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“The Crooked Road Racers” sounds like a forgotten team from 1971’s “Cannonball Run,” but it isn’t. Led by Galax dentist Dr. Tom Littrell in a 1928 Model-A Ford Roadster highboy, they’re competing in the Great Race, a controlled-speed endurance road rally by vintage, antique and collector cars.
“We start in Ogunquit, Maine, and we’ll end up in the The Villages down in Florida,” said Littrell. “It’s a 9-day, 2,100 mile trip.” This will be the team’s fifth race; this year, there are 110 cars competing.
The race began June 21 and concluded Sunday.
The Great Race accepts any car from 1971 and earlier, he said. The term “highboy,” used to describe Littrell’s car, refers to the style his modifications led to, “When we restored it, I left things off, like the fenders and the doors and tops to make it look like an old racer you’d see in the ‘30s,” he said. “That’s what makes it a highboy, the fact that you’ve eliminated those parts.”
There are four divisions in the Great Race, said Littrell: the Grand Champion division, composed of people who have won the race in the past; the Expert Division for people who have done well in their division in the past, such as taking second, third or fourth place; the Sportsman’s Group, which can be rookie teams or those from the middle of the pack; “and then we’re in the X-Cup Division, which is the youth division,” explained Littrell. “The youth do the navigating, and then there’ll be an adult driver.”
Times will be adjusted according to how old each automobile is, but teams receive directions for each leg of the race, which they must complete as close to the specified time as possible. There are two people in the car: the navigator and the driver. The navigator paces things and interprets the instructions, while the driver follows the navigator’s directions.
Though he’s not driving, the navigator’s job is especially important. “We have to do a performance chart to show how long it takes you to do those maneuvers,” Littrell said. “If we’re late, if we lose time doing those maneuvers, the navigator has to figure out time to make it up.” The team has two navigators who will take turns: Jack Haga and Austin Funk, both in their teens. In addition, the Cooked Road Racers also consist of Littrell’s wife, Faye, and Gary Carter, who are support crew.
“The rally master has actually covered the route three different times over the last year. He knows to the second how long it should take to follow these instructions,” Littrell said. “Your time should match their time, but you don’t know what their time is. So if you’re either a second early or a second late from their time, that’s a penalty. And so typically, there’ll be four to six checkpoint during the day.
“If, for instance, you happen to be two seconds late and at the second checkpoint you’re two seconds early, that adds a four-second penalty. One doesn’t subtract from the other. So the idea is to get as small an error as you can. It’s like golf, you want the smallest number possible. And the good teams — the really, really good teams — you can have a two or three second penalty day, and we typically have a 20 or 30 second penalty day, so we’re not usually in the running.”
If a team has an accident or mechanical failure, the race provides them with a rental car and a rollback to get the damaged car to a garage.
Littrell was calm and confident about the race; Haga said he felt, “OK. Nervous,” and Funk said, “I’m pretty confident. I’ve had experience, and Jack’s the rookie so we’ll have to teach him and catch him up.
“Last year we had a flat tire on our way down there, so I don’t think anything’s going to happen this time.”
• To see how the Crooked Road Racers did, visit their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Crookedroadracers, or check out facebook.com/greatracerally/