Looking Back on the Great Race

I’m a car guy, but if you’ve seen many of my posts, then you know I generally like drag cars, nostalgic hot rods and muscle cars. I don’t really get into the restored classic car stuff, although I can appreciate the time and effort spent. With that said, I wasn’t exactly excited to be covering the 2011 Great Race. Most of the cars were restored originals or some sort of hand built speedster that was built to resemble a vintage racecar from the ’30s…either way, it just isn’t my thing. And if you’re not familiar with the Great Race, it’s actually not a race if you want to be technical. It’s a time, speed, endurance rally, meaning that the cars (1969 and older) have to travel a pre-determined route in a particular time. Going too slow is bad and going too fast is bad–it’s all about precision driving. I know I probably should’ve blogged about this while it was still relevant, but I just thought I’d wait until I had some time to really sit down and write for a minute or two. It was a grueling trip and I’m gonna tell you all about it and show off some of the pictures I took along the way.

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I guess you could say this is my "famous" shot, since it was on the cover of Hemmings Motor News. This was shot on day one somewhere in North Carolina.

So, we set off on our journey on a Saturday morning, leaving from the Coker Tire headquarters in Chattanooga, Tennessee. What will probably be erased from my memory is the fact that Christina and I traded in our everyday driver for the Pontiac G8 GT the morning that I left town. As in 6:30 in the morning, signing the papers. I didn’t want to wait until I got back, so we jumped in and bought it. Good decision, I think. The night before I absolutely could not sleep. Lots of thoughts going through my head and lots of pressure on me, regarding the new vehicle purchase, as well as the fact that I’d be on the road for 10 days, working my hind end off. So, a sleepless night made for a long first day of the Great Race. Luckily, the lunch stop in Athens, Tennessee allowed me to say a final goodbye to my mom and dad, and hang out with my buddy Josh. Lots of twists and turns later, we rolled into Maggie Valley, North Carolina, and eventually the Wheels Through Time Museum. I must say that I didn’t give the place much credit until I walked in. What an amazing collection of motorcycles and cars, and the displays made for a very cool experience.

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The crowd in Chattanooga was big, and crowd shots are a must for promotional purposes.

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The nice thing about shooting cars non stop for 7 days straight the time you get to experiment with angles, shutter speeds and other fun stuff. Decent panning shot of a Model A speedster.

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I couldn't resist this photo opportunity, so I shot it through the windshield of our rental car. Turned out pretty cool! This is in North Carolina, by the way.

From there, our first overnight stop was Asheville, North Carolina. Route planning wasn’t really on my agenda at this point, but it would be as the days moved on. Day two sent us to Galax, Virginia for lunch, and then to Salem, Virginia for the dinner and overnight stop. It felt like we’d been on the road for a LONG time at this point, at least in my opinion, but we were just getting started. Those two first days seemed really long for me, but then time sped up and things got a little more fun. We’d get up at 7am or earlier, drive all day, stopping at various waypoints that looked cool from our Google maps research from the night before. Then to the lunch stop, then to the dinner stop, then to the hotel, where I’d unload all of my photos, batch them to Jpgs, batch them to 900 and 500 pixels wide, depending on the use of the photo. Then write blogs for the companies, make Facebook posts and plan our route for the next day. If there was ever a time when I wanted to start drinking, this was it.

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The Shenandoah Valley is a beautiful area in Virginia. The mountains made for great backdrops and I found an odd place to shoot that worked out well. Everything outside of my frame is terrible shooting material--Walgreens, traffic lights, restaurants. Funny how you can find a narrow window of opportunity and capture a cool moment.

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I ended up using the 55-200 lens for the most of the trip, as it allowed me to get some aggressive shots. Sometimes the wide angle of the 16-85 came in handy but I mainly used the longer zoom.

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Here's an instance where the wide lens worked well. I'm standing on a huge rock, which let me get a good view of the car, and the very cool wooden bridge, which happens to be one of the last remaining privately-owned toll bridges in the United States. That body of water is the Potomac River...I'm standing in West Virginia.

Generally staying up until 1am or later, the entire media team, made up of my Coker Tire marketing colleagues, started feeling the affects by the middle of the journey. As we rolled up the road, we passed through Harrisonburg, Virginia, Cumberland, Maryland, Chambersburg, Pennsylvania and into Hershey, Pennsylvania by the end of Day 4. Lack of sleep, a bit of liquid courage and general “on the road” frustration came to a head during our night in Hershey, but luckily, I wasn’t involved, and just kept my nose buried in the laptop, trying to finish my night’s work. From there, we motored up to Hazleton, Pennsylvania for lunch, then to Binghamton, New York, where a great crowd of spectators greeted the old cars as they sputtered into town. At this point, our media crew rental cars were filthy, and our motivation to keep going was hampered by the thought of another 18 hour day right around the corner. But I pressed on…not because I wanted to, but because it was my job, haha.

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A cool covered bridge in Pennsylvania. Photo conditions are horrible in this sort of area, but it was a must-have photo. I basically had to underexpose the vehicle to keep the bridge from blowing out. As long as the vehicle had its headlights on, it was cool.

The next day’s lunch stop was in Cooperstown, New York and we had a really good crowd there. The rally officials gave racers extra time off the clock to tour the Baseball Hall of Fame Museum, so my media pals and I checked it out. Pretty cool stuff in there, even though I’m not a huge baseball fan. Back on the road, we headed to Saratoga Springs, New York, where the pressure began to rise as we neared the end of the competition. The final day’s route from Saratoga Springs to Bennington, Vermont was rather short, so I needed to really put the hammer down and get some good shots, so we could jump ahead and beat the racers to the finish. And it was raining…YES!

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Rolling hills and a '32 Ford Cabriolet...

After leaving the hotel that morning, we grabbed some wet-road running shots, which required me hanging out the window of the car in the rain. Then I stood on the side of the road in a very dangerous corner to see if I could catch some slipping and sliding. Gotta love standing in a stranger’s yard, in the rain, photographing old cars as they go by. From there, we needed to jump to the lunch stop, and we did it in grand fashion. The ole GPS didn’t come through for us this go ’round, as it sent us on a muddy gravel/dirt road in the middle of no where. No houses, no other roads, no other vehicles for many miles. It was a little creepy. So, the GPS says, turn left onto so-and-so road….there was no road. Nothing at all. We kept going, hoping that the GPS would recalculate and get itself straightened out. Nope, no luck, but we eventually found signs and made our way to the big ski resort on Stratton Mountain. It was cold, it was misting and I had only packed shorts and T-shirts.

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Little bit of skillful driving in the big Auburn speedster! This one had me a little worried, but it was honestly the only sketchy moment of the entire Great Race, in my opinion.

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Lovely road within a "maze" where the cars would be much closer than normal. In this area, the cars were theoretically 30 seconds apart.

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From that very same vantage point, I could turn around and capture the racers as they headed up a twisting hillside.

With only a few short miles to go after lunch, we rolled into downtown Bennington, Vermont and got all set up for the grand finish. It started pouring down, just moments before the first car rolled through the finish line gate. Luckily it would stop raining after a few minutes. I photographed all the excitement at the gate, but I couldn’t breathe a sigh of relief just yet. I still had to rush to the hotel, download pictures, write a blog, post to Facebook and recharge batteries in preparation for the awards banquet.

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Alright, here's the hero shot...Corky Coker with Howard and Douglas Sharp, Grand Champions of the 2011 Great Race. The car is a 1911 Velie...the oldest vehicle in the race.

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The crowd around the winners was enormous, so it was a battle to get some decent shots as everyone was shoulder-to-shoulder.

I had planned on cutting a trail just after the awards banquet, and our freelance video guy would ride back with me. I’d drop him off in Richmond, Virginia, then make my way home. The other media guys went on extra curricular adventures, but I wanted to be home. I missed my wife, my dogs, my bed…the list goes on. Before I could leave, we had to tear down the sound equipment, banners, etc. and then we had to peel all the event decals off one of the rental cars, so it could be returned the next day. It seemed like I was never going to get out of there. I had planned on leaving it at 8pm and we pulled out of the hotel parking lot at 11pm, after waking that morning at 6am. My traveling partner drove for the first hour or so, and we stopped somewhere in New York at one of those weird toll road gas stations. I hate toll roads by the way. Hotels were insanely expensive, but we finally found a Super 8 for less than 100 bucks, so we grabbed a room. My head hit the pillow at about 2:30am and we hit the road at 9am or so.

Traffic sucked. Washington D.C. traffic sucked worse. Wreck on the interstate…sitting still for nearly an hour. I’m literally going crazy at this point, trying to recalculate the amount of hours it would take to make a stop in Richmond and then get home. Luckily, the road from Richmond to Interstate 81 was nice, with high speed limits and very little distractions. Once I made it to 81, I felt like I was home free, but I was still a good 7 hours from home. I stopped for gas and supper, and put the hammer down. Finally, I entered Tennessee, and made it home at 12:30am. I drove 900 miles that day. Although it was a huge amount of work, and a long time away from home, the Great Race sent me place I would’ve never gone. Cool roads, covered bridges and amazing views made the trip a lot better than simply blasting down the interstate, but I wish Christina had been there with me to enjoy it. I guess there’s always next year!


2 thoughts on “Looking Back on the Great Race

  1. Pingback: Looking Back on the Great Race | byrdphoto | Weird Cars!

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