Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Vintage Vehicles Roll out for Race; Rough Weather Opens a Trek to California That Tests the Stamina of Cars and People

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Vintage Vehicles Roll out for Race; Rough Weather Opens a Trek to California That Tests the Stamina of Cars and People

Article excerpt

Byline: Dan Scanlan, The Times-Union

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

For 96 drivers and their navigators, that first step was Saturday's 217-mile jaunt from Jacksonville to Tallahassee in classic cars as old as a 1911 National and as new as a 1959 Chrysler Windsor. They did it in pounding rain, heavy winds and steamy sun, navigating the first leg of a 4,000-mile-long rally across the U.S. called The Great Race.

West Jacksonville driver Don Higgs and navigator Ben Burbridge survived their first jaunt in an open 40-horsepower 1929 Ford Model A Speedster, only 1:33 off the pace. Rookies in the 22-year-old event, Higgs said they were pleased at the "awesome" send-off they got from hundreds of onlookers as they left The Jacksonville Landing on Saturday.

They are ready to finish Saturday, July 3, in Monterey, Calif.

"There was nothing there I didn't expect, and it wasn't as hard as I thought it could be," said Higgs, 68. "We got rain, bad winds on I-10 and lightning. But it's good we get it early. Now we know what we are in for."

"We will take it one day at a time. As of tonight, I am ready to do another day," added his navigator, also 68.

St. Augustine resident Johnny Bruce and his brother, Warren, plowed through the rain in their 1936 Dodge Brothers truck 1:47 off the pace.

"For a rookie, that's pretty good. We had a spark plug wire come off in the first part of the rally, so we ran a third of it with only five cylinders," he said. "But we are ready. We will recover. It's more fun than we deserve."

For Pacific Grove, Calif., resident John Guertin, the race is sort of an extended Father's Day, so he can spend some time with his navigator, 10-year-old son Alec. Rolling along past houses, farms and fields of corn through two thunderstorms, the rookie team's first day in a 1935 Ford Phaeton was great, he said.

"Normally, I spend Father's Day sleeping in, so this is a bit of a change," Guertin said. "I think Alec did great. He kept me on track and saved me a couple of times. . . . We finished with a great time, and that is better than I could hope for. …

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