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Back for its third Great Race, Alfred State College hopes for less drama in 2017

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The Alfred College teams pose in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge before the start of the 2016 Great Race.

In 2015, Alfred State College in Wellsville, New York, entered its first Hemmings Motor News Great Race presented by Hagerty, running a 1953 Dodge Power Wagon – liberated from the school’s surplus vehicles list – in the X-Cup class. The school returned with a two-vehicle effort in 2016, with one squad running the Dodge and the other campaigning a 1928 Ford Model A Speedster, loaned by Ken Lumberry and family. Only one of these vehicles made it to the finish line last year, so for 2017 the team is hoping for fewer challenges and perhaps a better finish than last year’s third-in-class.

When we first covered the Alfred State effort in May of 2015, the Power Wagon had received the mechanical attention needed to compete (successfully, as it would turn out) in that year’s Great Race. Ahead of the contest, students rebuilt the truck’s L-head six-cylinder engine along with the transmission, transfer case and differential, replacing the stump-puller 5.83:1 gears with a highway-friendly 4.88:1 set. New floorboards were welded in place of the rusted originals, broken glass was replaced, the truck was rewired, and finally, the deep-lug bias-ply tires of unknown age were replaced with a set of contemporary radials.

1953 Dodge Power Wagon

The team’s 1953 Dodge Power Wagon, on display at Hershey.

As prepared, the old Dodge held together well enough for the students to complete the 2015 event without incident, finishing fifth in class. Looking for a bit more power, the team installed a Weber two-barrel carburetor and a modified camshaft ahead of the 2016 Great Race, work that advisor Mike Ronan points out takes place after the regular school day is over.

Last year’s Great Race began in San Rafael, California, and the Alfred State team appeared at the starting line with the Dodge and the loaner Model A Speedster. Before the day was out, the Ford would be temporarily out of the race, the victim of a snapped connecting rod. Undaunted, the students pulled the engine, removed the broken parts and installed a used connecting rod to continue. This repair held together for nearly half the race, but when the engine let go a second time, near Cheyenne, Wyoming, the car was relegated to the trailer.

That’s not to say it was entirely out of the race. When the rear axle on another competitor’s Model A failed, the Alfred State team swept in to swap out the good rear axle from their Ford, allowing the other team to finish the race. The same day as the second engine failure, a Model A enthusiast named Jack Crabtree loaned the Alfred State team his own 1929 Model A sedan, then followed the team cross-country to the finish in Moline, Illinois.

1928 Ford Model A Speedster

Rebuilding the 1928 Ford Model A Speedster.

Once back home in Wellsville, the Alfred State team rebuilt the blown engine in the borrowed 1928 Speedster and reinstalled the loaned-out rear axle before returning the car to the Lumberry family. That means the college is back to a one-vehicle team for 2017, though it has no concern for the reliability of its now-recognized Power Wagon, or for the mechanical abilities of its students. As Mike explained to us,

The 1953 Power Wagon wrecker attracts attention wherever it goes.  The truck is used to promote the college at numerous shows and parades throughout the year.  The successful journeys across the country have proved the dedication and drive of the Alfred State College automotive students.  The school day is full of meters, laptops and scan tools, so the truck provides an outlet to those students interested in the classic car hobby.

Running in the Great Race, even in the X-Cup class, costs money. While entry fees are reduced, and sometimes covered by grants, there’s still food, fuel and lodging to consider, and inevitably, things go wrong along the way. If you’d like to help Alfred State compete in this year’s Great Race, the team has set up a crowdfunding page to cover the costs of competition.