Great Race revs up antique car enthusiasts as it finishes in Fargo
About 3,000 people lined Broadway to welcome racers from around the world.
FARGO — The marquee of the Fargo Theatre might have said it best:
"Beep Beep! The Great Race saved the best for last!"
And the estimated 3,000 people who lined Broadway to watch the finish probably agreed.
"I just love old cars and this is the coolest thing that's ever come to Fargo!" said Kari Schlepp of West Fargo. She's had friends who have driven in the race.
"I don't know who would think of driving across the country in an old car but I think this is great for Fargo," she said. "The Fargo Theatre — what a great backdrop! I'm just proud to have it here."
Hemming's Motor News Great Race, described by organizers as the world’s premiere old car rally, brought the race here, in part, because until last year, they had made it to all of the contiguous 48 states except Rhode Island and North Dakota.
Problem solved. The 2022 race started in Rhode Island on June 18 and finished here Sunday, June 26.
Competitors in 120 of the world’s finest antique automobiles drove 2,300 miles from Rhode Island to New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Dakota. The first place prize winner receives $50,000.
Crowds began to form near the finish line at Broadway Square early Sunday morning where attendees endured gusty winds as they talked cars, checked out the food trucks and enjoyed the music.
Dennis and Sharon Miller of West Fargo took the opportunity to grab a seat on a park bench as they waited to see the cars roll by. Dennis said he loves to look at the old cars and still remembers his long lost favorite.
"I had a 1963 Super Sport. Everything was beautiful," he said. "But someone ran a stop sign."
"Broadsided it," Sharon added. "He was too young to report it."
But the Millers were getting into the fun Sunday. Dennis even bought a Great Race shirt.
"They switch it up every year so I thought what a great opportunity to get a shirt with my city on it," Dennis said.
Fargo leaders were equally excited to welcome the race to their city. Both Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney and Fargo Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau President Charley Johnson revved up the crowd before the first cars crossed the finish line.
“This is a wonderful thing for Fargo,” Johnson said. “We have a lot of car enthusiasts. This is just a natural event for us to host.”
Heading into the home stretch
The Great Race, 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. The teams are scored at secret checkpoints along the way and are penalized one second for each second either early or late. As in golf, the lowest score wins.
The cars spent Saturday in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, where organizers said they had "a great turnout of people" to welcome them.
The Great Race website said the race, with one leg left, was tightening up.
"After the scores were tabulated, it was Howard and Doug Sharp at the top of the list with a 4.62 second score. They barely snuck past the team of Josh Hull and Trevor Stahl, who have been at the top of the board for days. It’s going to come right down to the wire on tomorrow’s Championship Run!"
The cars were a little late getting into downtown Fargo, but the crowd didn't seem to be losing patience.
John Kelley, a retired teacher, owns a 1948 Chevrolet and a 1969 Chevelle, and he was ready to check out the cars.
"I'm interested in seeing what other people do for hobbies and how they stay interested and stay connected with things they like to do," Kelley said.
When the cars began rolling through the finish line, past the upscale boutiques, craft coffeehouses and pizza joints, the crowd got their payoff.
The cousin team of Chris Brungardt and Jerome "Jay" Reinan and their car, a 1918 American LaFrance, received the honor of leading the cars through the finish line.
"Because we're the local kids (Brungardt grew up in Wahpeton and Reinan, Fergus Falls), they had us go through first, but it's not because we got first. We have the most primitive car out here," he said with a laugh.
Race director Jeff Stumb said Reinan, Brungardt and their LaFrance bring a personality to the race that can’t be beat.
“We’re finishing in Fargo because of these two, because they have the most exciting team and they have the most exciting vehicle,” Stumb said. “It’s loud and a crowd favorite.”
For their part, the local boys are just proud Fargo gave the other racers a peek at what Fargo is all about.
"It's just tremendous. This is the best crowd we've had this year easily. Hands down, " Reinan said. "I kind of suspected Fargo was going to show up. With what they do with Bison football during College Game Day. I just kind of thought they'd show up and they did. I'm just so happy the streets are full. People are excited and it's just really a neat thing."