Some people plan to live quietly after retirement. Then there’s Thomas Reese. The 1965 graduate has had a 40-year love affair with antique cars. And he loves competition. So when he retired in 2001 as an executive vice president at the Continental Tire Co., he knew exactly what he was going to do: enter the Great Race, an annual two-week road rally in which participants drive antique vehicles on a 4,000-mile zigzag chase along the highways and byways of America.
Each car carries a driver, a navigator and a 30-page book of instructions laying out the day’s route. Cars set out in one-minute intervals with the goal of reaching each of a series of checkpoints exactly on time.
“The key is to figure out how fast you have to go to get to the next checkpoint as assigned,” Reese says. “You can’t get there too soon or you get penalized. There are all kinds of things that can throw you off—school buses, a hay wagon, a train crossing.”
Other uncontrollable factors exist as well. For example, in the course of a race, weather can go from one extreme to another.
“You’re pushing yourself in a non-air conditioned car from the Mojave desert, where it’s around 118 degrees, to Mt. Hood, where it’s minus 12 degrees. It’s also a real test for a 50-year-old car that has the same original equipment specs that it had when it was new. About 25 percent of the cars don’t make it.”
Thus far, Reese’s cars have avoided that fate. He’s entered the race twice—in 2001, driving a 1948 Willys Jeepster, and again in 2002 with a 1949 Studebaker Regal Deluxe Champion convertible—and finished both times. Of course, competing in a race like this is an expensive proposition: The entry fee, a support vehicle, a mechanic, fuel, food and hotel costs can easily push $40,000.
Though he’s yet to win any of the $250,000 in prize money and contingency awards, his trips have only whetted his appetite. His plan is to enter the race again in 2004 in what would definitely be his most memorable racer yet—a Good Humor ice cream truck.