2023 Great Race: The Ultimate Endurance Test for Classic Cars

Since 1983, the Hemmings Motor News Great Race presented by Coker Tire has been the ultimate time, speed, distance rally designed for classic cars. Originally, it was a two-week, cross-country torture test for vehicles built before World War II. But rules changed with the times and the cut-off year incrementally progressed. Now, 40 years later, the cut-off year is 1974, which opens the field for 1950’s classics, muscle cars and more. Corvettes are a natural fit, as the cars handle and perform well and typically withstand the rigors of the nine-day, 2,300-mile road rally.

While the Great Race might look like a tour to the general public, the reality is the Great Race is an intense competition that takes place on public roads. “Is it actually a race?” is a common question from spectators at the hosted city stops. The concept of time, speed, distance rallying is lost on many car enthusiasts, but the general idea is to follow a strict set of instructions in order to pass through secret checkpoints at a particular time. As an added challenge, the teams do not get their course instructions until 30 minutes before their designated departure time.

Each year, the route changes to provide a challenge and different scenery. The event has covered Route 66, Lincoln Highway and Dixie Highway on themed routes, but some routes do not have a particular theme. For 2023, the Great Race traveled from St. Augustine, Florida to Colorado Springs, Colorado, through nine states June 24-July 2. Weather conditions were tough for most of the event, with temperatures exceeding 100 degrees on multiple days. Attrition is a factor in Great Race competition, and there are typically parking lot repairs and maintenance each night to prepare for the next day’s route.

The diversity of cars in the Great Race is one of its many highlights. Cars, trucks and motorcycles from 1974 and earlier are eligible but there is a scoring system that incentivizes older cars. This scoring multiplier is called an age factor and it applies to vehicles 1954 and earlier. Earlier cars get a better factor, which is the reason some teams bring extremely old cars to compete. In the 2023 event, the oldest car was a 1916 Hudson, which ultimately won the entire event. That’s not to say that bringing an old car is going to guarantee the Grand Championship, but it definitely plays into the strategy. With an overall purse of more than $160,000 split into five divisions, and $50,000 going to the overall winner, the stakes are high and folks take this competition very seriously.

Race entry is cut off at 120 teams, and this year’s Great Race included five classic Corvettes, ranging from a pair of 1962 Corvettes to a 1970 Corvette Stingray, with a couple of C2’s thrown in the middle. Unfortunately, one of the 1962 Corvettes did not finish the race, but the other four rolled through the finish line in Colorado Springs. The Great Rate motto of “To Finish is to Win” really comes into play, as participants are usually relieved and pleased just to cross the finish line. Upon crossing the line, scores are tallied, and class winners are brought back up to the finish line for the winner’s announcement. With five class divisions (Grand Championship, Expert, Sportsman, Rookie and X-Cup) and 120 teams, it’s an exciting time for racers and spectators alike.

Howard and Doug Sharp took home top honors this year in their 1916 Hudson Pikes Peak Hillclimber with a final score of 54.78 seconds. The Sportsman winners were Tom and Dash Roberts in their 1970 Corvette, taking home $10,000 for their efforts. The brothers nailed down great scores each day, giving them a final score of 1 minute, 39 seconds. This put them in 11th place overall, a very respectable finish for a Sportsman team. They will now be moved into the Expert division, where the stakes are even higher.

Even though the route changes and the roster changes each year, the Great Race continues to deliver the ultimate rally experience for classic cars. Corvettes are always a big part of the event, and garner crowds at each hosted city stop. America’s Sports Car is a fan favorite and a true contender in rally competition.

The 2024 Great Race from Owensboro, Kentucky to Gardiner, Maine will be another test of automotive endurance and skill. Stay tuned to www.greatrace.com for more updates and information on this unique event.

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