One of the most important things we learned by participating in the Great Race 2012 is that it’s not really a race at all—at least not in the classic sense. It’s not a race where everyone is out to win at all costs. To classify this phenomenal experience as a mere competition for a trophy is almost an insult. As Thomas Karr, driver for Spirit of Stahls, said, “It’s really all about people.” “And it’s more like a living, mobile history museum.” We were ambassadors of automotive history on tour. Yes, we were trying to make good times, we were trying to stay on course, but that became secondary in importance to the rest of the experience. Everywhere we went there were people coming out to see the fantastic vintage cars that were driving through their towns. People would come up to us at lunch and dinner and say “I grew up driving a car like that,” some practically with tears in their eyes. People are pretty emotional when it comes to cars sometimes. We can relate. We really came to love and depend on our Beautiful Lady, the Engine that Could. We’re not sure how she made it the whole 2,300 miles. She was too big, too heavy, not designed for all the tight turns and curves we had to drive but somehow she persevered and despite some problems with vapor lock, the water pump, battery and generator, we made it to the very end. Nine days on the road was a long time, especially with 5 am wake up calls and the need to be at a precise position at a specific time, interpret complicated instructions and calculate how many seconds it takes to make a turn while driving at a specific speed. As I’ve said before, it was both exhilarating and exhausting. For our 16-year old assistant navigator, Benjamin Karr, he didn’t want the trip to come to an end. “I could go on for another two weeks, or longer,” he told me. “The further we went, the closer we became with other drivers and teams.” “In the end, we were like a huge family.” We all felt the same way. Thomas recalls another story: “It wasn’t like a race, where drivers are out with just one goal in mind, to win. In this race, you are racing against yourself only, you are racing against the clock. For example, each morning you are assigned a start position. If for some reason you fall behind and you are trying to get back into the lineup, other drivers understand that and allow you to pass them, which would never happen in a “real race.” Or in another situation, where a car ahead of us lost a wheel, everyone stopped to help. The same thing when our generator gave out—the other teams would always stop to ask if we were getting our problem solved, if we needed any kind of help. We all made new and hopefully lasting friendships that will continue to grow as we continue to be involved in Great Race activities. As I told the reporter from the Detroit News in an interview after the race, it’s not really a race because you have to beat the clock, not each other, that’s how it should be. We can’t wait to race the clock again next year.
The Finish Line
Crossing the finish line on Sunday was bittersweet, because even though we were excited about sleeping in our own beds that evening, we were sad that it was over. I’m not sure if Mary, Thomas and I could have gone on for another two weeks as Benjamin wanted to, but it was still hard to believe it was over. What brought big smiles to our faces and warmed our hearts were all the folks who came out to cheer us on as we came home. It was pretty hot out there in the sun and we really appreciate seeing all of you…forgive me if I forget a name, but thanks to Marty Smith, Yolanda Merrill, Ariel Nicolaci, Brian McLeod, Jan Starr, Jamie White, Carleen Gray and Colleen Young for putting on your Spirit of Stahls caps and greeting us. Many of our children and grandkids were also there. We really missed all of you and were glad you took the time to come out. It meant a lot to us. With everyone wearing Stahls’ blue, they cheered wildly as Team Spirit of Stahls crossed the finish line. Even the MC of the event made a comment, “Thanks Ted Stahl’ for bringing half of Dearborn here to cheer.” That was pretty great. Just like the commentator Corky Coker kept repeating: “To Finish is to Win”. It was a very friendly finish line, more like a great summer picnic than the end of a race. The Mayor of one of the Canadian towns that we visited drove down for the Finish and everyone gave him a big hand. In fact, it was so friendly you almost forgot the Grand Champions took home a $25,000 check. But I’ll bet they would do it even if money wasn’t involved, that’s the kind of people who are in this competition. It was so hot at the finish line and the cars had to wait to go in, we were worried some of the engines would over heat. During the race itself there was one major accident but no fatalities and the wrecked car came thru the finish line on a hauler. Luckily we made it in under our own power, the Lady really came through for us. And the Team Spirit of Stahl took 3rd in the rookie category in spite of being penalized each day for having two extra people in the car. We can’t believe it’s over, we don’t want it to be over, but now we have at least 364 days to start planning for next year. Oh and by the way, we could have sold a lot of our caps at the finish line, everyone really loved them.