After Hours: From California to Illinois in a '41 Ford
As they sat in a 75-year-old car, one inch apart for 2,500 miles, Team 93 kept their goal for The Great Race front and center: finish in the top three in the Rookie class.
The 2016 Great Race began in San Rafael, California, on June 18, and ended in Moline, Illinois, on June 26. Racers followed the Lincoln Highway, a route that included landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge, the Rocky Mountains, Mount Rushmore, the Bonneville Salt Flats and Badlands National Park. However, for Team 93, it started many months before when a father wanted to share a life-changing experience with his son.
Larry Read, CEO of Oil Changers, competed in the 2015 Great Race with Joe Perkins, president of American Traditions, and Scotti Lee, Ph.D., former operator of Oil Change Express. They formed Team 92.
“Team 92 finished the race crossing the finish line at the Pier in Santa Monica, California, finished fifth in the Rookie Class, finished 39th overall and had more fun than you can imagine,” Larry wrote in a testimonial on the Great Race website.
Competition and adrenaline don’t fall far from the tree, so this year, Larry helped his son Aaron Read, president of North American Lubricants, form a team of his own — Team 93.
Eric Frankenberger, president of Oil Changers, and Tony Campbell, customer service director of Oil Changers, rounded out Team 93.
The Birth of Team 93
Team 93 drove a 1941 Ford pickup, weighing 2,890 pounds, sporting a V8 engine and a four-barrel Edelbrock carburetor. Larry acquired this eye-catcher for the team. A lot of searching and time when into the decision to purchase Team 93’s 1941 Ford pickup, as well as Team 92’s 1939 Buick Business Coupe.
“They looked at which cars received the most attention, what were the fan favorites and what seemed to perform the best in previous years,” Eric explained.
They decided a truck in the 1940s era had a great look, got some positive attention and could perform well as a rally car.
“When doing these rally races, you can’t just pull a classic car right out of the garage, race it across the country and expect it not to have problems,” Eric said.
So, Team 93 lived by the six Ps: Prior planning prevents piss poor performance.
Team 93 began practicing many months in advance and really pushed the truck to its limits.
“The first time we got in the vehicle and drove it, we drove it like we stole it trying to make sure everything held together,” Eric said. “When you do a nine-day race across the country, if anything is going to break, you want to break it well before race day. Then, once you get into the race you have to conserve and make sure you’re able to finish.”
This particular truck was restored in 2007 by Frank Oddo, the former editor of Street Rodder Magazine. It was in great condition, but it wasn’t designed for rally racing, so Aaron and his team made a few modifications. These included adding disc brakes, an automatic transmission, a 1964 motor and a speedometer that could be accurate to the 1/1000 of a second.
Learning to Race
Before embarking on the Great Race, one must first learn how to Great Race.
There are 25 pages of rules for the Great Race, but here are some of the basics:
• Teams are made up of a driver and navigator, along with a support driver who takes a separate route, meeting the team at the final destination and giving them a helping hand to prepare the car for the next day.
• The navigator receives a set of 200-250 instructions that guide the team along the selected route, sending them to the daily checkpoint.
• Cruise control is illegal, and odometers are taped over.
• You must make it to the check point each day, or you are disqualified from the race.
Team 93 was determined to make it through the Great Race as a successful, well-oiled machine.
Once the truck was ready to go, practice ensued.
“Some of these vehicles are 100 years old, and their accelerating and decelerating times are completely different,” Aaron explained. “Our team created a performance chart on our vehicle, so we knew how long it would take our car to stop from 10 mph all the way up to 50 mph. We did the same thing for acceleration times, too.”
Complications can come up during the race because the racers aren’t the only people using the roads on the route.
Aaron described a hypothetical scenario in which, “You may be required to go 50mph, but a garbage truck pulls in front of you going 15mph. You then have to use a stopwatch to quickly calculate how fast and how long you have to go at an accelerated speed to make up the lost time and get back on track.”
After a few practice sessions and some preparations, all Team 93 had left to do was set a few goals.
“Because Larry participated last year, he helped us train and get ready for the race,” Eric explained. “With his help, we went in with a pretty good understanding of how to read the instructions, and we were shooting for top three in the Rookie class.”
The Race is On…
The navigator’s (Aaron’s) job required the ability to multitask and communicate affectively. The navigator also has to do quite a bit of math to ensure the timing is correlated with the correct speed at all times. Thirty minutes prior to the team’s start time each day, the navigator received a set of 220-250 instructions to take with them.
“I would get the instructions, put in headphones and isolate myself to go over as many instructions as possible in that limited amount of time,” Aaron explained. “I was looking for anything unusual, like unique signs, and doing as many calculations as I could get through. Before The Great Race, it’s vital to know the performance factors of the vehicle you’re racing with.”
Since cruise control is illegal in the race, the driver (Eric) had to have deep focus, with his eyes on the speedometer to maintain an exact speed.
“There was a day in Nevada we had to travel at 50 mph for four hours straight,” Eric said. “It’s a little bit painful at times, but that’s the driver’s job.”
The guys also mentioned the fact that there were only so many stops for fuel, and the racers don’t necessarily know how far it is from station to station. Therefore, they had to decide to either fill up at every station or hope the car could make it to the following stop.
…But Not Without a Few Speed Bumps
“On the first night, the pickup’s brake system completely went out,” Eric said. “I hit the brakes and went through a stop sign. Luckily, no cars were around, and we only had about 20 minutes left on the first day’s route. We were able limp into the first stop and spend the evening with Tony getting the vehicle back in shape for the following morning.”
They also experienced a problem with the power steering unit coming loose and losing one of the bolts that keeps it together. This happened in Rapid City, South Dakota, on day six, so they stopped at a Super Lube owned by Billy Cannon.
“We rallied and used zip-ties to hold the unit together until the end of the race,” Aaron explained. “We also used this opportunity at Super Lube to check all fluid levels and do a few inspections to make sure all of the parts were holding together.”
Team 93 had a fuel pump go out as well, but fortunately they had dual fuel pumps on the truck, which allowed them to continue unaffected. They also experienced a few misfiring issues at high elevations, but they were lucky not to experience any overheating like many of the other vehicles.
They also described a nearly disastrous event that took place with Team 92’s 1939 Buick Business Coupe. (Team 92 once again consisted of Larry Read as navigator, Joe Perkins as driver and Scotti Lee, Ph. D. as support driver.)
“On day eight, we were about to pull into the lunch stop for that day when we saw the Buick way up on the left side of the road,” Aaron said. “The front end was up on jacks, and the wheels were off. We wanted to figure out what was going on, so we pulled off to where they were and saw a younger gentleman taking a sledge hammer to the front end of the vehicle.”
It turned out Team 92 had hit a pothole in the road and had broken some tie rods, suspension pieces and pushed the tires out so they were wearing excessively on one side.
“They got the car back on the road in one hour and 19 minutes, missed the lunch stop, passed nearly 50 cars to get back in position and then ran out of gas,” Aaron continued. “They started asking anyone they could find for gas. Finally, an elderly woman said she had a gas can in her garage. She drove to get it and returned with a small can of lawnmower gas that appeared to be several years old. They put the gas in the tank anyway, gave the woman $100 and got back on the road. The Buick backfired the entire way in, but managed to make it to the finish line to avoid being disqualified.”
With a damaged vehicle, it was clear Team 92 would really have to come together and get a bit of help if they had any hopes of continuing the race.
“They skipped the car show that night, and with the help of a borrowed welding machine and two generators, Joe welded a few suspension pieces back together and got the car race-ready for the following day,” Aaron said.
Lessons Learned, Goals Achieved
Competing in the Great Race is a life-changing experience — complete with life lessons and a boatload of memories.
“We were an inch apart for 2,500 miles in a car without air conditioning and sometimes excessive heat,” Aaron said, as he recalled the events of the race. “You really have to stay in the moment, and you can’t overcomplicate things. I’ve heard horror stories about teams made up of married couples, family members or friends who had cut the race short due to discord and disagreements.”
But that didn’t happen to Team 93.
“When you sit in the car with the same person for nine days straight, you figure out a lot about yourself,” Eric said. “Aaron is phenomenal. His communication skills and his ability to interpret the instructions were unbelievable.”
Eric and Aaron have known one another for over 20 years through their time at Oil Changers and working together while running separate companies.
“There were a few testy moments, but for the most part, we’ve worked together for so long and we’re great friends, so we’re able to communicate well,” Aaron said. “There’s also a lack of sleep alongside the monotony of doing the same things day after day, so it can be easy to get under people’s skin, but we just didn’t have much of that. I don’t think you can be successful in a race like this if you’re not working in unison with the person next to you.”
Team 93 set their sights high, had a great run and checked some goals off their list.
“We won four of the nine days in the Rookie class,” Eric said. “We also took home first place overall in the Rookie division, which came with $8,500, too.”
“When my father said he wanted to get us a car and have Eric and I experience the race, too, I didn’t really understand the entirety of the opportunity,” Aaron said. “After going through it, I’m hooked on rally racing. The people you race with and the camaraderie you share with the other racers is amazing. It’s a great way to see the country and to experience vintage cars. I hope people read about this and want to enter in the future.”
Team 93 enjoyed the race so much that they have already confirmed their participation again next year.
Regarding the Great Race, it has been said, “To finish is to win,” but Team 93 accomplished so much more.
About the Great Race
According to the official website, The Great Race is an antique, vintage and collector car competitive, controlled-speed, endurance, road rally on public highways. It is not a test of top speed. It is the test of teams, made up of one driver and one navigator, their ability to follow precise course instructions and their car’s ability to endure a cross-country trip.
Any car up through model year 1972 is eligible to enter. For purposes of scoring, the older the vehicle, the better the age factor adjustment the team receives.
There are five divisions consisting of Grand Championship (only competitors who have won the event in previous years), Expert (Great Race veterans who have proven their skills), Sportsman (folks who love to support the Great Race), Rookie (first-time Great Racers) and X-Cup racers (young people who build a car specifically for the event). All divisions race the same route and compete for prize money, which varies per division. Each race covers approximately 2,500 miles of beautiful country, spans over nine days and includes many different stops along the way. Upon crossing the daily finish line, car shows are held for the local folks to visit with the drivers and take photos with the classic cars. The racers stay in the same hotels and enjoy live music and local cuisine before hitting the hay and waking up for the next leg of the race.
Each day, the driver and navigator receive a set of course instructions indicating every turn, speed change, stop and start the team must make throughout the day. Along the course, there are four to seven checkpoints recording the exact time each team passes that point. The objective is to arrive at each checkpoint at the correct time, not the fastest. The score for each team is the result of the team’s ability to follow the designated course instructions precisely. Every second off the perfect time at each checkpoint is a penalty. This format is much more mentally demanding than a flat-out cross-country race. GPS or computers are not permitted, and odometers are taped over. This is a test of human mental agility and endurance as well as classic car endurance, rather than programming capability.
2017 sold out in record time, but if you’re interested in participating in future Great Races, visit www.greatrace.com or call 800.989.7223.