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Great Race brings nearly 100 vintage cars to Cedar Rapids

Event brings a blast from the past to auto enthusiasts

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CEDAR RAPIDS — A blast from the past stopped in Cedar Rapids this weekend as 99 vintage automobiles rolled into town on the way to bringing a road rally to its close Sunday in Moline, Ill.

The annual Great Race started June 18 in California and wound halfway across the country. Drivers made an overnight stop Saturday in Cedar Rapids before moving on to the final leg.

After putting in about 350 miles from the previous overnight stop — Sioux Falls, S.D., — 99 cars and their drivers parked along the Third Avenue Bridge on May’s Island.

An estimated 7,000 people came out during the evening to see the cars, all built in or before 1972, and to greet the drivers.

“Most of the cars were built before World War II,” said Jeff Stumb, director of the Great Race.

The trek tests the precision — not speed — of vintage cars and their drivers. Participants must follow instructions to get through each leg of the journey and are not allowed to use a map. They are penalized for every second they are early or late to each checkpoint.

When the event began in San Rafael, Calif., there were 120 cars. But 21 dropped out along the route to Cedar Rapids. The winner will receive a $50,000 prize.

For some drivers, it’s the thrill of the sport. For others, it’s a chance to see parts of the country that many drivers who are in a hurry miss.

“If you love this country and want to see the back roads and the country and the small towns you miss on the interstate, it’s a natural combination,” Stumb said. “And it’s a little competition on top of that.”

One racer — and Shueyville resident — received a homecoming of sorts when he was the first driver onto the Third Avenue Bridge to kick off Saturday’s event. John Williams is driving a 1936 Railton Hudson Boattailed Speedster with his son, Ian Williams.

John Williams called the race “a family affair” as several members of his family are a part of his support team for the car he dubs the Flying Welshman. He had participated in the Great Race in 1984, but was not able to complete it.

David Grommon III, a Cedar Rapids resident and a family friend who’s a member of the Flying Welshman’s support team, dubbed John William’s race “a Redemption Tour.”

“If we finish all (nine) days, as far as I’m concerned, we won,” Grommon said.

Ian Williams is the navigator for his father and had encouraged him to give it another try. Ian Williams said that although he grew up hearing about his father’s attempt in 1984, he never thought he would be in one.

“It’s a real honor to be a part of the team with my family,” Ian Williams said.

Stumb estimated about 70 percent of the drivers in this year’s race have participated previously.

“It’s an expensive hobby and expensive sport, but worth it,” Stumb said.

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