When Ron Boese hits the road for The Great Race, he takes his work with him?a 20-foot enclosed all-aluminum trailer loaded with automotive parts and tools hauled by a 400 horsepower Chevy crew cab dually.
The race, which has been run since 1983, pits classic vehicles?nothing newer than the 1972?against time as they travel from check point to check point to reach their final destination. This year, the 1,800 mile race ran from Kirkwood, Mo., to Santa Monica, Calif., and ended last month.
Boese of Haven had the job of keeping a 1936 Packard running throughout the event.
?When they get there at night, they tell me what needs to be fixed,? Boese said. ?It doesn?t make any difference what you take. There isn?t ever enough. You hunt the part stores and try to make it work.?
The Packard was driven by its owner, Jeff Breault of Wichita. His navigator was Mark Keeny of Kingman. Only two people are allowed in each car. Breault and Keeny finished 10th out of 125 other vehicles that entered the race. Only 85 cars completed the course.
?We were very happy,? Boese said. ?To finish is to win. These are old cars. A lot of them don?t make it.?
Some parts were custom-made by Boese in his shop in Haven. He used his 42 years of experience and knowledge of cars to design and fabricate the necessary parts on his mill and lathe.
Per the rules, motors can be rebuilt, cars can be updated, and brakes and cooling systems or anything safety-related can be changed. If cars use different engines, the driver will be docked points. No digital components are allowed.
?Everything has to be analog,? Boese said, ?no GPS. Cell phones are in the trunk. You can?t communicate with them until they cross the finish line for the day.?
This year?s route took drivers and their navigators across Missouri, a corner of southeast Kansas, Oklahoma, the Texas panhandle, New Mexico, Arizona, and to California. Next year the race will begin in San Francisco and end in Chicago; cars will travel the Lincoln Highway.
Drivers receive daily instructions, including destinations and stopping points along the way, about 30 minutes prior to departure.
Officials keep records of the travel times between the legs and add the times up at the end of the race to determine winners.
The driver with the lowest cumulative time total is the winner. This year?s winning car was a 1916 Hudson Speedster. Its driver received a $50,000 purse.
?They took a simple race and made it as complicated as they could,? Boese said. ?You have to use old ways of navigating and follow the signs. ?About 50 to 55 miles per hour is about as fast as they [cars] will go. That is the challenge of the whole thing, and then the old cars.
?Fuel problems plagued us from the very beginning?fuel pumps and regulators. Heat and fuel, corn fuel, is bad for old cars,? he said. ?We bought as much non-ethanol fuel as we could. It [ethanol] works fine in newer stuff but not the older.?
Hills, mountainous terrain and high altitude were also hard on the cars, which had to make the crossing without the benefit of fuel-injection and computer sensors to make adjustments on the fly.
?We had some repairs to do every night,? Boese said.
For all the restrictions and difficulties, though, Boese had a blast.
?It?s fun to me to get to help them out,? he said. ?And you meet the best people in the world. It?s a very expensive race. You never know who you?re going to meet or who will be in this race.?
Millionaires and billionaires were among some of the participants, ?but you never knew that. They were there to have the same fun you are,? Boese said.
The race also attracted some Japanese car enthusiasts who shipped their cars across the ocean in containers so they could participate in the event. One of the men entered a Toyota sports car that he paid $1.2 million for.
At the end of the race, the organizers hosted a banquet where the 1936 Packard was awarded the Best of Show. Boese hauled the car back home in the back of his trailer.
The team is already making plans for next year?s race, which will be Boese?s third.
?We?ll spend a year going through the car, building the engine, putting on new brakes. We?ll take it apart, redo it and get it ready for next year,? he said.
?I don?t want to drive it; working on it and fixing it is my thing,? he said. ?Not many people get the opportunity to do it. I feel like it?s an honor to get to do it.?
by Fred Solis
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