BENNINGTON -- One-hundred and eight antique cars raced into Bennington on Sunday, hailing from as nearby as Vermont and as far away as Japan.
The Great Race returned to Bennington for the first time since 2011, when it drizzled steadily throughout the race. This time, race organizers couldn't have asked for a better day, as Vermont greeted the participants with 72 degree weather and sunshine.
However, the sun wasn't shining on all of the racers, several of whom faced serious equipment malfunctions within the first two days. Jim Menneto, of Hemmings Motor News, had his clutch snap off at the very start of the race, but he managed to have it welded back on. He was able to stay in the competition. When he rolled into Bennington Station on Sunday, he said, "Well, my clutch pedal is now wrapped around my foot," drawing a laugh from the large crowd that had assemlbled to greet the racers. One car, a replica of the General Lee from "The Dukes of Hazzard," had already pulled out of the race after breaking down on the first day. "I guess they jumped over one too many canyons," said Brian "MotorMouth" Goudge, the event's master of ceremonies.
Bennington residents started lining up along Main Street and Depot Street before 11, over an hour and a half before the first car arrived. Representatives from the race were selling souvenirs and programs, and some of the race's sponsors, including Hemmings and Nemer Motor Group, were selling popcorn and water. Other sponsors included Carbone Automotive Group, Price Chopper, Hannaford, Bennington Subaru; Bennington Potters, Walmart, and Crowley Cheese. Drivers and navigators were also given lunch at the fire house. "When people think of classic cars," said Goudge, "They think of Hemmings Motor News. And when they think of Hemmings Motor News, they think of Bennington, Vermont!"
Wayne Carini, host of the television series, "Chasing Classic Cars," attended, telling the audience, "You're going to see some fantastic cars, and some brave men and women driving them. It's a little more intense than what MotorMouth tells you. It's amazing what these people do." One of the participants in the race, from Japan, learned his first English words on Friday, said Goudge.
The Great Race, first organized in 1983 by Tom McRae and Norman Miller, drivers don't aim to be the fastest, but instead try to follow an extremely specific set of directions. Seconds are added to their time for every second they are early or late to hidden checkpoints along the route. Yesterday, for the first time in Great Race history, a car scored zeroes at every single checkpoint, the perfect score. The entire race encompasses eight days and 2,100 miles, from Oqunquit, Maine to The Villages, Florida. Sunday was the second day of the race, which saw racers begin in Lowell, Massachusetts, before continuing through Bennington to their stopping point for the night, Poughkeepsie, New York.
Five cars from Vermont participated in the race, including Menetto and Jason Powers from Bennington. Also participating were William and Sharon Herrmann of Arlington, who had entered the race for the first time this year. The couple had been planning a vacation, and William had expressed his desire to not "sit for 12 hours in a plane." When the couple was visiting Hemmings earlier this year, they saw an advertisement for the Great Race, and knew that was what they wanted to do. "Now, instead of 12 hours in a plane, we're spending eight days in a car!" joked Sharon.
The Herrmanns' vehicle, a five-ton classic pickup truck, was the heaviest vehicle in the competition. William had been working on the truck in Florida, and almost didn't get it finished before the race. After one setback, Sharon accidentally telling him to take a left instead of a right, on the first day, they have been having a great time. "It's been so much fun," said Sharon, "We've met people from all over the world."
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB