Rockford welcomes The Great Race & Regional Car Show

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The clouds parted, and the sun shone down Thursday morning, June 30, as several thousand people converged on the downtown area as Rockford welcomed the Great Race. Rockford was chosen to be one of only 40 cities to host The Great Race—a national vintage automobile timed endurance rally-race that winds its way across America from Washington, D.C., to Tacoma, Wash.

Car buffs, families, downtown workers and the merely curious were treated to an impressive array of local as well as national vintage and classic cars, thanks to the added bonus of the Great Race Regional Car Show. More than 100 car owners from across the region came to strut their stuff and compete in various categories for trophies and prizes.

In The Great Race, the participants (who have ranged from a housewife to a plumber to a scientist) come from all parts of the country with vintage cars dating from 1906-1960 including a 1917 Hudson Indy car, 1928 Willys-Knight, 1953 Chevrolet Corvette, and a 1925 Rolls Royce. The racers are given a new set of directions each day just 10 minutes prior to the start of that leg of the race. They are judged on following an exact time schedule using only a speedometer, stopwatch and a clock—no electronic devices and no air conditioning. The racers make a “pit stop” each day to stop for lunch, as they did in Rockford, enjoying a delicious meal from King’s Table on the second floor of the Lorden Building in Davis Park overlooking the beautiful Rock River.

Natalie and Brian Gomez (a mother and son duo) from Westchester, Pa., decided to race The Great Race 11 months ago. Natalie ran a Ford dealership for 34 years, so a 1960 Ford Falcon was a perfect fit. Brian enjoyed being the navigator because he said, “This is the only time I can tell my mom what to do, and she has to listen.” The duo fell behind five minutes on this leg by making a wrong turn (a lifetime when you consider the leader is only 15 seconds off the time set for the entire race). Brian jokingly insisted they didn’t break any laws while making up the time. The duo has a third passenger in the car—a ceramic pig—that they have along for Natalie’s brother, who has pancreatic cancer. They call him every night and keep him updated.

Dave Huntting and his wife Sue of Rockford had their 1947 MG in the regional car show. He bought it three years ago, had it restored, and drives it around town besides showing it at various car shows. According to Huntting, the MG was brought over from Britain by G.I.s after WW II and started the whole sports car craze in America. Dave Lantz from Rockford was enjoying the event on his lunch hour. He exclaimed: “This is fascinating just to watch and hear. It’s a lot of fun, and I’d love to do it again next year.” Dave’s favorite car was a 1953 Kaiser Darrin.

Ald. Bill Timm, the honorary chairman of the event, said: “I am very, very pleased with the number of people who came down and the number of collector cars shown… You see the tremendous work it takes to go across the country in these cars.” Cyndie Hall, the event chairman, was thrilled to have the caliber of racers and great cars in the race as well as the car show. She added, “We especially want to thank our sponsors, committee members and volunteers for making this happen.”

After the great racers sped off to their next pit stop in Davenport, Iowa, committee member Vicki Fogel summed up this special day saying, “I can’t think of a better way to spend a summer day than strolling by motion picture-worthy vintage automobiles.”

The winners of the top prizes for The Great Race included the following:

Best of Show: Dan and Marilyn Christiansen, Marengo—1939 Ford Cabriolet

Best AMC: Kraig Bryan, Belvidere—1973 AMC Javlin AMX

Best Ford: Art Whitmore, Byron—1956 Lincoln Mark II

Best GM: Ron Kretsinger, Rockford—1966 Chevy Nova Sport Coupe

Best Mopar: Bill Steinborn, Rockford—1969 Dodge Charger

Kevin Sawtell is event manager for Centre Events. See photos at

From the July 6-12, 2005, issue

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