Photos by Matt Choquette
On a dripping wet Monday afternoon in late June, throngs of people stood by with umbrellas and cameras ready, hoping to get a look at the dozens of cars that would be pulling into the Heart of Route 66 Auto Museum for lunch during what would be their only stop in Oklahoma.
These cars were part of the Great Race, which has taken place every year since 1983 (except for 2020, which was canceled because of COVID-19).
Starting in San Antonio, Texas and driving across the scorching heat of the Lone Star state, the rain might’ve been a disappointment for the car-watchers, but the cooler temperatures were a welcome relief for the drivers and “roadies” that traveled with the convoy of classics, getting photos and details at every stop until the finish line in Greenville, South Carolina.
That’s not to say that driving in the rain was easy. Brad Phillips, the driver of a pearl-colored 1916 Hudson Speedster, likened it to “driving a big bathtub.”
Organizers say that the biggest challenge, other than staying on time and following directions, is “getting an old car to the finish line each day.”
Monday’s finish line wouldn’t be for several more hours, when the cars stopped in Joplin, Missouri for the night. Not all the cars who started even made it to Sapulpa, unfortunately. Event Announcer Jason White said that the initial count of those registered numbered somewhere around 120 to 130 cars, but that they “naturally lose a few before the race even starts.”
White said they ended up with 110 cars at the starting line in San Antonio, and unfortunately, 13 of those cars were disabled in the first two days. Some cars can get repairs or maintenance at one of the stops—John Schretzmayer, out of Belle Terre, NY, had his 1969 Ford Galaxie XL/GT jacked up and was tending to it at lunchtime; other cars have to call it quits altogether and hope for next year.
Sapulpa is well-known for its crowd of classic car enthusiasts, and with its prime location on Route 66, it’s not uncommon to see some of the most beautiful and coveted cars of yesteryear cruising our streets on any given day. But Monday’s Great Race gathering included some of the most unique cars you’ll ever see, including a 1974 Plymouth Blues Mobile that looks like it was plucked right out of the Blues Brothers movie, including the giant megaphone mounted to the top.
Brothers Paul and David Dort drove what used to be their family car—a 1967 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser—sporting colorful Route 66 shirts and the manliest mustaches in the entire lineup.
The car that gathered the largest crowd was the yellow 1918 American Lafrance Speedster, driven by Jerome Reinan from Denver, Colorado. With 25-inch wheels and a huge four-cylinder T-head engine and chain drive, the car is based on early fire trucks but built to look like a racecar from the early 1900s. As they were preparing to leave, a group began to form nearby. These folks weren’t only gathering to look at this car—they wanted to hear it. Jason White announced the arrival of the car, but nobody needed to be told it had arrived. “Can you imagine driving behind that car?” White quipped. “Would be pretty quiet!” As it rounded back onto Sahoma Lake Road and sped out of sight, people were still talking about it.
Other memorable cars included a 1961 Nash Metropolitan, a 1917 Peerless “Green Dragon,” a 1974 Peterbilt 359 that dwarfed nearly every other car there, and a beautiful 1929 Ford Model A Tudor Sedan from Ohio that had been in the family for over 52 years. A seafoam colored 1952 Hudson Hornet proudly had its name emblazoned on the side, a 1934 Ford Pickup was painted to look like a produce truck that had just come from an old-time farmers’ market, and a red 1916 Hudson Hillclimber, which is the oldest car in the race, and has been the Grand Champion three different years.
Ken Busby, with the Oklahoma Route 66 Association, said that they’re talking to the organizers of the Great Race to try to get Sapulpa as an overnight stop in a few years, which would result in more tourism and hopefully, more revenue. The cities that get chosen as an overnight stop treat the event with a lot more fanfare, usually inviting vendors, music, the whole nine yards. “They’re already planning for several years down the road. If we could get them to stay overnight here, that would be really amazing,” he said.