Back in the USA…

Friday, June, 29th

Where has Klinger been and is he still on the Great Race?  The answer is yes! 

Wow, what a ride this has been so far! It is a mixture of all emotions….excitement, exhaustion, and even moments of complete frustration. One of the veteran racers made a comment the other day that really hit home to me: “If this was easy everyone would do it.” And I am here to tell you how true that statement is.

First of all, this is one of the most exciting and thrilling events I have been on and I highly recommend anyone who loves driving classic cars and competition to experience this…at least twice. Why do I say twice? More on that later….

This event is not for the faint of heart though. I think a lot of people envision this as a peaceful ride through the country side exploring the scenic back roads of North America. While much of the route is very scenic you rarely have a chance to admire it. Rather the driver is intensely focused on driving the precise speed and making very consistent speed changes. The navigator is feverishly anticipating the next exact move and calculating any necessary speed adjustments to keep the team on track to best match the unknown perfect score. I always knew this would be an intense event but now that I am experiencing it firsthand I realize my impression was very conservative. Each day the route and maneuvers become increasingly difficult and it is far easier to make an incorrect move without even realizing it until several minutes later. Both contenders in the “Hagerty Boys versus Girls” teams have been a victim of this. As the week has progressed (and the time has flown by) the number of teams has dwindled. 92 teams started in Traverse City on June 23 and there are currently 78 teams still competing.  And I am proud to say that we are still in the game!

You may be asking yourself…where is the fun in this? When you cross the finish line at the end of each day and receive your daily score it is a great sense of accomplishment. The score is factored through four or five checkpoints each day and the cumulative result of how many seconds (or minutes) you are off in each segment makes your final score. For example, our best day was 18 seconds (which made us the top finishing Rookie team of that day!) and our worst day has been just over three minutes. The cumulative score factors in everything up to this point minus your five worst scores. So far our cumulative score is 3 minutes and 50 seconds. We’ve had segments that were as little as one second (very exciting!) and segments around two minutes (not exciting…).

So, how is the Mighty Model A fairing? Well, the first few days people were complimenting me on how effortlessly that car handles this race. However, the previous two days have been a different story. I ran into a string of bad luck between unplanned issues and faulty replacement parts. Over the course of two days I have had to replace the following parts: Two water pumps, two sets of points, one head gasket, one alternator, and a broken latch on my front tool box. The water pump issue started because the current water pump started leaking on me during the race. I wasn’t complaining as it had close to 19,000 miles on it, which is a lot in Model A miles. However, the first one I used to replace it threw the front bearing the next day so that meant overnight shipping a “new”one to the next hotel. I can tell you it was making a horrible amount of noise when we rolled into Kanata, Ontario the other night! I “proactively” replaced the ignition points early on in the race and for some annoying reason the points I used to replace them lasted only a day and required a side of the road repair to replace them with yet another new set (hence one of the two minute segments). The more serious repair I’ve had was replacing the head gasket the other night. The Mighty Model A started running hot and overheated on me. I am not sure if the overheating caused the head gasket to go bad or the bad head gasket caused it to overheat but the good news is we were back on the road yesterday morning after nursing it across the finish line.

Why do I say you need to experience this at least twice? As a rookie team each day brings new surprises and a huge learning curve. I think coming back for a second year (at least) gives you a huge leg up on the competition. I can see why there are many teams who have competed for more than ten consecutive years….the thrill of beating that clock never goes away. And…the friendships amongst the teams are priceless which is what makes events like this in the classic car hobby some of the great events they are.

Three days left and I hope to see you in Dearborn on Sunday!

Stage 2 - Sault Saint Marie, MI to Greater Sudbury, ON, Canada

Sunday, June, 24th

Today we made it across the border into Canada.  The weather was not nearly as nice today with bouts of heavy rain at times.  I certainly am not complaining about the rain though as our vehicles are enclosed.  Many of the Great Race cars are open cars with some not having a windshield higher than your face.  Those people get soaked and there is nothing they can do about it.  And, for the open cars that lack fenders they not only get wet but they have to deal with the spray (the rooster tail) from the wheels.  

This was the day that separated the men from the boys.  Unlike the previous two days this was serious rally driving.  The back roads of Canada were quite rough, curvy, and very hilly.  This taxed all 40 horses under the hood of the Mighty Model A and the old girl was unable to hold the necessary speed on the steepest of these hills.  All of these speed losses meant we had to make up the lost time during the next possible maneuver.  At one point during the day two mistakes put us seven cars behind (or in Great Race score terms…seven minutes behind).  The mistakes consisted of a speedometer calibration issue and then a missed turn while trying to deal with the speedometer issue.  Out of pure luck and maybe some skillful driving (and I use that term loosely) we managed to safely pass all seven cars and made the next checkpoint only 23 seconds off.  To us that was a HUGE victory given the fact we were feeling quite doomed at that point.  

The girls team had a good day given the tough route and the fact they are driving arguably the worst vehicle on the race to take sharp curves at speed while climbing a steep hill.  (The 1962 International 3/4 ton pickup.)  Unfortunately they missed one turn towards the end of the day that caused them to miss the final checkpoint.  Seeing that they missed the final checkpoint this caused a “DNF” score for the day.  This isn’t as serious as it sounds as they drop your five worst “legs” from your score at the end of the day.  Each day has four “legs” or “checkpoints”.  Hopefully we can both learn from our mistakes today and continue to climb up the rankings….

 

The cumulative results for the first two days of the “boys versus girls” duo are as follows:

 

The Mighty Model A:  53 of 88 (46.4 seconds off).  The Girls team:  63 of 88 (1 minute, 11 seconds)

Stage 1 - Traverse City, MI to Sault Saint Marie, MI

Sunday, June, 24th

Today was the first official day for the Great Race and I need to call out two things that were simply amazing…the first being the huge turnout for the grand start in Traverse City and the second being the perfect weather.

By my guess I would say there were about 20,000 people that showed up first thing on a Saturday morning to see all the cars and meet the race teams.  And to add to the excitement Governor Rick Snyder (MI) and Wayne Carini (host of Chasing Classic Cars) were there as well.  Unlike many types of classic car events where people are expected to stand far away from the cars the Great Race gives people a chance to get close to the cars and in many cases sit in them as well.  And my favorite part is the fact that you get to hear them run and see them drive.  

The two Hagerty teams are a “Boys vs. Girls” duo that has very quickly developed into a friendly—but fierce—rivalry as to who will end each day with a higher ranking.  From what I hear, many people are rooting for the women’s team.  After the first day I am happy to say that the Mighty Model A finished 15 spaces ahead of the girls team so we won the bragging rights for the day.  But, I say this in good fun knowing darn well a lot can happen over the next eight days.  The boys team is myself in the Mighty Model A and my navigator is Davin Reckow.  The girls team is driving a 1962 International ¾ ton pickup piloted by Tabetha Salsbury and Kacy Smith.  Tabetha and Kacy are both alums of the McPherson College Automotive Restoration department just like I am.  Hopefully, our preparation work will mean we won’t have to use our “restoration” skills on the road but we have plenty of tools and spare parts in case we do need to do some repair work…

The route leaving from Traverse City took us through many winding roads up to St. Ignace for our lunch stop and then to our overnight stop in Sault Saint Marie, MI.  The sight of all these cars crossing the five mile Mackinac (Mack-i-NAW) Bridge was pretty amazing and for anyone who hasn’t traveled through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula before I can tell you there are plenty of great back roads perfect for this type of road rally.

As the week goes on I will slowly explain how a “time-speed-distance” rally works.  Even though it is called a “race” it doesn’t mean the first person to finish is the winner.  Rather you are trying to match a perfect time based on a very detailed series of directions and speeds.  If it sounds confusing I promise you it is.  As rookies, we are still trying to figure all of this out!  For example, Davin and I finished today with a score of 17.6….meaning we were 17 seconds off of the perfect time.  (By the way, we have no idea what that perfect time is….)  That sounds pretty good, right?  To put this in perspective, this just barely put us in the top half of the finishing order with the best team receiving a score of 2….meaning they were only two seconds off of the perfect time after an entire day or road rallying!  Don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled with our score as our first official day as a rookie team.

Below are several photos of the “Boys vs. Girls” teams as well as the official start in Traverse City and throughout the day….

This is at the end of the day in Sault Saint Marie, MI (The “Soo”) with the famous shipping locks behind all the Great Race Cars…..

Gentlemen, Start your engines!!!

Well, not quite yet….but very soon.  This Saturday, June 23, The Great Race (www.greatrace.com) is starting in Traverse City, MI where 91 vintage automobiles will embark on a nine day journey around the Great Lakes.  We head north into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, East through Canada, and then back down through New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and then the finish line is at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI on Sunday, July 1. 

The cars cannot be newer than 1969 and the oldest car entered in this years event is a 1907 Renault.  AND….as I stated in one of the final blog postings I am planning to participate in the Mighty Model A!

Just to very quickly bring everyone back up to speed since my last blog posting in November…the Mighty Model A went into hibernation around December 15 and I brought the old girl back out in March.  Much like the rest of the country we experienced a very mild winter this year.  Many people commented throughout the winter that it was too bad I didn’t have this winter for driving the Mighty Model A as my only vehicle.  I completely disagree…  I am glad that I was able to experience a true Northern Michigan winter in an 81 year old car during my yearlong journey.  This last winter would have been far less exciting compared to the previous…. 

I have put about 1,000 miles on the old girl this spring and starting Saturday I will just about triple this amount after completing the Great Race. 

In future blog posts I will explain how these Time-Speed-Distance road rallies work in greater detail, but for now I will leave it at this is not a “who arrives first is the winner” type of race.  Rather it is about the art of precision navigation and precision driving with the ultimate goal of matching a pre-determined perfect time.  The kicker is you have no idea what that time is…it is all down to the ability of the navigator to give precise direction to the driver and the driver’s ability to hold exact speeds when necessary. 

I am going to start out with a video that I hope you find humor in.  While finalizing our speedometer calibration runs to develop the speed charts (again, more on how all of that works later) we were caught in a complete washout of a downpour.  This was by far the worst rain I have ever driving the Mighty Model A through.  While in traffic I hit a deep puddle and the spray of water caused a momentary loss of power in the electrical system thus causing the engine to die.  I was able to coast to a parking lot and out of harms way.  There we were, dead in the water (almost literally), and my lack of confidence when it comes to electrical systems.  I called roadside service (Hagerty Plus, of course) and had a flatbed tow truck to my rescue in a short amount of time. 

The good news is that the old girl fired up when we got back to the shop.  But, I also consider this bad news.  Seeing that it “fixed” itself I do not know what the issue was to begin with and will forever wonder when is it going to happen again in the rain?

I am excited to be blogging again and I look forward to sharing the experiences of participating in the Great Race in the Mighty Model A. 

More to come my friends!

Still Cruising the Mighty A…

Friday, November, 4th

I have been silent for quite some time since I last updated and it is time for me to check in to let everyone know I am still driving the Mighty Model A as much as I can.  Several people have asked me what it has been like to get back into my modern vehicles after this year.  The truth is I haven’t completely transistioned back.  It took me a couple of weeks to talk myself into visiting the local Secretary of State’s Office to wait in that never ending line to make my registration current (they didn’t even have 2011 stickers on the plates!).  And then I was gone for ten days for various business trips.  So, bascially the use of my “modern vehicles” was limited to a few days two weeks ago while I was recommissioning them for service this winter.  Also, I did drive my Explorer to the airport to sit outside while I was gone and allowed the Mighty Model A rest in the garage.  But…if you must know what I did the first day I drove the Explorer to work?  I listened to the radio and turned on the heated seat.  It’s funny how the mind works.  I never miss either amenity when I don’t have it at my disposal but I use them when they are in front of me. 

I flew back home yesterday and hopped back in the Mighty Model A this morning.  It felt like putting on that comfortable old pair of pants you just can’t bring yourself to get rid of.  Most people would argue that the driver’s seat in most old cars aren’t as comfortable as many modern cars but after a year and 16,000 miles my body and that front seat are quite comfortable with each other. 

Since the “365 Days” ended I have treated the old girl to a post-Hershey trip oil change and a much needed thorough detailing. She is pretty naked these days strutting around town as I removed the side decals for the detailing and haven’t put them back on. 

I plan to keep driving it as much as I can until the salt hits the road.  Ironically, there are many places in this country that has received snow (and lots of it) but we haven’t had a trace in Northern Michigan.  And, according to the 10 day forecast there isn’t a trace of snow anywhere near our area.  That gives me plenty more driving days!

Below are two photos I took this morning.  The first one was shortly after I arrived at the office this morning and later I discovered the Mighty Model A was joined by the boss’s Shelby GT500.  Everyone is trying to take advantage of the remaining good driving days! 

Travels to the Upper Peninsula (Da U.P., eh?)

Wednesday, October, 19th

Well, the “365 Days of A” project may be over with, but my adventures in the Mighty Model A continue….

This weekend we headed north to enjoy a few days in true Northern Michigan…including some time on Mackinac (Mack-in-naw) Island.  For those of you not familiar with Mackinac Island, it is quite an experience.  It is a small Island that is a step back in time.  There are very grand and impressive Victorian homes and no automobiles are allowed on the island.  Transportation is either by foot, horse, or bicycle.  This may seem weird for a car enthusiast (or geek) like me, but it is a fun experience to feel like you are really stepping back in time.  I will warn you, it is pretty touristy…but living as close as I do I can take advantage of going during the off season when it is less crowded and better deals to be had. 

In addition to spending time on the Island I also wanted to cross the five mile bridge that connects the Upper and Lower Peninsula’s of Michigan.  It is a breathtaking sight but the narrow tires of the Mighty Model A didn’t like the metal grates of the interior lanes in the middle of the bridge as the steering wanted to bounce around.  That wasn’t a big deal though…I just stayed on the paved sections as much as I could. 

Below are photos from both crossings of the bridge.  It did rain on the way back but the initial crossing was great.

Of course, while I was in the U.P. I had to visit one of my favorite old fashioned Drive-In’s for a burger.  It was one of the better burgers I’ve had in quite a while.  There are more than one Clyde’s locations and more than one person has told me the burgers are the best tasting at this St. Ignace location.  It must be something on the grill?  I can’t speak from experience though because this is the only one I’ve been to so far. 

For the record, I have had the “Big C” three times in the past, but I abstained on this visit…

On our way back down to Traverse City we stopped at Bay Harbor (between Petoskey and Charlevoix) to check out the village.  If you remember, I was here back in June for a car and boat show (http://www.365daysofa.com/post/6920333724/day-256-and-im-spent).  The place is a lot quieter this time of year!

Day 365 - The Final Day…

Wednesday, October, 12th

Well, my friends, the day has come.  Today is the 365th day of our adventure with the Mighty Model A.  You’ll notice in the first sentence that I said “our” instead of “my”.  What started out as my crazy idea of spending one full year with an old car as my primary driver grew into this great community where thousands of people from all over the world got together on a daily basis to share stories, pass on memories of days gone by, and offer technical advice.  And the magic of this is that it wasn’t just everyone interacting with me but rather a place where people could interact with each other and learn from those interactions.  I have to thank the couple dozen of regular commenter’s who provided ongoing advice but I’ve had literally hundreds of people tell me outside of the blog that they enjoy reading and learning from other peoples stories and advice.  Just to put this into perspective…the blog averaged 20,000 visits a month from all over the world. 

I am struggling with the best way to sum up this entire year other than “Wow…what a ride this has been!”  I do want to take this last day as an opportunity to thank some people as well as answer some remaining lingering questions:

“My Friend Randy”

It was important to me to do the maintenance and repair work while driving the Mighty Model A as that is absolutely part of the experience of enjoying an old car.  However, there were many times when I needed an extra set of hands as well as his expert opinion and he never turned me down when I reached out to him.  There were also times when my schedule was very hectic and he offered to step in and help with whatever needed to be done.  I really enjoyed working side by side with him on some of the bigger projects (engine swap and installing the Mitchell Overdrive) and there were times that we worked very late into the evening.  Randy…thank you so much for your help throughout the past year.  Your knowledge and willingness to pitch in is priceless and I am certainly in debt to you for your generosity. 

 

“My Favorite Passenger”

The person who I referred to as “my favorite passenger” had no clue that when she started dating me that there would one day come a time when I would announce that I was putting my modern cars in storage in favor for an 81 year old car and expect her to ride with me through all types of weather and long distances.  Her car has just about every option you could get on a modern car including heated and cooled seats and she rarely questioned why her car stayed in the garage and instead we took the Mighty Model A when we traveled somewhere together.  There was only one time when I had to put my foot down on a very hot weekend this summer when she offered to drive her car (with me in the passenger seat) the 100 miles to one of her relative’s lake house.  I told her that we need to suck it up and if it were 1930 we would be thrilled to drive a Model A that same 100 miles.  At the end of the trip we were both glad we took the Mighty Model A.  Shelly…you were a real trooper and thank you so much for sticking by my side throughout this year.  Thank you for having faith in me and the car the few times we were on the side of the road and I had to make a repair.  Out of all the road trips we will ever share together the adventures in the Mighty Model A will be the most memorable.   

Hagerty

There are many fellow colleagues that I need to thank within Hagerty.  Yes, every single word on this blog was typed from my two hands (and I take credit for every typo and grammatical error) but I regularly had help from several people when it came to all the extras like photo shoots and video editing.  Also, I need to especially thank McKeel Hagerty for challenging me to follow through with this crazy idea and allowing us the creative freedom to make this a reality.  He is a true car guy and a great friend.  His enthusiasm trickles down through the rest of the company and that is a quality that is often lost in CEO’s of large organizations. 

20,000 hits a month

I think the most important thank you goes out to all of you.  I would have never guessed this many people would take part in the daily adventures.  I truly enjoyed getting to know so many of you throughout this as well as the people I was lucky enough to meet in person.  Again…thank you so much.

Future of the Mighty Model A?

I am happy to announce that the Mighty Model A is now a permanent part of my collection.  I am going to retire it from winter driving for the sole reason that the salt on the roads will have long-term negative consequences if I continue to drive it through more winters.  But, I promise you that the old girl is still going to be driven regularly during the other three seasons when there isn’t salt on the roads.  I also plan to continue driving it from now until the first sign of salt on the road.  I have started the process to get my “modern” cars back on the road…but only started.  The only thing I’ve done is put full coverage insurance back on them.  I have yet to make the registration current or even start them.  I am not in a huge hurry as I still have a few good weeks of driving in the Mighty Model A. 

Also, I am planning to enter in the Great Race next year that runs June 23 – July 1.  Ironically, it starts in Traverse City, Michigan!  It will then head north to Canada, down and back through New York and ultimately end in Detroit, MI.  More details can be found at www.greatrace.com and if any of you will be at any of the listed stops, please look for me and say hi.

Future of www.365DaysOfA.com?

Today marks the last official day of daily blog postings.  However, I am going to leave the blog live for the foreseeable future and will definitely post periodic updates (although probably not daily).  Make sure you check back occasionally and drop a line to say “hi” when you do.  I will also fire the blog up for the Great Race next summer so mark your calendars for June 23rd for more daily updates.  And just a hint for the next posting…Shelly (my favorite passenger) and I are heading to Mackinac Island on Sunday and I will definitely post a photo of the Mighty Model A crossing that five mile bridge to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. 

Also, many people have mentioned they want to see a book based on these experiences.  If this is something you are interested in, please shoot me an email at jklinger@hagerty.com so that if a book were to ever become a reality I can let you know.  Nothing is in the works as of right now, but that could always change!

Conclusion

For the past year several of my colleagues would refer to this as a “year-long challenge”.  Now that I can look back on this I think we have been incorrect.  I think the correct way to say it is this has been a year-long experience and one I will always remember.  Once again, thank you so much to everyone who made this experience so great.  I will forever remember this and I hope everyone has something to take away with them.  The greatest part of this experience is hands down the people. 

In signing off of this last post I want to leave you with the one quote that I’ve mentioned multiple times.  This absolutely sums up what I’ve learned from the Mighty Model A and all of you throughout this past year…“It isn’t just about the final destination; it is about the journey itself and the people you meet along the way”

I hope to see all of you down the road…

Day 364 - What have I learned?

Tuesday, October, 11th

Over the past year I have learned quite a bit from the Mighty Model A.  The old girl has given me the opportunity to discover many important lessons…both about cars and life in general.  Looking back there are three main points I can walk away from this experience with.  I’ve talked about all of this in bits and pieces over the past year, but here is a quick recap….

If you take care of it, it will take care of you.

When it comes to old cars in general there is absolutely a direct correlation between how much you take care of them and how well they will perform.  Modern cars allow us to be quite lazy with sealed components that don’t require regular lubing, 100,000 mile tune-ups, and the fact you can easily get away with going way overdue on oil changes.  Basically, you can completely ignore them and when you think you aren’t doing any disservice you might find out when it is too late that you’ve caused permanent damage.  When it comes to old cars, if you neglect them they will let you know.  Guess what?  If you wait too many miles to adjust the points you will end up quite a ways from home changing the points on the side of the road (raining of course) where as if you would have tended to this when it was convenient for you in the comfort of your own garage you would easily avoid trouble on the road.  The same goes for lubing the distributor every 500 miles.  If you get lazy with this you will all of a sudden start hearing noises from it that aren’t supposed to be there.

Don’t overthink it.

I learned this lesson the hard way a couple of times.  When you discover a problem…ALWAYS start with the simplest solutions first.  Period.  It is very easy to read into an issue and convince yourself the problem is much more severe than it really is.  The perfect example comes from back in January when I was absolutely convinced I had blown a head gasket purely based on how I thought it was running.  The real problem?  The points needed adjusting as they all but completely closed up.  (For those of you not familiar this is the difference between a two hour fix or a two minute fix…)  Also, a favorite quote from one reader a while back:  “90 percent of your fuel problems are ignition related”.   

It’s okay to slow down and enjoy the ride.

This is the most significant take away from this past year.  I can tell you that the world is a much bigger place at 50 MPH than it is at 75 MPH on the freeway.  Many people would jump to the conclusion that driving slower speeds is a waste of time.  I argue that being forced off the interstate and diverted onto back country roads that take you to random small towns with locally owned businesses make for a much more enjoyable trip…despite the added time.  I also managed to survive in this high-tech and ultra connected world by not driving with several different electronic devices competing for my attention.  Don’t get me wrong…I have a BlackBerry and an iPhone (one is for personal and the other for business).  The difference is I was able to continue with my day job without staring at my emails on my smart phone while driving my car.  Those emails were still there when I arrived at the office. 

Everything that I’ve said applies to old cars and life in general…..especially when it comes to family and personal relationships.  Relationships will be rewarding if you take the time to “take care of it”, when life gets tough you need to make sure you don’t overthink the problem and then jump to the incorrect conclusion just because you made the situation worse in your head…make sure you start simple.  And….take time to enjoy life.  It is much more meaningful when you do.  It isn’t just the final destination that counts, it is the journey itself and the people you meet along the way that make the final destination worth it. 

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