TRAVERSE CITY — Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines. The Great Race is about to begin.
The prestigious cross-country road rally kicks off Saturday June 23 on Front Street from 8:30 to 10 a.m. Nearly 100 vintage and antique automobiles dating from 1907 to 1969 will line up to greet spectators, who can chat with race participants and experience the vehicles firsthand.
Beginning at 10 a.m., teams will depart at fixed intervals on the first leg of the 2,300-mile rally.
Participants, including several luminaries of the classic auto world, began arriving early this week for the race — actually a Time-Speed-Distance rally that will virtually circle the Great Lakes. Two-man driver-navigator teams will cover 19 cities, 2 countries and 4 states in 9 days.
The object: to maintain precise times and precise average speeds on various segments of a predefined route — without the aid of GPS, odometers or digital devices. The segment routes, including timing checkpoints and pit stops, are cloaked in secrecy until the last minute.
"You're handed the directions that day," said Jonathan Klinger, of Traverse City, who will compete in his un-airconditioned 1930 Ford Model A Tudor Sedan with his navigator, Davin Reckow. "Except for lunch and overnight stops, no one knows the route except the route master."
Saturday's leg will include a lunch stop in St. Ignace and an overnight stop in Sault Ste. Marie. The race also will travel through Ontario, Canada; New York; Pennsylvania and Ohio before ending at The Henry Ford in Dearborn Sunday, July 1.
The Great Race is considered the premier international rally for car collectors and automotive enthusiasts. This year's participants include Wayne Carini, host of the Velocity Channel's "Chasing Classic Cars;" Jim Menneto, publisher of Hemmings Motor News; Corky Coker, president of Coker Tire; and McKeel Hagerty, CEO of Traverse City-based Hagerty Insurance, which specializes in insurance for vintage and antique vehicles.
Hagerty is a major race sponsor and has been working for years to bring the race to Traverse City, known for its beauty and hospitality, said Klinger, the company's public relations manager.
"That's part of the allure," he said. "It's a very scenic route."
Hagerty also is fielding one of the rally's few all-female teams. Driver Tabetha Salsbury and navigator Kacy Smith will compete in a Hagerty-owned "spray green" and "whitecap white" 1962 International Travelette.
The women began preparing for the race about three weeks ago by charting their vehicle's acceleration and deceleration times, Salsbury said.
The charts will help them adhere to strict race directions like these:
"At the referenced sign, change average speed to 30 miles per hour for 36 seconds, then change average speed to 45 miles per hour for 1 minute 12 seconds, then change average speed to 50 miles per hour. Go straight to cross Sherman Street at a crossroad at a blinker. Pause 15 seconds, then continue at an average speed of 45 miles per hour."
"For every second you're off that time they give you, you get a point penalty," said Salsbury, Hagerty youth advocacy coordinator and an alumnus of McPherson College's auto restoration program. "And you want to have as few points as possible."
Klinger said having the race come through is a coup for cities along the route.
"For the towns you come to, it's like a traveling car show," he said, adding that many cities compete to see who can welcome the race teams with the most spirit. "There's something neat about seeing the cars, hearing them drive and meeting the drivers and navigators. Yes, they'll have bugs on them, they won't be as pretty, but they're more alive."