The Great Race is coming.
At about 5 p.m. on June 24, 120 vintage cars — the oldest made in 1916 — will roll into Owensboro on a 2,300-mile nine-day race from San Antonio, Texas, to Greenville, South Carolina.
Cars from Japan, England, Germany, Canada and all over the United States will be in the race, competing for $150,000 in prize money.
Jeff Stumb, organizer of the Great Race, said in a news release that he expects a large crowd to be downtown to see the racers pull in.
“When the Great Race pulls into a city, it becomes an instant festival,” he said. “Last year, we had a couple of overnight stops with more than 10,000 spectators on our way to having 250,000 people see the Great Race during the event.”
June 24 is also the opening day of this year’s ROMP bluegrass festival, which has drawn more than 27,000 fans from several countries in recent years.
Dave Kirk, destination management director for the Owensboro-Daviess County Convention & Visitors Bureau, said, “It’s an enormous opportunity that has already sold out our downtown hotel properties and created overflow into other hotels with just the people participating the in race and officials putting it on.”
He said Stumb “called us one day and said he had been doing research on our city and thought it would be a great fit both geographically and with the amenities we have to offer.”
Kirk said, “He knew about our racing history with the Haydens and Waltrips. He also talked about how unique we were with being the home of bluegrass music. Once we were selected as a possible destination, he came for a tour to see what we could offer and decided we had to be an overnight stop.”
Mark Calitri, CVB president, said, “This is the country’s oldest, longest-running vintage automobile event. We are calling this the ‘Road to ROMP’ and will market it as a regional draw, focusing heavily on the GRADD region, Southern Indiana and Louisville. Our marketing plan will focus on partnering with the Bluegrass Hall of Fame & ROMP, along with O.Z. Tyler and our other important stakeholders.”
He said, “Our concept is to combine this event along with the Hall of Fame and create a festival-type atmosphere.”
In Kentucky, the race will stop in Paducah, Owensboro, Bardstown and Georgetown.
All vehicles have to be manufactured before 1975.
The race, which shares its name with a 1965 movie about another race, ran for the first time in 1983.
Older cars frequently complete the event.
In 2011, it was a 1911 Velie that won.
The following year, a 1907 Renault and a 1914 Ford Model T both ran the entire course.
And last year, a 1909 Buick completed the journey.
Each car has a driver and a navigator and they can change places as often as they want.
Kirk said several local sponsors — the city, county, Don Moore Automotive and the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum — are partnering to bring the race to town.
John Moore, president of Don Moore Automotive, said the company has been in business since 1919.
“We couldn’t be more excited to be the official automobile sponsor to welcome some of the rarest cars in the world to our city,” he said.
Chris Joslin, executive director of the Hall of Fame, said it’s going to be a busy week for the staff with ROMP starting that day.
“But we are happy to share our property with The Great Race as the Road to ROMP,” he said.
Tim Ross, the city’s public events director, said, “The riverfront will have an energetic atmosphere not only for the racers but for the entire community to come downtown for the evening to check out these incredible cars while enjoying some live music and great food and drinks.”
Judge-Executive Al Mattingly called the race “a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle” and said it will “have a nice economic impact for our county with the racers and car enthusiasts staying in our hotels, eating at our restaurants and spending money in our stores.”
The Great Race is not as speed race.
It’s a time/speed/distance race.
Kirk said the drivers and navigators “are given precise instructions each day that detail every move down to the second. They 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.”
Keith Lawrence, 270-691-7301, firstname.lastname@example.org