Vintage vehicles to make pit stop in Grass Valley during Great Race |

Vintage vehicles to make pit stop in Grass Valley during Great Race

Know & Go

What: The Great Race

When: Cars set to enter Grass Valley at approximately 12:15 p.m. Monday, downtown rally from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. for a lunchtime pit stop for racers, along with a classic car show by Roamin’ Angels car club.

Where: Portions of Main and Mill streets, Grass Valley

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Grass Valley’s historic downtown will make the perfect pit stop Monday for more than 120 vintage vehicles participating in the 2019 Great Race, the first time the one-of-a-kind rally has stopped in Nevada County.

And, organizers say, this is the first time three teams from Nevada County have competed in the Great Race, a 2,500-mile timed endurance race for vintage cars 1974 and older. A 1916 Hudson Pikes Peak Hillclimber, a 1916 Chevrolet Phaeton, a 1917 Peerless Racer and a chain-driven 1918 American LaFrance Speedster are the oldest cars scheduled to be in the race this year.

Bill and Carolyn Croker, of Penn Valley, are race veterans competing in a 1936 Packard in the Sportsman race class. Bill entered his first Great Race in 2007 with friend Terry Brinson, in a 1960 Rambler American they bought and restored specifically for the race.

This year, Den Reinholdt (driver) and Duke Klement (navigator) will compete in the rookie class with a 1937 Packard 120 Coupe. Neither man is a rookie when it comes to vintage automobiles, however. Reinholdt, a member of the Roamin’ Angels Car Club, was featured in The Union more than 10 years ago for his vintage Jeepster, and Klement has been restoring vintage cars since the 1970s.

And Robert Brocke of Foothill Car Care will be driving a 1972 Datsun 1200 Sedan with navigators Seth DeSena and Damien Christin, in the X-Cup class. Brocke and his team are first-time racers and DeSena and Christin are high school students.

This is the third year that Nevada County Habitat for Humanity — where Bill Croker sits on the board of directors — has been involved with the Great Race, said Fund Development Manager Jim Phelps. The first two years, the local organization solicited pledges for Croker and this year it’s doing the same for all three local teams.

Each Great Race team is a part of Team Habitat. People can make a pledge (per mile) for one of the cars and all proceeds go to Habitat, with 100 percent being allocated toward building materials for homes.

“Those who pledge get a daily update from the road,” Phelps said, adding, “This has been a lot of fun. It’s been a joy to work on this with Bill. This is his passion, and he has been so enthusiastic about making this not just about the Great Race, but also about Habitat for Humanity.”

Croker trains rookie drivers on the West Coast to compete in the Great Race, Phelps explained. So when organizers decided this year would be an all West Coast route, it was a natural decision to make one of the stops in Nevada County, the only stop in the greater Sacramento region.

The hoopla will start around noon Monday with a Color Guard and the national anthem, Phelps said. A pace car provided by Riebe’s will lead the Crokers into town as the first team.

Then, said Phelps, cars will come in every couple of minutes until about 2:30 p.m., with each team given about an hour to eat and rest up. An announcer will talk about each team and their cars as they arrive.

“They’ll park on Mill Street and go have some lunch at Tofanelli’s on the patio,” he said. “First United Methodist will provide pasties, to give them an authentic taste of Grass Valley.”

A number of vintage vehicles from the Roamin’ Angels will be parked on Main Street for car enthusiasts to admire as well.

“The drivers will welcome people to come look,” Phelps said. “They are proud of their cars. They have put thousands of dollars and thousands of hours in.”

But, he cautioned, the Great Race drivers will also be taking that time as a literal pit stop, making sure their cars are road-ready.

“A lot of cars have a whole support team, trailers with parts and other stuff they might need along the way,” Phelps said. “One year, Bill had to replace his transmission overnight.”

The Great Race began in 1983 as a means of celebrating classic cars and the American landscape, with teams and cars from Japan, England, Germany, Canada and every corner of the United States vying for prize money. The Great Race is held each year at a different location/route; this year it begins in Riverside on Saturday and end in Tacoma, Wash., on June 30.

There are no maps allowed, no GPS systems, no calculators, no odometers — just a speedometer, a clock and a stopwatch. Teams compete against a preset time and route, following a precise set of directions and instructions that, if done correctly, should take them from a starting point to the day’s finish. The object is to complete each “leg” as close to the preset time as possible.

“The instructions they get from checkpoint to checkpoint are so precise,” Phelps said. “Like, drive three miles at 25 miles per hour, then slow down to 15 miles per hour for 30 seconds and then take a right … It’s not a race, it’s really a rally, they get graded on how precise they are on their timing. That’s why the navigator is so important. It’s pretty cool.”

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at

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