The Great Race 2012

The Great Race began in Traverse City on Saturday.

Named for the 1965 movie about a round-the-globe race that starred Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Natalie Wood, The Great Race is a classic road rally. Participants attempt to match the exact speed and time of a pace car that drives through the day before the racers. The closest time – not too fast, not too slow – wins. The trick with this race is that all the cars need to be vintage. The nine-day competition travels more than 2,000 miles.

The morning of the start, downtown Traverse City was crowded with people of all ages, but middle-aged and elderly males were by far the largest demographic represented. And all the guys had big smiles on their faces as they watched the entrants jockey for position in the starting lineup. Gov. Rick Snyder and former Gov. William Milliken were on hand, and their grins were just as wide as the other big boys.

The oldest vehicle in this year’s race is a 1907 Renault. The field of around 100 cars includes Model T Fords, Chevrolets, Hudsons, International Harvesters, a Jeep, a Rolls Royce, a Saab. Watching the cars line up for the start did bring back memories of the old movie. All that old iron in one spot was a terrific sight: tall, skinny tires, no fenders, leather helmets, the throaty roar of a straight-eight.

The annual event, sponsored this year by Hemmings Motor News and Traverse City-based Hagerty Insurance, tours a different part of the country each year. This incarnation started in Traverse City, Michigan; headed north to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario; then east to Toronto; on into New York, then turns west through Pennsylvania and Ohio; to the finish line in Dearborn, Michigan.

When the race ends Monday, the cars will have a bit more dust on them and the drivers will have a few more bugs in their teeth, but they’ll all be smiling, as will the crowd that gathers to experience this rolling treat of retro mechanical happiness.

See the official Great Race website at GreatRace.com

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