The Great Race takes off Saturday in Owensboro, local team among record particpants

June 20, 2024 | 12:14 am

Updated June 19, 2024 | 11:18 pm

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For the first time ever, Owensboro will serve as the starting line for The Great Race this Saturday. Owensboro’s Brian Smith is among the record number of participants in the unique race featuring antique vehicles, giving him and his friend Scott Howard a chance to cross the 2,500-mile adventure off their bucket lists.

Smith will drive his 1930 Ford Model A Tudor Sedan, and Howard will serve as navigator as they cruise through 11 states. Teams have until 1 p.m. on June 30 to cross the finish line in Gardiner, Maine.

The two were already friends, but neither initially knew about their shared interest in the race. Last year, Howard said, the two applied for the 2023 race but didn’t make the cut to compete.

“They gave me automatic entry into the 2024 race, which happened to be starting in Owensboro. So once I found out I was in it, I asked if Brian would like to participate with me,” Howard said.

Smith knew his answer was yes when the call came.

“Everything fell into place just perfectly, and we’ve been getting things ready for the past year,” Smith said.

The two were able to do some restoration work to prepare Smith’s car, affectionately named Sparky. Smith noted that though Sparky is approaching 100 years old, it has seen worse days and bounced back.

When Smith bought Sparky in 1987 in North Ridge, California, it was disassembled in 21 milk crates. After restoring the vehicle, he drove it just a block and a half in Burbank, California, when Sparky caught fire — resulting in the name — but Smith didn’t want to give up on his new car.

He restored the car again, and it ran well until 1997, when Sparky was totaled in a collision.

“It was totally demolished, but I couldn’t let it go. I bought it out of salvage from the insurance company and restored it again. Once we decided to be in The Great Race, I restored it yet again, not cosmetically, mostly it’s just mechanically,” Smith said.

Smith is still confident that Sparky can make the 2,500-mile journey cross-country even with the storied history of breakdowns and restorations.

“I’m trying to have that attitude with this car because it is running better now than ever. I just feel oddly confident that it’s as ready as it’s ever going to be,” Smith said.

The duo looks at this as an adventure of a lifetime.

“It just looked like it would be a fun adventure,” Howard said. “I’m hoping we just both have fun and minimum conflicts or anything of that nature and that we don’t break down, and hopefully, we just both enjoy it.”

Organizers said there are 135 cars competing this year, marking the most in the race’s history.

“I think the race starting in Owensboro and filling up our hotel rooms for nearly a week says a lot about the collaboration of our sponsors, including the Daviess County Fiscal Court, City of Owensboro, Green River Distilling Company and Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum,” Visit Owensboro Destination Manager Dave Kirk said.

Before the cars take off on Saturday morning, residents can enjoy the Bluegrass Block Party on Thursday at 6 p.m. They will start rolling out from behind the Hampton Inn and Suites at 11 a.m. with live music from the Velvet Bombers to send them out.

There are several ways residents and visitors can catch a view of the cars. On Thursday from 6-8 p.m., there will be a bluegrass block party with live music from King’s Highway on the outdoor stage of the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum. The event will include food trucks and outdoor bars.

The race teams will also be at Friday After 5 after their banquet at the Owensboro Convention Center. The public is then invited to come downtown from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday to see the cars lined up along Veterans Boulevard. The first car will take off at 11 a.m. There will be live music from the Velvet Bombers on Saturday at the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum, along with food trucks.

June 20, 2024 | 12:14 am

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