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Great Race rolls through Rochester


ROCHESTER - Tom Coad, while standing in line for a cheeseburger Saturday in downtown Rochester at the first stop of the 2014 Great Race, used the word "hieroglyphics" to describe the instructions given to drivers and navigators in the low-tech antique car challenge.

His one-word description was apt.

After placing his lunch on the front seat of his bright yellow, 1916 Hudson Indy racer, the Southern California resident picked up a heavy clipboard and flipped through pages of directions that included only lengths of time, distances and the barest of road diagrams, which only occasionally gave street names.

Coad explained that for the 109 teams in this year's nine-day, 2,300-mile challenge, driving cars ranging from a 1915 Hudson 6-40 to a 1972 Chevrolet Corvette, the journey from southern Maine to central Florida would be done without maps, GPS or odometers.

"We're told what speed to be driving for a certain time," he said.

Lunch in downtown Rochester was the first stop for this year's Great Race, which moved on to Lowell, Mass., Saturday evening and continues south until June 29.

More than 100 onlookers and auto enthusiasts lined Hanson Street as a band played classic rock - including, of course, "Mustang Sally" - and Great Race entrants honked and revved their engines while rolling up to the checkpoint after starting the race in Ogunquit, Maine, Saturday morning.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime event," said Rochester native and Berwick, Maine, resident Christopher Marzoli, who sat in lawn chairs on a sidewalk with his wife, Barb, and two sons. "I've always heard about the Great Race, but it had never come to Rochester."

Saturday's event was the Great Race's first appearance in the state since the annual event began in 1983.

Drivers and navigators had just an hour for lunch Saturday, according to race rules, meaning the antique cars rolled out of town not long after rolling in.

Coad said of the 134 maneuvers listed for the race's first day, he and his driver had completed 65 to get to the festive Rochester checkpoint.

Many of the pages on Coad's clipboard were covered in red markings. Coad said he does calculations on the fly - readjusting speeds to meet the specified average if there's more or less traffic than expected, for example.

"Some of it happens real fast, and that's when it gets really hairy," Coad said.

He said the day had gone well so far.

"The driver hasn't hit me yet and I haven't hit him yet, so we're OK," Coad joked.

Mike Provost, director of the volunteer Rochester Main Street organization, said preparations for the Great Race's stop in Rochester began only in April.

"We had less than eight weeks to pull the whole event together," he said. "It was a very quick turnaround."

He said businesses and city officials responded strongly as organizers set up food, live music and more while getting permits and handling other logistics.

"Rochester is a great community when it comes to things like this," Provost said.

mlawrence@newstote.com


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