Great Race gears up for drive into Millsboro next Tuesday

The Great Race, an old car rally, will bring more than 100 antique automobiles to Millsboro next week, as they stop for food during their nine-day drive through 13 states.

The race will start June 21 in Ogunquit, Maine, and weave its way 2,100 miles down the Atlantic Coast before finishing in The Villages in Florida, on June 29. The cars will stop in various towns along the way.

The cars will arrive in Millsboro on Tuesday, June 24, starting at 11:15 a.m., at one-minute intervals, for more than an hour and a half, and stay parked for an hour each to allow spectators to visit with the participants and to look at the cars.

“I’ll be the first car, being as it’s my hometown,” said Mayor Robert Bryan, who will be participating in the race for his fourth year. “There’ll be an opening ceremony where Cathy Gorman will sing the national anthem. Vice Mayor Thoroughgood will welcome them to Millsboro. Rep. Atkins will welcome them to the state of Delaware.”

Once the cars roll through town, they’ll park at town hall and grab some grub before heading off to their next stop, in Norfolk, Va.

“The announcer there will announce the driver, navigator, and tell you about the car. Then they’ll park them over in the town hall parking lot while everyone goes in for lunch. The public is welcome to walk around and look at the cars.”

Bryan said he’s been participating in regional rallies for 20 years and is the president of the Northeast Rally Club, which holds two rallies every year — a fall rally to benefit the Millsboro Volunteer Fire Company and a spring rally held in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

In this year’s Great Race, Bryan will be driving a 1965 Mustang convertible.

“It’s probably one of the newest cars in the race. The oldest one this year, right now, is a 1913. Most of them will be in the ’20s, ’30s, maybe ’40s.”

The Great Race, which began 31 years ago, is not a speed race, but a time-speed-distance rally. The vehicles — each with a driver and navigator — are given precise instructions each day that detail every move, down to the second. They are scored at secret checkpoints along the way and are penalized one second of time for each second they’re either early or late compared to the instructions.

“The driver and navigator cannot have a conversation,” said Bryan, whose navigator for this rally will be Brian Gomez of Chester Springs, Pa. “The first year, my navigator and I talked about other stuff, and we missed some signs, we missed some roads. You just cannot talk. You just have to concentrate on one thing.

“If you’re going down the road, maybe you’re looking for a left-curve warning sign. At that sign, you’re going to go from 25 to 45 miles an hour. If you miss that sign, you are way off. If you miss Smith Road, where they tell you to turn right, you’re off-course.”

Bryan said he loves to participate in the race because of the people and the challenge.

“It’s a great group of people from all across the country. The challenge — it is quite the challenge. It’s a timed race, and it’s timed to the second. There’s a car that has traveled the course with a computer hooked up in it and timed it. Along the way, there will be checkpoints with workers out there with a clock, and when the front wheel of your car crosses that line, they hit the clock and time you.

“They know, from Point A to Point B, it should take you one hour, 10 minutes, 10 seconds. So if you’re a couple seconds early, a couple seconds late, then you’re off. You just try your best to make it perfect.”

This is the first time the Great Race will be making a pit stop in Millsboro, and Bryan was determined to show the racers some Sussex County hospitality.

“I was excited when they came to me last year and asked if Millsboro would host the luncheon. I said that I would do it under one condition: that I would be able to make it a first-class event. We’ve been able to. Businesses and sponsors have been very generous.”

Bryan said that most towns usually serve the participants hotdogs, hamburgers or barbecue, but he wanted to mix it up a bit.

“That is lunch and dinner for nine days. That gets old. We’re having fried chicken, macaroni salad and fruit salad. We never get fruit of any kind. The Dairy Queen is providing ice cream sandwiches.”

Bran said he hopes that many people from the community will attend the event and see the beautiful cars.

“I hope people will come out and enjoy them — talk to the drivers, talk to the navigators. They love telling you about their cars.”