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Great Race Expectations

November 29, 2016


By JAMES EVANS
Rutherford County Schools 

MaryGrace Bouldin’s parents wanted her to get a practical car when it came time for her to start driving a couple of years ago. MaryGrace had other plans because of her passion for vintage rides. 

"I see them and I fall in love with all of them,” MaryGrace — a senior at Central Magnet School — said of classic cars. “I begged my parents for one to drive, which took a lot. They wanted me to look at modern, safe cars, but then we found Warby.” 

Warby is the name MaryGrace gave to her 1972 Chevy pickup — a truck that led her to become a member of Central’s Car Club and be part of a team of students who will participate in The Great Race this summer. 

To accomplish their goal, the students and their adult supporters are busy raising funds and searching for corporate sponsors to cover the cost to compete in the race — a rally-style, cross-country competition that features teams from all over the world. 

The annual race alternates between an east-to-west and south-to-north route. This year’s event will be held from June 24-July 2 beginning in Jacksonville, Florida, and ending in Traverse City, Michigan. The Central students are attempting to raise $25,000 through private and corporate sponsorships to cover their costs for food, lodging, fuel, spare parts and the entry fee. They also need funds now to get their car ready. 

“We’re wanting sponsors on top of our Go Fund Me account,” Central teacher and club co-sponsor Jenny Culp said. Jenny, her husband Scott Culp — who is the School Resource Officer at Central — and teacher Michael Ruess are the adults who facilitate the club. 

“We’re trying to find companies here now who will support the kids and put stickers on the car,” Jenny explained, adding the sponsors will receive national exposure through media coverage of the race.

The students will be driving a 1953 Pontiac Chieftan, a car that was purchased for them by the Stones River Car Club in Murfreesboro. The Stones River group has been a tremendous supporter of the student club and helped them locate the car in Oregon during the summer of 2015.

“The Stones River Club paid to have the car shipped here and then they had a day when everyone could get together, they opened up the garage door, it was there and all the kids got to see it at the same time,” Scott Culp said. 

The exterior and interior of the car was in great shape and the engine ran decently, but the Chieftan required a lot of maintenance including brakes, suspension, a timing chain and eventually a new generator after the original died on the way back from a car show in Franklin.

The Central team will be the first high school group from Tennessee to compete in the Great Race.

As part of the competition, the students must rely only on a stop watch, math and charts to guide them from checkpoint to checkpoint using back roads instead of the Interstate. 

“We have to do a lot of practice as far as timing goes and getting all the routes down,” senior Chris Johnson said, “and as far as communication between the driver to whoever is doing the math to whoever is helping navigate from the backseat so we’re all on the same page and there is no drop off or deficit whenever we change drivers. 

“The race is not as much of a race — it’s a rally. So they give you predetermined directions and times where they’ve done the calculations on when you’re supposed to show up at certain places,” Johnson added. 

The students won’t have the luxury of air conditioning, a map or an odometer.

Or as fellow team member Hunter Jones explained, “One direction at a time - completely isolated from everything else.” 

Central’s car club got its start through a chance meeting at a local swap-meet. Students Matthew Connors and Jacob Hendrixson were working the event to earn community service hours for school and met Jeremy Byrd from the Stones River Car Club. 

Their mutual interest in vintage automobiles then blossomed into a partnership between the school and the club, and the idea formed to find a project car for the students so they could enter the race.

Since then, the students have already competed in another rally race, the Coker (Tire) Challenge in Chattanooga, and taken a field trip to Coker Tire’s headquarters. Coker is the lead organizer of The Great Race, and after learning the students from Central were planning to enter, changed the race route so it will pass through Murfreesboro on June 26.

“There will be 120 vintage cars from all over the world coming through Murfreesboro,” said Scott, adding the influx of race participants and fans will benefit local businesses. 

The student club is accepting donations and sponsorships through its Go Fund Me page and is documenting its progress through Facebook. In addition, Goodwill Industries is hosting a donation drive in Central’s parking lot on Saturday, Dec. 10, from 8 a.m. to noon, and the financial proceeds from the event will benefit the student club. Students also are selling beef jerky as a fund-raiser.

For more information about The Great Race, including a map of the route and a list of participants, visit the event’s website.  

 

PHOTO / JAMES EVANS

Left, Central Magnet School Car Club sponsors Jenny Culp, Scott Culp and Michael Ruess, along with club members MaryGrace Bouldin, Chris Johnson, Matthew Connors and Hunter Jones, showcase the 1953 Pontiac Chieftan that will be used by students in next summer's The Great Race. The Central team will be the first high school group from Tennessee to participate in the cross-country event.