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Driving in the Hemmings Motor News Great Race Presented by Hagerty is no picnic

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This Hudson Hornet is a fan favorite. Photos by author.

For those not familiar with time, speed, and distance racing, the objective of the Hemmings Motor News Great Race is not to get to the finish line first, but to get to the finish line with a time closest to the total measured time for the entire event. This time is determined by Rally Master John Claussen, who completes the entire trip with a wheel-mounted odometer as many as five times before the start of the event. He makes any determinations on speed, direction, switchbacks, scoring loops, turns, and stops throughout the entire course, then presents a list of instructions to the driver and navigator 30 minutes before they start on the course for the day.

The two-person teams have to work as one, and most of the better teams have been participating together for many events over many years in addition to practicing during the offseason. Great Race teams also participate in other rallies through the summer, including the VRCA All Stars for Autism Race in Joplin, Missouri, in May; the Sugar Valley Rally in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, in June; The Coker Tire Challenge in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in September;The Northeast Rally Club’s Pumpkin Run Rally in Delaware in April; and the Penn York Rally in Pennsylvania in October. Many of the best teams are husband/wife or parent/child or grandchild, probably because they can yell at each other and then forgive rather quickly.

The job of the driver is threefold. First, he has to keep an eye on the race-approved Timewise speedometer while also watching where he is going and monitoring the other gauges on the dashboard. Secondly, he has to be a good listener and be able to follow directions, speed information, and additional instructions from the navigator. It is not in the driver’s job title to even look at the directions, that is the navigator’s role (which we’ll cover in greater detail in our next installment). Third and just as important, the driver has to be smooth in his operation of the vehicle and the given instructions.

Teams practice often and establish a speed chart for the vehicle that references how fast it can accelerate from 0-10, 0-20, 0-30, 0-40, etc., as well as slow down from 40-0, 30-0, complete a 30-mph turn, etc. Once they have established a base line for the speed charts, it is important that the driver consistently accelerate and brake using those timing measurements. This allows the navigator to know, for instance, if they are being asked to make a right turn at a stop sign from 30 mph, they have already calculated that it takes 5 seconds to brake from 30-0 mph and 8 seconds to accelerate from 0-30 mph. That means the driver has to stop evenly and then accelerate in the allotted time so that the navigator knows they have made (in this example) a 13-second right hand turn and can adjust their speed to get back on the correct elapsed time accordingly.

Should a driver miss a shift, or begin braking too late, or be delayed by a car passing through the intersection, their overall time on the clock is affected and that time would have to be made up before they drive through the next timing loop. This is also why the navigator is constantly using a stop watch to make sure their time matches what they estimate is the established race time. If they feel they are too fast or too slow, there are methods they can use to correct their overall time. More on that when we talk about the navigator’s role.

The 2019 Hemmings Motor News Great Race Presented by Hagerty begins on Saturday, June 22, in Riverside, California, and ends on Sunday, June 30, in Tacoma, Washington. For additional details on this year’s event, visit