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Great Race recap – day seven to the finish line in Tacoma, Washington

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The finish line for day seven, Vancouver, Washington. Photos by author.

Days seven and eight

On day seven, racers had Mt. Hood to the driver’s side of their cars most of the day. Weather had improved and it was sunny and breezy as they completed their morning instructions and stopped at the Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum in Hood River, Oregon. The museum is a fantastic collection of vintage airplanes, including Wacos, Stearmans, Curtisses, and many other names most common folk would not recognize. Between the planes were displayed many antique trucks, cars, motorcycles and pieces of automobilia. Only open for a few short years, the museum has had to expand by leaps and bounds as more planes from all over the world have been donated and restored. What was once a single airplane hangar is now at least three hangars long and fully-attached.

The Caldwell’s 1931 Auburn Speedster is always a crowd favorite.

After lunch, the Great Racers continued on course with an evening finish line in Spanaway, Washingotn, at the home of the WAAAM West, the private car collection of Ron Wade. Racers were greeted by a large crowd and a substantial number of cars from the area parked in a nearby cruise-in style car show. After six days of racing, featuring six different daily winners, the number one team of Howard and Doug Sharp collected their second daily win, extending their lead over the competition. The Hemmings # 9 race team of Jim Menneto and Stephanie Sigot received their first Ace of the race, an award for having a perfect ET for one of the day’s 4-8 course legs. Their 22-second day moved them up to 33rd overall with two days left.

A Terraplane amidst the airplanes.

1931 Stearman 4D 1933 Stearman prototype NWA Hamilton metal plane Waco biplane

Day eight was the last full day of the race and was also important because throw outs were not allowed from here on in, meaning that contestants had to take whatever score was earned that day. Racers traversed the open country of back roads around Longview, Washington, the Great Race’s host for the lunch stop on this day. The sun was bright and temperatures were hot, but Longview rolled out the red carpet for the race with lunch provided. Another immense car show was filled with many cars that could have been in the race, had they filled out an entry.

Mt St. Helens in the distance.

The afternoon touring included constant views of Mt. St. Helens and, because the actual highway distance we covered today was less than usual, support teams had an opportunity to stop at the visitor’s center in Castle Rock, Washington. The center is on the taller side of the mountain/volcano near Silver Lake and was not as badly damaged as the Spirit Lake side of Mt. St. Helens. Tonight’s dinner stop and finish line was at the LeMay private collection in Marymount, Washington. This boys school facility was bought by the LeMay family, and the outside of the building looks as it did when the school was still open. Around the grounds are dozens of vintage trains, cars, buses, trucks and machinery.

The overnight stop at LeMay Marymount.

There are also three-story high Quonset huts filled to the ceiling with LeMay-owned cars. The sight was staggering: A ’53 Hudson stored on a rack above a Powell pickup truck and both stored above an REO Speed Wagon. There was also a restoration shop where volunteer staff were restoring other cars to running order. The museum is only open on certain days of the year but it is definitely a must-see venue. Once again, Howard and Doug Sharp won the day, their third of the race, to extend their lead over second place Beth Gentry and Jody Knowles by a “healthy” nine seconds, however, tomorrow morning’s last half day of racing would determine this year’s winner. The Hemmings #9 team had a nice day and moved up to 30th overall with just four or five more timed legs to complete tomorrow.


Day nine – racers cross the finish line at LeMay, America’s Car Museum

The crowd at LeMay – America’s Car Museum – this year’s finish line.

The last half-day of the Great Race put all of the race teams to the test. Without the possibility of any throw outs, they all had to be on top of their game. The #1 1916 Hudson of Howard and Doug Sharp were in the lead at the start of the day, however, the race leaders have been passed on the final day before and the #66 team of Jody Knowles and Beth Gentry were only nine seconds behind them in the morning. The course took teams on roads near the base of Mt. Rainier before crossing the finish line on the grounds of the modernistic, LeMay – America’s Car Museum. After each team crossed the finish and received their “To Finish is to Win” medals, the top two race teams in each classification were lined up to see who had won.

The X-Cup winners line up.

Taking the X-Cup class, comprised of high school and college vo-tech students with an adult mentor, was Murfreesboro, Tennessee and mentor Scott Culp. They beat out last year’s X-Cup winning team from Galax, Virginia, mentored by Tom Littrell to take top honors.

First and second in the Rookie class.

The Rookie division winners were team #135, Rick Horne and Rob Roemer in their 1963 Corvette, edging out the 1968 Camaro RS of team # 114, Bob Carter and Colin Balmforth.

Winner and runner-up in the Sportsman class.

Sportsman division honors went to Neil Myerscough and Shanna Chatrow in their 1960 Studebaker Hawk with second place honors to the 1966 Mustang of Erin and Brad Kaplan.

First and second in Expert.

The Expert division was won by Olivia and Genna Gentry, beating the 1960 Studebaker Daytona of Steve, Janet and Allie Hedke. The “Dixie Darlins” were in only their third Great Race, but they had won the Rookie Class in 2017 and finished second in the Sportsman Class in 2018, which meant they had to race in the Expert class this year. They were more than up to the challenge.

Grand Champion first and second. Howard and Doug Sharp, in their 1916 Hudson hillclimber, took the overall win.

In the end, the Grand Championship team of Howard and Doug Sharp took the big trophies and the $50,000 prize money. This is their third Great Race win, having won in 2011 in a 100-year old Velie and again in 2015 with their current 1916 Hudson. Second place in the Grand Champions division was Beth Gentry and Jody Knowles in their 1932 Ford coupe. Jody and Beth won the title in this same car two years ago. Last year’s winning team of Jeff and Eric Fredette had to withdraw after breaking a rear axle or differential on day eight that could not be repaired before the start of day nine. The Hemmings Motor News #9 team also had a catastrophic failure on day nine, when the front yoke assembly on the driveshaft let go less than 20 miles from the finish.

At the awards ceremony, inside LeMay-America’s Car Museum on Sunday night, trophies and prize money were given out, along with the annual Tom McCrae Spirit of the Event trophy which was given this year to longtime racer Rex Gardner, who in addition to racing and organizing other rallies during the year, has managed to raise over $900,000 through the VCRA Race of Autism. Of that total, $50,000 was raised during this year’s Great Race from the generous donations of race teams and spectators alike.

The Wandering Troubadours of Finland were recipients of the “Never Say Die” award.

The “Never Say Die” award went to the Wandering Troubadours of Finland Race Team who broke their 1913 Cadillac on the fifth day of the race, went out and found a used Mercedes 280 Diesel, cut the roof and windshield off it, and got back in the race on day seven and crossed the finish line with their usual pomp and circumstance.