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The 2017 Great Race concludes in Traverse City and crowns a new champion

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Jody Knowles and Beth Knowles-Gentry accepting their first-place check. Photos courtesy Tommy Lee Byrd and Great Race

It must be in the family bloodline, to go fast (but not too fast) and follow directions to the last semi-colon. The 2017 Hemmings Motor News Great Race presented by Hagerty winners Jody Knowles and Beth Knowles-Gentry learned about rally racing from Beth’s father Joe Knowles, and put those lessons into practice for the last ten years, coming excruciatingly close to winning the big check and the big bird several times, only to be “out-carred” by a competitor’s older vehicle. This year was a whole different ball game as the team won both the expert class and the overall title, collecting a cool $50,000 plus a pair of eagle trophies (one for Overall and a smaller one for the Expert Division) that need their own mantle to display. Their 1932 Ford Cabriolet, nicknamed “Pop’s Passion,” was the only team to finish the race less than 1 minute off a perfect time with a raw score of 55 seconds and an adjusted score (based on age of the car) of 44.55 seconds.

Jeff and Eric Fredette cross the finish line.

The second place team of Jeff and Eric Fredette overcame rear brake issues along the way to finish with a raw score of 1 minutes 10 seconds and an adjusted score of 57.05 seconds.

Olivia and Genna Gentry, winners of the Rookie Division.

Further evidence that the racing genes run deep in the Knowles bloodline was the winning car in the Rookie Division, piloted by granddaughters Olivia and Genna Gentry (also daughters of Beth Knowles-Gentry).  They drove their 1963 Dodge Dart convertible to a finish time that was only 2 minutes, 33.44 seconds off perfect time. They placed 24th overall against some seasoned rally racing veterans, a sign of only better finishes to come in the next few years.

Doug and Howard Sharp celebrate a win in the Grand Champions Class.

The Grand Champion Class of previous winners was led by 2-time former Champions Howard and Doug Sharp in their 1916 Hudson Hillclimber with a score of 1 minute and 0.72 seconds, which was good for 3rd overall in the standings.

Team Grinding Gears, winners of the Sportsman Class.

Sportsman Class winners were the team of Mike Weaver and Craig Jongerius driving their Grinding Gears Racing 1931 Model A Ford to a 13th place overall finish and a adjusted time of 1 minutes 46.11 seconds.

The X-Class winners from Galax, Virginia.

With a strong contingency of X-Class teams from colleges, high schools, car museums and even Boy Scout troops from across the country, the team from Galax, Virginia, took the winner trophy, with driver/mentor Tom Littrell driving and the students navigating their 1928 Model A Roadster to an adjusted time of 4 minutes and 34.56 seconds off the official race time. That time was also good for 44th overall out of 121 cars that started the race.

These and many other participants divided up over $150,000 in prize money, with teams awarded cash prizes for finishing near the top of their class or for scoring an Ace award during the race. A complete listing of finishes is now posted on

The “Spirit of the Event” award this year was given to Ted and Mary Stahl and their family for their continuing participation and sponsorship of the Great Race, as evidenced by their sponsorship of the lunch stop on Stage 7 of this year’s race. Team Stahl enters multiple cars each year and started the 2017 Great Race with four team entries.

The Hemmings Speedster encountered mechanical problems in Pontiac, Michigan on day 7 and was unable to complete the race. The Great Race motto is “to finish is to win,” but we fell short of that goal this year. The race distance of 2,300 miles over 9 days takes a large toll on these vehicles, as evidenced by our breakdown.

Many of this year’s race teams also participated in a fund raising effort with past-Grand Champion driver Rex Gardner and his VCRA Race for Autism and helped raise for $100,000 for that cause. More information on that fundraising is available at

Preparations have already begun for next year’s race which will travel from Buffalo, New York to Halifax, Nova Scotia, from June 23 to July 1st, 2018. The course will again cover 2,300 miles over nine days. Those interested in participating shouldn’t wait to submit an entry because many of the slots for next year’s race are already spoken for, meaning an entry may not be accepted until the 2019 Great Race, which could be going absolutely anywhere in the United States or Canada (except Rhode Island, apparently).