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The Great Race a big draw in Peoria

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Rich McKone wasn't about to let a little pain stop him from competing in his 20th consecutive Hemming Motor News Great Race, even when that pain ended up putting him on the operating table.

Last Thursday, as McKone was heading to St. Paul, Minn., for the start of the race, the pain got bad enough he stopped at a hospital in Waterloo, Iowa. He was diagnosed with appendicitis and surgery was performed.

By noon that day he was released and was on his way. On Friday he was in his 1936 Ford Tudo Sedan for a trophy run and on Saturday, when the 2013 Great Race began in St. Paul, McKone joined his driver. Dan Moore of Cuba, Ill., and they were on their way in the nine-day race that will end Sunday, June 30 in Mobile, Ala.

"Right now I'm still feeling a little weak. But I'm getting better every day," said McKone, a Peoria dentist, when the 89-car Great Race made a stop for lunch on Peoria's downtown riverfront on Monday. "I couldn't miss this."

McKone was presented an award for his 20th race by the Great Race organizers when he arrived in Peoria from Davenport, Iowa, the second overnight stop of the race. He was the first to arrive. He and Moore also were among the first to leave Peoria to continue their way to Hannibal, Mo., where the third leg ended Monday night.

All told the race this year will drive through 10 states along the Mississippi River, crossing the river 12 times as it weaves its way to Mobile.

The race, which began in 1983, is not a speed race. Rather, it is a "time/speed/distance rally" where drivers and their navigators are scored on following precise instructions that detail their every move down to the second. Cars are penalized for every second they are early or late. The ultimate goal is for cars to finish one minute apart, which is how they start the race.

To be eligible cars must have been manufactured before 1969. Most participating vehicles, which this year included cars and trucks, including an antique fire truck, were built before World War II. The oldest car in the race is a 1907 Renault.

The winner of this year's race will receive $50,000 from a total purse of $150,000.

On Monday a large crowd gathered on the riverfront to welcome the racers. There were also other vintage vehicles in Festival Park that people could see.

But most stuck to the race participants, all of which were adorned with multiple stickers representing race sponsors and other cities where they were scheduled to stop. The crowd had as many seniors climbing in and on the cars as it did kids, with the oldest cars getting the most attention.

"What is that? I don't think I've ever seen that kind of car before," was the kind of comment heard more than once.

"Looks like it came right out of a gangster movie," was another.

Cheers were heard as each car pulled into the park to much fanfare and cameras were shooting all over the park.

Each day racers stop in a different city for lunch, then continue to a different city for overnight. The other overnight stops along the route are in Cape Girardeau, Mo., on June 25; in Germantown, Tenn., on June 26; in Vicksburg, Miss., on June 27; in Baton Rouge, La., on June 28; in Covington, La., on June 29; and in Mobile on June 30.

The event was started in 1983 by Tom McRae and it takes its name from the 1965 movie, The Great Race, which starred Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Natalie Wood and Peter Falk. The movie is a comedy based on the real life 1908 automobile race from New York to Paris. In 2004, Tony Curtis was the guest of the Great Race and rode in his car from the movie, the Leslie Special.

The Great Race gained a huge following from late night showings on ESPN when the network was just starting out in the early 1980s. The first entrant, Curtis Graf of Irving, Texas, is still a participant today and will be racing a 1916 Packard again this year.

The event's main sponsors are Hemmings Motor News, Hagerty, Coker Tire, Reliable Carriers, Meguiar's and Steele Rubber. The lunch stop sponsors on Monday were The Peoria Park District, the Gateway Building, the City of Peoria and the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).