Motoring: Worthington native competes in the Great Race from St. Paul to Alabama
WORTHINGTON -- Although he didn't have much time to dawdle, Ken Brass couldn't resist a stop in his hometown earlier this week. Brass, now of California, was en route to the Twin Cities for The Great Race, a collector car competitive controlled-speed endurance road rally, which this year will take its competitors on a course from St. Paul, following the Mississippi River down to Mobile, Ala.
During his overnight stay in Worthington, Brass was joined by a couple of his Great Race cohorts, Bob Miller and Jim Archibald, and the most important part of the team -- a 1938 120 Packard Eight, which made the journey to Minnesota in the comfort of a specialized trailer.
"My tie-in to Worthington starts when I was born in Rushmore on Sept. 19, 1928, to Albert "Pete" and Alvina Brass (nee Schafer)," Brass explained. "Relatives in the area include the Elsings and Eblings. I moved to Worthington in 1932 (at Fifth Avenue and Ninth Street) and moved to Cherry Point when I was 5 years old. I still maintain contact with Johnny Taylor and Dick Duba, former neighbors and childhood friends from Cherry Point. I moved back and forth between California and Minnesota from 1943 to 1946 and graduated in the class of '46 from Worthington High
Brass returned to California after graduation, and following a stint in the Navy, he joined the Los Angeles Fire Department for a 28-year career. Upon retirement, he moved to San Jacinto, Calif., where he continued to indulge his hobbies of golf, boats, skiing and travel.
"My wife, Marilyn, and I loved to travel throughout the country visiting friends and family and made such a trip every other year," said Brass, who has a daughter, a son and two stepdaughters. "Our itinerary always included time in Minnesota --specifically Worthington."
When Marilyn died a few years ago, Brass decided it was time to pursue something that had long been on his bucket list -- a classic car. He wasn't specifically looking for a Packard when he began the quest, but it fit the bill for general time period and the accoutrements he desired.
"I was looking for a LaSalle," he noted. "But I wanted something of this vintage, when hydraulic brakes came on the scene," adding that he also wanted a car with the side-mounted spare tires. "I found this on eBay or Craig's List, then I had other people fix it up. The paint job is 40 years old, but everything else is new. ... This is the junior model, not the senior. I've heard some car guys joke that this is what the guys with the big Packards bought for their help to drive."
With his car project completed, Brass happened upon an advertisement for The Great Race in Hemmings Motor News (the main Great Race sponsor) and became intrigued by the thought of doing more with the vehicle than just taking it to car shows.
"I've known about it for 15 years," Brass noted. "A friend of mine and another guy entered a '34 pickup and drove it from Napa (Calif.) to Pensacola (Fla.), and it looked like they were having a ball. Course, I later talked to the one guy's wife, and she told me that they didn't talk to each for months after."
Nonetheless, Brass recruited his Great Race team from among his neighbors and close friends. After a couple had to drop out due to work obligations, the final roster is: Brass, driver; Matt McWane, navigator; Archibald, alternate driver; Miller, support vehicle driver and mechanic; and Vick McWane, team photographer, blogger and first aid. The team also has sponsors from throughout the San Jacinto area, and their logos emblazon the trailer along with the Packard advertising motto: "Built by gentlemen for gentlemen: Ask the man who owns one."
As they've prepared for their own Great Race trek, Brass and his team realize that it will be an intense undertaking. The Great Race website gives this description:
Each day the driver and navigator team receives a set of course instructions that indicate every turn, speed change, stop and start that the team must make throughout the day (usually 220 to 250 such instructions per day). Along the course route there will be from four to seven checkpoints recording the exact time that the team passes that point. The objective is to arrive at each checkpoint at the correct time, not the fastest. The score for each team is the result of the team's ability to follow the designated course instructions precisely. Every second off the perfect time (early or late) at each checkpoint is a penalty point. This format is much more mentally demanding than a flat-out cross-country race. Also, GPS or computers are not permitted and odometers are taped over. This is a test of human mental agility and endurance as well as classic car endurance, rather than programming capability. The course avoids timed segments on interstate highways, opting instead for scenic local, county, and state highways whenever possible through some of the prettiest country in the United States.
"There will be people lurking in the bushes with a stopwatch," explained Brass. "Any time you are over or under the time, you get assessed points. It's handicapped by the age of the vehicle. Our vehicle gets assessed 81 percent of the penalty; a '69, which is the newest vehicle allowed, gets 100 percent."
The teams know in advance of their lunch stops and overnight destinations, but until they are briefed each morning, have no knowledge of the exact course they will take to get there.
"It looks like you can't count on anything until an hour before time," said Miller.
As newcomers to the Great Race, Ken's team was provided with a veteran mentor, who has advised them in their preparations, including making charts specific to their vehicle.
"We did some timing of certain procedures," Brass said about their practice sessions.
"We did about three days of it," added Archibald.
Although unsure of what lies ahead for them on the journey, Brass' team was anxious to depart Worthington so they could meet up with the rest of their team and fraternize with their fellow competitors in advance of the rally.
The Great Race begins today, leaving from the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. Over the next nine days, the competitors will traverse through 10 states, traveling 2,100 miles. To learn more about the Great Race, go to www.greatrace.com. The team's blog is at www.travelpod.com/z/mvmcwane/1/1370326906.
Daily Globe Features Editor Beth Rickers can be reached at 376-7327.