Racers make pit stop in Gainesville

Lake City residents Wally Reichert, left, and his son, Richard, in front of the 1951 MG TD that they're driving in the Great Race.

Special to the Sun
Published: Tuesday, July 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, June 30, 2003 at 11:10 p.m.

More than 100 vintage race cars will briefly roar into downtown Gainesville Thursday as participants of the Rally Partners Inc. Great Race make a pit stop in Gainesville before making their way to Daytona.


What: The Great Race 2003, an annual vintage car race that stops in 800 cities from Livonia, Mich., to Daytona. Race cars will stop briefly in Gainesville.

When: 1:35 p.m. to 3:50 p.m. Thursday

Where: The parking lot of the Chamber of Commerce Building, 300 E. University Ave.

From 1:30 to 3:30 p.m., race car drivers will pull into the parking lot behind the Commerce Building, offering local spectators a chance to view the race cars before they continue their two-week trek that began June 21 in Livonia, Mich., and ends July 4 in Daytona.

Among those stopping in Gainesville will be Wally Reichert and his son, Richard, two Lake City residents who are driving Richard's 1951 MG TD in the race.

Right before their stop in Gainesville, Wally, 70, and Richard, 44, will be greeted in Lake City by Wally's wife, Edna Reichert, who'll be there waiting as the cars trickle into town.

"The cities and little towns have been so receptive," Edna said, having talked to her husband and to her son, who is an opthalmologist in Lake City, almost every night. "Everything is festive when they reach each town. It's tiring, but they're having a wonderful time."

The only problem the two have encountered, Edna said, was a faulty radiator early in the race. Fortunately, the Reicherts' support team, which has ridden behind father and son the whole race, had a spare radiator, so replacing it went smoothly.

As of Monday, just four days before the race's end, Wally and Richard were running second in the rookie class, Edna said.

The prestigious Great Race, which divides $250,000 in awards to its top winners, is the longest running, cross-country vintage rally in the country.

This year marks the event's 21st consecutive race. It spans across 800 U.S. cities and features autos that are at least 45 years old. This isn't the first time the event has made a stop in Gainesville.

"The cars stopped for lunch about eight years ago, but the race organizers decided that lunch in Lake City would better fit their schedule," said Nancy Fischer, the director of sales for the Alachua County Visitors and Convention Bureau. "This year they will only stop in Gainesville for about 20 minutes before heading off, but it will be great for photo buffs to come down and get a shot of these beautiful cars."

Fischer said the cars will pull into the back parking lot for their "pit stop," at a rate of one every minute, and they will park for a short time before they pull around the side of the building and head back out on the race.

"They're going to come around the side of the building, and it will give people a great view from that corner," said Roland Loog, the director of the Alachua County Visitors and Convention Bureau.

The race is open only to historic and vintage cars, and this year's race features at least six that were built before 1920. Jerry Heil and Chic Kleptz, from Naples, will be riding in a 1911 Marmon 32 Speedster, one of the oldest autos participating.

They will be traveling mostly on back roads to challenge the drivers on their quest, and each speed change, stop, start and turn is specifically detailed in driving instructions, said Wayne Stanfield, the chief operating officer of the Great Race.

To complicate things even further, no electronic devices of any type, including calculators and cell phones, are allowed in drivers' cars. Racers can only use wristwatches, an analog clock, speedometer, pencil and paper to chart their times and miles.

"Car lovers will really enjoy seeing these automobiles, and it's exciting to see this national event come to Gainesville," Fischer said.

Stanfield said the popularity of the Great Race continues to grow because of America's love for cars.

"One of the true American passions is the automobile, and when you combine that with a world-class competition, the Great Race is a special event," Stanfield said. "The folks that get a chance to see the cars come through their cities are really lucky."

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