OGUNQUIT, Maine — Every so often an event lives up to its name, and the Great Race that kicked off Saturday morning in Ogunquit was one.
One hundred and four registered racers sat in the Ogunquit Beach parking lot representing, according to officials, more than $5 million in cars, ready for the first leg of their journey.
This year, drivers and their navigators will travel from Ogunquit to The Villages, Florida. The racers will drive through 10 states in nine days, traveling 2,100 miles.
Don’t think “Cannonball Run,” though. Drivers and their navigators are judged on how precisely they follow specific directions to arrive at checkpoints, when they arrive, with time and speed weighing heavily on drivers’ scores.
The winner of last year’s race was within 42 seconds of being perfect after traveling from Minnesota to Alabama.
“It’s a game,” said Great Race Director Jeff Stumb. “A game with a little intrigue.”
The intrigue is not only the race but the $150,000 purse.
For most in the race though, a prize was the last thing on their mind as they soaked up the Maine sunshine.
“I’m just excited to see all the people,” said Don Kloth from the passenger seat of his 1930 Model A Speedster.
Kloth, in his first race, said Ogunquit has been great with everyone waving to him and his driver, Herb Clark, as they motor around town.
“We’re just as tickled to see them,” Kloth said. “This was a bucket list thing, but we are hoping to at least be competitive.”
Stumb was busy with logistics but said he couldn’t have asked for better weather, attendance or cars.
“It’s been great,” he said. “The people in Ogunquit have been incredible.”
Karen Arel, Ogunquit Chamber of Commerce president, said everyone has benefitted from the Great Race.
“It’s been nice for the residents to have them here and the businesses,” Arel said, adding that six hotels hosted the Great Race staff, the drivers and their support crews, about 370 people in all.
The only Maine participants, Team Maine Boyz out of Gardiner, were driving a Stock 1948 Ford four-door, which according to driver Ed Chapman, has been over a year in the making. Chapman and his other driver, Peter Prescott, along with navigator Jim Hill are all rookies in the Great Race, though they scored a nice starting position in the first group of cars since they are representing Maine.
“There is nothing like this,” Chapman said. “Everything’s going good though. The car is running excellent.”
Chapman had nothing but admiration for the navigating side of the rally, thankful to concentrate on driving.
“It’s pretty tricky,” he said. “It’s the most tedious part, but that’s the game.”
Adam Ross of Team Maine Boyz, who spearheaded the effort to enter the race, said no one was using their GPS. Though there was one high-tech part of his vehicle: A small video camera on the roof to remember the race and post on their website and Facebook.
Driving a 1932 Ford Roadster pickup, Vernon Cunningham was excited just for the chance to spend some time with his son Greg.
“I live in northwest Arkansas, and he lives in Tennessee,” Cunningham said. “We only get to see each other three or four times a year, so this is a chance to spend nine or 10 days together. This is great.”
While Greg built the truck six years ago, Vernon said this is their fourth race.
The crowd found the cars interesting, and for some, nostalgic.
“This was my first car,” said Frank Childers. “A 1950 Ford Fairlane. I was 18 years old and had that thing for three years. I loved it so much, my brother went out and bought one.”
Bobby Varsha, who was a longtime color commentator for Formula One racing on the Speed Channel, held the green flag up. Corky Coker, president and owner of race sponsor Coker Tires, both heckled and cajoled the drivers as they crossed the starting line with Varsha waving the green flag.
Beach Street, often three people deep, erupted in cheers as the cars drove by, and the crowd continued into downtown Ogunquit and south along Route 1 as people held signs and cheered the teams on.