care a good chance at the $50,000 grand prize. And many people have asked us how we’re doing and if we’re still getting along.

Well, we’re getting along quite well. I’d say “swimmingly” but there’s nothing aquatic about it. “Drivingly” would probably be a much more apt, if made up, descriptor. And I think that there are a number of reasons for that. For instance, we’re not actually  eligible for the big cash prize. We’re also rookies without too much in the way of expectations, so some of the biggest pressures that veterans and non-X-Cup entrants have to deal with, we don’t worry about. I think we also have a big advantage in how we’ve been running this race: with four people in the car.

We do also have a disadvantage with having four people in the car as well. We receive a five second penalty each day when there are more than two people in the car. The reason for this is that having a couple other people to look for signs and to do some other calculations gives an unfair advantage to cars with more people. And 102_6188while this occasionally helps us, it’s not our primary benefit by any means. Having more than two people helps relieve tension. For instance, it means that not all the pressure for driving or navigating falls to only two people. So if something goes wrong, there are more suggestions to get us back on pace without putting more stress on the driver or navigator. Perhaps even more important than that, is the fact that the backseat passengers can move the conversation from negative to positive when things get stressful. And with four people, we don’t get as worn out either. We can take our tasks in shifts, so that no one has to bear all the burden of the driving. Plus, getting a little more sleep in the back of the car can work miracles, as all of us have found at some point or another.

It’s also great from a student experience perspective. On the Great Race, support vehicles are not allowed on the course for competitors. They must take a separate route to the main destinations, so people in support vehicles never get to see people on the route until the finish points. So if we had our two extra participants in a secondary car, wWorkinge wouldn’t really see them for most of the trip. As far as a student experience, I feel that that would be rather unfortunate.

So we get to spend time with each other, keep everyone well rested, and keep the mood fun. We take a penalty, but I think we would all agree that it’s worth it. Or at the very least, until we start getting good enough to compete with the best of the bunch. But don’t worry, we’re going to do our best to keep each other in good spirits through the end of the trip.

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The Great Race Day 6: Just Consistent

On the Road    Today’s Great Race session didn’t go quite as well as we were hoping. The day started out nicely. We finally weren’t dealing with heavy rain for once, and it stayed nice and sunny with only the occasional light shower. With that being said, most of the day was quite hot and humid. It wasn’t too bad when we were driving with the windows down, but without moving air, it could get a bit unpleasant.

What we were more disappointed in was our final times. We were expecting a couple legs to be a little off, as we had to make up quite a bit of time in places from slow moving vehicles. However, we also had a couple really smooth, clean runs that we thought were going to be great. What we Crowds at the Capegot wasn’t quite what we expected. The good news is that we were really consistent. The bad news was that our cumulative score was just shy of a minute off. Each leg we were between 13 and 15 seconds early. So we think that we just need to do a little recalibration of our speedometer, and we should be much closer tomorrow.

Our final stop for the day in Cape Girardeau, MO was a nice way to finish though. So far, it has easily been the most enthusiastic and welcoming stop so far. For a couple Cape Car Showmiles, people were lining the streets leading to the riverfront, and a huge crowd awaited us there. Even the mayor was at the food tent waiting to greet the racers. There was also a nice sized local car show to wander through too. So even though our scores could have been better, we at least had a nice finish.