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The Great Race
For decades, the Great Race has traveled the highways of North America, keeping the spirit of freedom and independence alive in an open-road driving adventure. Over 1,000 communities (including Sioux Falls in 1996) throughoutthe United States, Canada and Mexico have hosted Great Race participants and staff in what many consider to be the ultimate event for classic and collector car enthusiasts.
The race is a test of endurance for both man and machine. A typical race covers thousands of miles, 14 days, and a variety of terrains with the winner not always the fastest, but rather the “most calculating”. Starting in 1998 and going thru 2000 local businessmen Dean Kjelden and Jim Tranby took the challenge. Dean is the former owner of BenHur Ford (now Sioux Falls Ford) and Jim owns Classic Import, an import car service company. With Dean behind the wheel and Jim charting their course they were ready to begin their first race covering highways and byways from Tacoma, Washington to Haverhill, Massachusetts. Their goals were modest…just finish. “The 3,500 mile journey is more about precision and less about lead-footed speed”, says Kjelden. Each morning the drivers are handed maps that detail their destinations for that day. (See copy of an actual race page above) They are also given times to reach each milestone in that day’s race. “We averaged 3-400 miles a day at speeds of 50-60 miles per hour”, notes Tranby. “They have race officials at intermediate checkpoints charting your progress. If you go by the checkpoint at the wrong time, you are penalized”. The race track is made up mainly of back roads but they also drive the country’s Interstate roads.
The car: 1948 MG-TC was originally purchased in Canada and was modified for Canadian rally racing. It was lose time and points are deducted from your score.
The pair finished respectably in 1998, finished fifth in the rookies division, 12 in the sportsmen’s division and 38th overall out of about 100 cars. It is not uncommon for almost half the cars that start the race to not finish. It was a grueling two-week period-driving all day and fixing any problems with the car at night. “Imagine climbing into a little two-seater and hitting the secondary roads of this massive country”, remembers Kjelden. “That first year we were being chased by a storm from west to east. When it caught up to us and the rain came down we could not keep the rain from coming inside the car. Then you add big semis passing you and throwing water all over your car and it made the ride that much more challenging".
You would think that a 14 day cruise across the United States would be a great sight-seeing tour. Not the case when you are racing in the Great Race. “We were concentrating so hard on instructions and speed that you weren’t really looking around much”, Kjelden said. Additionally driving a car that pre-dates power steering for 7-8 hours a day is exhausting. During the evenings, after the car was prepared for the next race day, you were treated like stars from the residents of the communities that hosted the race.
The next two years they ran the race were filled with similar stories but nothing quite compares with the first time. The 1999 race ran from Marietta, Georgia to Anaheim, California and the 2000 race from Boston, Massachusetts to Sacramento, California