By Jan Wessel
In June of 2011, the Great Race went from Chattanooga, TN to Bennington, VT and happened to pass by Hazleton, PA for a lunch stop. Having seen the notice in the local newspaper, I decided to go and welcome in the racers. This is where I was first introduced to the Great Race. Being able to see these rally prepared motorcars and speak with some of the teams planted a seed, the seed of a desire to participate in this adventure one day too. What else could be better? To prepare a classic car and experience the back roads of the U.S. as one would have more than 50 years ago. This is where my passion behind the old car hobby lies: the sight, smell, sound, and pure feelings that bring you back to the days gone by, days far before my own time! And even better is to use a vintage motorcar with purpose, to have a challenge that needs to be overcome.
From that lazy June afternoon forward, the gears in my head were turning. The fun starts with dreaming of what car to complete the Great Race with. At that point, I had a 1964 Triumph Spitfire, but couldn't imagine that small car taking me across the roads and highways of the United States loaded with a full arsenal of spare parts and tools along with my navigator. After debates and discussions with like-minded car guy friends, we thought about Jaguar's early saloons. They were large, comfortable and yet offered a sporting chassis with period rally and racing success that should be able to handle the race. But now to find one. Starting to look at options, I found that by 2014 there weren't many of Jaguar's early saloons on the market at all. This surprised me, remembering that just a few years prior I regularly came across them on Hemmings, Craigslist and eBay. Fast forward to September 2014, I am sitting in a public park in Budapest, Hungary on my laptop stealing someone's unprotected wifi. While browsing eBay, I happened to come across a seemingly half-way decent 1952 MK VII in Ohio with just 30 minutes to go. And, to me at least, the price was surprisingly low without any reserve listed. Now here's where I did everything one shouldn't when buying an old car. I didn't look at the car beforehand, I didn't contact the seller, I did no due diligence; I simply looked at the listing and put a $100 bid over the current price on it. Why? Because I wanted to spur some bidding as I thought the price was too low. Otherwise I would have been upset if the car sold for that price without me having had a real chance at it. Lo and behold, with my simple $100 bid on the current price, I became the top bidder. I started sweating. I didn't actually intend to seriously pursue this car that I just happened to find online five minutes prior! But no, I thought, someone has to outbid me. And so I sat, waiting. 5 minutes, 3 minutes, 1 minute, 30 seconds... and the auction closed. I was the high bidder and won the 1952 Jaguar MK VII while sitting in the afternoon sunshine in a public park with my laptop on someone else's wifi in Budapest over 4,000 miles away. And so, I was committed from that point forward. I had to laugh, for better or worse, I made a spontaneous decision that put me one step closer to running the Great Race.
Now I actually had to apply for the 2015 Great Race which would run the old Route 66 from Missouri to California. Since it was already later in the year of 2014, I wound up on the waiting list, #3, since the race is capped at 100 teams. Since 2011, my good friend, Allyn Griffith, a long-time certified vintage car guy who's had more vintage cars than one could count on one's fingers and toes many times over, and I had intended to run the race together as a team. We dreamt, speculated and planned. By December 2014, we were off the waiting list and an official participant for the 2015 Great Race! Though at this point, Allyn had started running into some health issues and we both knew the Jaguar would be far from ready, so we deferred our entry to become one of the first listed participants for the 2016 Great Race running the Old Lincoln transcontinental highway. Moving forward another year, Allyn's health continues to be an uncertain question so we decided to plan otherwise.
Enter one of my closest friends since childhood, Aaron Meijer. Also a complete gearhead and car nut, he is now my eager teammate to run the 2016 Great Race. Since middle school, we have talked about some epic cross-country roadtrip. Now we have that opportunity with a particularly interesting car to boot! With our intention to drive from Pennsylvania to northern California where the race starts, run the race from CA to IL, and then drive from IL back to PA, we expect to log more than 6,000 miles under our belt in just a few short weeks. With the MKVII mechanical restoration well underway at Ragtops, we are now just two Great Race rookies jumping at the chance to embark on this adventure in five months time. We'll see if we can get a hang of this whole time-speed-distance rally business, but even if we come in last place, it means that we will have certainly had a grand old time.