(South Bend, IN) - About 150 vintage cars chugged through La Porte County this week as part of a unique long-distance road race.
The Hemmings Motor News Great Race covers ten states in nine days. Given the age of the cars, the race is not a matter of speed, but of mechanical endurance.
Teams from all over the U.S. and six foreign countries are participating. Over 160 cars started the race in Rhode Island, but at least ten had broken down by the time they pulled into South Bend for lunch Wednesday.
One of the near casualties was a 1918 American LeFrance driven by Jay Reinan of Ottertail County, Minnesota and his cousin Chris Brungardt of Fargo, North Dakota. Repairs are a constant on an old jalopy like theirs, and a second flat tire a few blocks away from the Studebaker Museum in South Bend nearly knocked them out of the race. “We had two flats and only one spare,” Reinan said as the pair frantically made repairs. “They used to say ‘race, repair, repeat;' and that’s what we’re doing. Yesterday we were having bearing problems, so we repacked all the bearings last night and tuned it up. Now we got tire problems.”
Reinan quickly admitted that they might not have made it out of the tire jam without local help. A fellow auto enthusiast happened to have an extra inner tube for his 1912 Rolls-Royce roadster. A representative of the Studebaker Museum paid for the repair work to be done at a local tire store. “We’ve been doing this nine years,” Reinan said as he torqued down the fixed wheel. “The Studebaker Museum is the top of our list as far as the amount of help we’ve gotten from anybody ever on the race. And just, the people here, everyone was just so helpful.”
Reinan said his car is loud and stinky, but not very fast by today’s standards. “We’ve had it up to about 70… before we chickened out,” Reinan said, as he and Brungardt shared a knowing laugh. According to Reinan, their bright yellow car, which resembles something from the opening scenes of Chitty Chity Bang Bang, started its automotive life as a fire truck. Somewhere along the way, a backyard gearhead turned it into a race car. “Whoever did it used hot rivets, “Reinan noted. “which means whoever it was had some blacksmithing skills.”
The cousins took off in a cloud of exhaust heading west through La Porte County. They hope to be crossing the finish line in Fargo, North Dakota sometime Sunday.