Downtown Plainfield on Wednesday afternoon was a piece of Americana, with people lining both sides of Lockport Street on a hot summer afternoon, drawn by their mutual love for old cars.
The 2022 Hemmings Motor News-sponsored Great Race, a nine-day rally that kicked off June 18 in Rhode Island, was stopping in Plainfield on its way to North Dakota.
The 1965 slapstick movie comedy “The Great Race” — based on the real 1908 automobile race from New York to Paris — inspired this event.
Spectators sat on the steps of Plymouth Congregational Church or in folding chairs on the sidewalk waiting to see the 130 antique vehicles chug past. They sought shelter in the shade under building store awnings. They walked in pairs eating ice cream.
Maureen Blevins of New Lenox was there, taking photos for The Dashboard, the magazine for Greater Illinois Region Classic Car club of America, of which she is editor.
Tony Pass of Downers Grove was there, too, even though he had open heart surgery nine weeks ago. Pass owns a Model A, a Model T and an original 1964 Ford Mustang.
Laurel Hermann of Minooka, who graduated from Plainfield High School in 1978, said she loved “anything vintage” and had her four grandsons (Joe Langan, 12, of Alaska and Joe’s two brothers: Nathaniel Langdon, 9 and Alex Langdon, 6 along with James Bannon of Plainfield, 7) settled on the sidewalk, waiting for the event to start.
“This is part of history,” Hermann said. “I wanted them to be part of history, too. Route 66: how often will this [event] come down here?”
Tom and Mary Coomler of Warren Ind., came out because their only grandson Connor Miller was navigating a 1948 Ford Coupe for the National Auto & Truck Museum in Auburn, Ind.
“We are following him to the end,” Tom said.
Plainfield American Legion Marne Post 13 posted the colors and led the Pledge of Allegiance. Larry Stephens of Plainfield sang the National Anthem. Plainfield Mayor John Argoudelis told residents and guests that it was “a great day” with “great weather” for “The Great Race.”
“Welcome to Plainfield,” Argoudelis said.
Three re-enactors introduced themselves as the historical Plainfield characters they portrayed: Eddie Van Buren Gardner (automobile racer), Orva Hartong Pratt (one of the first female drivers in Will County) and Dr. Edward Carlyle Hoffman (a dentist, who allegedly built the first automobile in Plainfield).
The cars themselves ran into traffic and arrived slightly later than scheduled. But soon they were slowly rolling down one end of Lockport Street to the other, where they parked and chatted with enthusiasts, who asked questions and snapped photos with their phones.
Jamie Stiehr of Colorado, who drove a 1964 Morris Mini Cooper S with Don Racine of California, told spectators that participants received precise directions each day that detailed every move to the second. So — no maps, Stiehr said.
“You have no idea where you’re going, when you’ll get there or how long it’s going to take to get there,” Stiehr said.
Scoring happens at secret checkpoints and participants are penalized for being one second too early or late. Winners have the lowest score and will receive $50,000.
Stiehr said maintaining a perfect 40 mph with no variation is challenging enough, even before a farmer on a cart pulled out in front of them. It’s the navigator’s job to then calculate how fast the other must drive to compensate for the lost time, Stiehr said.
But perhaps the unexpected is a minor inconvenience, said Annegret Reichmann of Virginia, the driver of a 1955 Studebaker President with her husband Uli Kammholz as navigator. Reichmann said she’s participated in the “Great Race” nine times, although not consecutively.
“It’s great fun and a great way to see the country,” Reichmann said.
Reichmann also feels the “Great Race” preserves the pastime of driving for fun.
“No one likes to drive anymore,” Reichmann said.
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Racers Jeff and Eric Fedette are the first to arrive in downtown Plainfield in their 1933 Ford B Pickup. The Great Race is a 9 day race from Warwick, Rhode Island to Fargo, North Dakota featuring more the 120 pre-1974 vehicles. Wednesday, June 22, 2022 in Plainfield. (Gary Middendorf - email@example.com/Gary Middendorf)