They look ancient compared to today’s BMWs, but old cars can sometimes get the job done on the road just as well.
After crossing over the Mackinac Bridge to pass through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and taking a shortcut across Canada, a caravan of 90 antique cars made a stop Wednesday at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds in Watertown to mark the halfway point of their loop around the Great Lakes.
Hundreds of people clustered around the day’s finish line for the 2012 Great Race, a road rally in which teams of drivers compete by arriving at course checkpoints at the right times. Announcers called out the names of drivers as they passed underneath a large inflatable archway and were greeted by loud cheering and applause. A film crew captured the action.
A pair of suntanned Californians in a bright yellow Hudson Indy Racer — the passenger donning an old motorcycle cap, the driver wearing a baseball hat and glasses — drew a lively welcome from the crowd.
As a participant for 20 years in the rally, Tom F. Coad, North Tustin, Calif., said teams feel like celebrities when they arrive at host destinations on the course. To be sure, when his team parked its car after the day’s journey, a group of people shot photographs while others approached to have their programs signed.
But the fanfare is only one side of the story: Drivers of antiques are bound to get a little paranoid along the way, because about 15 cars break down each year and drop out of the race. One year, for example, Mr. Coad’s 1922 Buick needed a set of new push springs at every stop — making the competition both frantic and fun.
“You have to hold your breath along the way,” the 81-year-old laughed, adding that one racer had an engine shipped overnight to avoid bailing out of the competition. “If your car breaks down, you do whatever you can to get it running.”
Driving the relics on the long journey makes the rally an unrivaled experience, said Mr. Coad’s teammate, Don Mussche, who helped build the car, which was purchased from Australia. Participating in the rally for the first time, the Californian said being introduced to small towns bordering the Great Lakes, where the team has enjoyed homemade cookies and sandwiches, has been an experience he’ll take with him to the grave.
After traveling over Michigan’s Mackinac Bridge, teams made a stop in a small town called St. Ignace on Lake Huron.
“There’s no place like it in California,” Mr. Mussche said of the tourist town, which has only about 2,000 residents. “The scenery was gorgeous, and to me it looked like it was from a Norman Rockwell painting.”
Scott O. Hudson of Baldwinsville, Calif., had the number 60 shaved on the side of his head, representing the black 1940 Chevy he drove with his grandfather, John G. Hudson. This is the car’s seventh competition, but it’s never broken down.
“We always tell people ‘it’s a Chevy’ whenever they ask,” the younger Mr. Hudson said. “We get to see 300 miles of country every day, and we’re now in the top 10 percent in the standings.”
Competitors from across the country now will go home and tell their friends about the north country, said Lynn M. Pietroski, president of the Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce.
“We’ve had a couple of thousand people here today from all ages and areas,” she said. “It was a great opportunity to share our community.”
The teams will depart today from Hampton Inn in Watertown to head for Buffalo. They’ll make final stops in Warren and Finlay, Ohio, before finishing the rally in Dearborn, Mich. The race started in Traverse City, Mich. For more information, visit www.greatrace.com.