Racing across the country in vintage cars is a family affair

Tue, 07/31/2007 - 12:55pm
By: Michael Boylan

Knowles speedster

Every summer, hundreds of people and their families race across the country on back roads in antique cars in an event known as the Great American Race. Last year, Tyrone resident Jody Knowles and his cousin, Tony, won the rookie division and placed fifth overall out of 110 racers. While things didn’t go as well for the young men this year, they still enjoyed the event and likely have more Great Races in their future.

The Great American Race 2007 started in Charlotte and traveled over 4,000 miles to Anaheim. The route took the drivers through South Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona before stopping in California. Going into the last day, the motor on the Knowles’ 1929 Ford Model A Speedster blew up.

“These cars weren’t built to go across the country,”Jody Knowles said, adding that driving through the desert also put a lot of stress on the car. “I think it got up to 120 degrees at one point and, of course, the car is open at the top and there is no air conditioning. We saw a lot of cars overheat or suffer from vapor lock.”

Their grandfather gave them the car after purchasing it from eBay. The young racers took the car apartdown to the frame and rebuilt it. Knowles estimated that they had the car ready in to race in a little over six months.

Racers won’t have to worry about crossing the desert next year because the course is different every year. That is part of the appeal for people to participate in the event each year. The Knowles’ have been a part of the race for years, following his grandfather and other relatives in a modern car across the country as members of his support team.

“Some of the roads you ride can get pretty rough, so things are alway being knocked loose,” said Knowles. This was the first year that they had a major problem with their vehicle.

The Great American Race is a timed rally and drivers are shooting for a perfect time. Race organizers give the drivers a distance to go and a speed they must follow and wherever a driver finishes ahead or behind the time is how far off perfect time they are. When the Knowles won the rookie division in 2006, they were only two minutes and 12 seconds over for the entire race.
In addition to being surrounded by like-minded folks and their families, the racers also get to experience slices of small-town America over a two-week period. Towns pull out the red carpet for the race and its drivers as the cars pull in for the night, staging dinners and meeting everybody for a unique summer evening.

“The towns just care for the drivers really well,” Knowles said. The route from Chattanooga to Nashville took a total of 10 hours and Knowles stated that it just felt great to get out that night and go swimming.

Jody and Tony Knowles have been around cars and trucks their whole lives. Jody’s father owns Knowles Trucking in Tyrone, and the two young men are well-known on the Late Model dirt track racing series.

“‘The Great Race’ is just 180 degrees from the racing we typically do,” said Knowles. He is getting used to a new car this year and hasn’t raced as much as his cousin, but both have aspirations of racing at a higher level as well.
Knowles is sure that he will race in more “Great American Races” in his future, but is hoping to participate in races that are similar to “The Great American Race” but are shorter. Prior to this year’s main event, he and his cousin raced in the Hemmings Branson Vinatge Rally, a cloverleaf-style rally that started from Branson each day and raced out in different directions for five days, and placed third overall.

It can take a lot of money and time to drive across the country, but for the Knowles and many families like them, the time away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and seeing different parts of the country while spending time together is priceless.

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