GNTC’s Team DeSoto crosses the finish line of The Great Race

Pete McDonald (right), president of GNTC, joined the Team DeSoto crew in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada, for Stage 8 of The Great Race on Saturday, June 30. Team DeSoto is (from left to right) Rodney Parris, director of GNTC’s Automotive Technology program and leader of Team DeSoto; John Valle, navigator; Zayne Waits, navigator; Adam Grogan, driver; and Nicholas Barber, driver.

On Sunday, July 1, Georgia Northwestern Technical College’s (GNTC) Team DeSoto crossed the finish line of The Great Race, a rally-style race with vintage vehicles that began in Buffalo, N.Y., and ended in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada over the course of nine days.

The Great Race was an endurance race with classic cars and all participants drove vintage vehicles. Each vehicle had to be model year 1972 or older for the 2018 race. GNTC’s Team DeSoto drove a 1955 DeSoto Fireflite that was restored by the Automotive Technology program.

Four GNTC Automotive Technology students participated in The Great Race. Two students, Adam Grogan and Nicholas Barber, alternated as drivers and two students, Zayne Waits and John Valle, alternated as navigators. All four students are residents of Cedartown.

The Great Race began 36 years ago and was created to get vintage automobiles out of the museums or private collections and on the streets, according to Great Race organizers. The Great Race is named after the 1965 movie that starred Tony Curtis.

The race is not a speed race and the routes between checkpoints are scenic back roads.

“It is nothing short of life changing the overall experience, the people we have met, and the things that we have learned,” said Barber. “When we transitioned from the United States into Canada the landscape was beautiful and the back roads that they take us on were absolutely breathtaking.”

Teams are given instructions and a prescribed time each day to get to the next check point. They are not allowed to use GPS, cellphones, or computers. The object for Great Race teams is to get to the next checkpoint as close as possible to their prescribed time. Penalties are given for the amount of time a team is over or under their prescribed time when they arrive at the checkpoint.

“The race is all about time management, just to get from point A to point B, within the given time frame,” said Valle. “It’s a really, really big experience and it is very exciting.”

Team DeSoto competed in the X-Cup division of The Great Race, a special class that was created to encourage younger generations to take an interest in vintage vehicles.

“The classic car world has been a big part of my childhood,” said Grogan “Going through all this just makes me appreciate it so much more.”

The team was in very good standing to win the X-Cup towards the end of the race, but a rotor button broke on the engine during the final stage of the race. Barber and Waits were able to tape the button back together with duct tape so the car could drive across the finish line, but by that point they missed too many of the checkpoints to win the division.

The stages of The Great Race included:

Official Start, June 23, Buffalo N.Y. to Fairport, N.Y.

Stage 2, June 24, Troy N.Y.

Stage 3, June 25, Burlington, Vermont

Stage 4, June 26, Gardiner, Maine

Stage 5, June 27, Bangor, Maine

Stage 6, June 28, Bar Harbor, Maine

Stage 7, June 29, Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Stage 8, June 30, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada

Stage 9, July 1, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Each stop of The Great Race was open to the public and the cars would park together after crossing the finish. Thousands of spectators were present at the end of each stage.

“It’s like a big travelling car show,” said Grogan.

In addition to the end rally points of each stage, there also was daily pit stops and hosted lunches for drivers and navigators in Lockport, N.Y.; Batavia, N.Y.; Norwich, N.Y.; Bennington, Vermont; Mount Washington, New Hampshire; Owls Head, Maine; Seal Cove, Maine; Rothesay, NB, Canada; and Truro, Nova Scotia, Canada.

“These guys are really going to benefit from this experience in a lot of different ways,” said Rodney Parris, director of GNTC’s Automotive Technology program and leader of Team DeSoto. “They are going to carry this experience for the rest of their lives.”

A majority of the pit stops and overnight stops were chosen by organizers because they were close to an antique car museum or vintage car collection. At several stops, The Great Race was paired with other events that involved vintage automobiles.

“I grew up working on classic cars,” said Waits. “You look at new cars and compare them with old cars and figure out where they came from, the history behind it, and it is really just a great learning experience.”

The end of the race was part of the Canada Day celebrations in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Canada Day celebrations take place on July 1 to commemorate the country’s full independence.

GNTC’s participation in The Great Race was made possible by Patricia and Wayne Vick, who donated the DeSoto to GNTC’s Foundation and also donated all the parts that were needed for the restoration. The Vicks also covered all hotel expenses for GNTC students and personnel involved in the race and their company Southern Bracing Systems was the primary sponsor of Team DeSoto.

“Wayne and Patricia Vick are really great people and I just want to say we really appreciate them for supporting us through all this and it has just been a really great time,” said Waits.

Additional sponsors of Team DeSoto include: BullSnot! Tire Mounting and Rubber Lubricant; Heritage First Bank; OTR Wheel Engineering, Inc.; and Snap-On Incorporated.

Although they didn’t win the X-Cup, the team did get to have an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime journey and the team members learned a lot about classic cars and each other.

“We actually grew a little bit closer and we became a family,” said Valle.

Georgia Northwestern Technical College provides quality workforce education to the citizens of Northwest Georgia. Students have the opportunity to earn an associate degree, diploma, or a certificate in business, health, industrial, or public service career paths. This past year, 16,402 people benefited from GNTC’s credit and noncredit programs. With an annual credit enrollment of 7,750 students, GNTC is the largest college in Northwest Georgia. GNTC has an additional enrollment of 8,652 people through adult education, continuing education, business and industry training, and Georgia Quick Start. For more information about GNTC, visit us at GNTC is a unit of the Technical College System of Georgia and an Equal Opportunity Institution.