Story By Hannah Goldfinger
Photos By Jerry Ballas | Key Media LLC
The Great Race made a pit stop in Auburn last summer.
Sorry, no, not The Amazing Race. The Great Race.
The Great Race is a car event that takes participants through 17 stops in cities across the country to show off vintage vehicles.
“The Great Race is an antique, vintage and collector car competitive controlled-speed endurance road rally on public highways,” said The Great Race website. “It is not a test of top speed. It is a test of a driver/navigator teams’ ability to follow precise course instructions and the cars’ (and teams’) ability to endure on a cross-country trip. The course instructions require the competing teams to drive at or below the posted speed limits at all times.”
The Great Race visited Auburn with 125 vintage cars on June 25 at 12:15 p.m.
The event as a whole comprises 2,300 miles and this was the first time The Great Race visit to Auburn.
“Each day the driver and navigator team receives a set of course instructions that indicate every turn, speed change, stop and start that the team must make throughout the day (usually 220 to 250 such instructions per day),” the website said. “Along the course route, there will be from four to seven checkpoints recording the exact time that the 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 (early or late) at each checkpoint is a penalty point. This format is much more mentally demanding than a flat-out cross-country race. Also, 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. The course avoids timed segments on interstate highways, opting instead for scenic local, county and state highways whenever possible through some of the prettiest country in the United States.”
One of the teams that passed through Auburn was actually made up of Auburn alumni — Mallory Henderson (’20) and her boyfriend Jack Fruin (’19.)
“All the way back in 1992, The Great Race came through Mobile, where I’m from, and at that time, my grandfather and my dad sponsored a racer, and took them to dinner and showed them and told them a little about the city, and ever since then said that they really, really wanted to get involved but it had never really come that close to Mobile, or they just forgot about it,” Henderson said. “Time passed, and then in 2013, The Great Race was ending in Mobile.
“And a lot of the time, the race likes to have teams participate from either the start or end cities, so there was an opportunity to participate, being the end city of Mobile. And so my dad volunteered him and myself and the rest is kind of history.”
This past summer was Henderson’s eighth race.
“I think the race itself hasn’t changed a ton, in a good way,” she said. “I mean, obviously besides having a different route, they kind of have it perfectly down pat,” she said. “It runs very well, the logistics are great, all of the new cities are awesome. The only thing that’s really changed is the food over the years. But, from my personal experience, I’ve just gotten a lot better at it. Like they say, practice makes perfect. So doing it each year I’ve tweaked different things over the years to see what works better.”
Henderson raced with her dad in six races, until his passing in 2018.
“Getting to do it with my dad was something really important to me; it was something we looked forward to every summer,” she said.
Henderson said she thinks her dad would be glad she’s continued on with the tradition. Now, she is racing with her boyfriend, Fruin, who raced this summer for the first time.
“Even after [her father] passed, I still wanted to do it,” she said. “Because there’s about 500 people that go along this race and everyone is really kind, really friendly.”
Traveling is a big plus for The Great Race participants.
“I think I’m on my 48th state because of The Great Race,” Henderson said.
Of course, there aren’t just the fun aspects of showing off the cars, making friends and experiencing new cities; the race is also a bit stressful.
“It really tests your relationship because it is kind of a high-stress environment,” she said. “ … A lot of the time, it’s the performance of the car that can really negatively affect it.”
The rules and regulations are in-depth.
“You’re having to stay on alert all day, every day, because you can easily miss a sign or a turn,” she said. “And when that happens, it’s very stressful to try to make that up and correct where you went wrong.”
The 2024 Great Race will start in Owensboro, Kentucky, on Saturday, June 22. The nine-day, 2,300-mile adventure will travel to 19 cities in Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and will end in Gardiner, Maine, on June 30. Visit www.greatrace.com/ for more information.