Local road warrior navigates nation
Driving America’s back roads coast-to-coast in a 1941 Cadillac convertible may sound like a great way to see the country. Throw in more than 100 other pre-1951 automobiles, their pit crews, thousands of spectators and a healthy dose of competition and you’re got yourself a great race – The Great Race, in fact. And this year the coast-to-coast rally will be coming through Truckee with a hometown competitor in the midst of all the action. As he has for the last five years, Wayne Hoag will again be the navigator in the Focus on the Family car for the 22nd annual running of The Great Race.Hoag, a Truckee resident and pastor at Sierra Bible Church, first got involved with the Great Race 11 years ago as the public address announcer for the competition. A year later he became the official chaplain for the race, and five years ago he hooked up with the Focus on the Family team as the in-car navigator – a very demanding job.The Great Race takes the form of a controlled time and speed event. Each morning, 20 minutes before the day’s racing begins, racing teams are given a thick book of instructions that they must follow to the letter. Every turn, speed change and variable is mapped out and timed to the second by race organizers beforehand, and the competitors strive to arrive at a series of five checkpoints throughout each day at pre-arranged times. Teams are forbidden to use maps, calculators or odometers – they have to rely on a primitive clock and a speedometer – and every second that they are off counts against them. The team closest to the time set out by race organizers as ideal wins the day’s stage.
As a navigator, Hoag said that, “All day long you’re just either trying to get your driver to add seconds or subtract seconds so that when you come to a checkpoint, you’re coming through as close to zero as possible. It’s a lot of work.”This year’s race will start in Jacksonville, Fla. on June 19 and finish up in Monterey, Calif. on July 3, with 14 overnight and 14 lunch stops along the way.”The people come out by the hundreds of thousands to see the old cars,” said Hoag. “It’s crazy how many people come out. We’ll pull into a town that only has 20,000 people and there will be 30,000 people in the streets.”Truckee will serve as an overnight town on Thursday, July 1, with the cars arriving between 5 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Folks in town will have a chance to check out the vintage cars for an hour and a half on Commercial Row that evening as well as show off their spirit for the event – a competition in and of itself.Each year race organizers award one overnight town with “The Great American City” award and a $10,000 check to that town’s public library. Hoag thinks that Truckee has a good shot at winning the title due to the town’s historic nature.”It’s really neat when you get to pull these old cars into a place like Commercial Row in Truckee; they fit there. They don’t look as good in a mall shopping center parking lot,” Hoag said.Although the Great Race is not all about whose car goes the fastest, the teams aren’t just out for a Sunday drive either. On a typical day the competitors will leave between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. (at one minute intervals) and spend 10 hours on the road with two pit stops and a lunch break in between. They average between 350 and 400 miles per day.
Part of the challenge is just coaxing the pre-1951 cars across the finish line. Hoag says that the Focus on the Family Cadillac is fairly reliable – he’s only ever had to fix flat tires and replace a drive shaft that broke last year – but some of the cars require complete overhauls each night just to be ready to run in the morning.Pit crews therefore play a vital role in keeping racers going, and support teams range from a couple of mechanically inclined friends with a pickup and a trailer full of parts to full NASCAR-sponsored racing crews that bring millions of dollars worth of gear to support their cars.And while the teams’ competitive juices get flowing on the course, Hoag claims that the camaraderie that’s fostered amongst the racers is even greater.”The one thing that will just blow you away about the Great Race is out on the racecourse it’s competitive as competitive can be,” Hoag said. “But Great Racers want to beat each other on the racecourse, not in the pits. Guys will stay up all night long helping another team get their broken car fixed to get it back on the road the next day.”Sometimes even locals in overnight towns get in on the action by loaning racers hard-to-find parts that they have laying around their garage or that they pull off their own cars.For Hoag, a self-described car guy, getting to see the cars and race a vintage Cadillac is a big part of the fun. But he also loves seeing the effect the vintage cars have on race spectators.”The great thing about the Great Race is it’s kind of like a Fourth of July parade that lasts for two weeks,” Hoag said. “You leave either coast and start getting into the heartland, and that’s where you find the real America… Just when I’m ready to despair and say we’re heading down the tubes, another trip across this country helps me realize that the vast majority of Americans still love the things we love and are treasuring the things we treasure. The Great Race gets to go right down Main Street USA and see it all.”