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The Great Race: Mike Skiles and Steve Larson

Written By: Tom Olsen

Many of our readers have probably heard about the Great Race. It has been through Sioux Falls with an overnight stop twice over the course of many years, most recently in 2016. For the 2019 race, two local car guys, Mike Skiles and Steve Larson, are entered.

This isn’t the first time that area auto enthusiasts have entered the race, but it’s the first time for these two. Steve retired last August after 49 years in the building design and construction industry. Mike is also retired and spends his free time with family, friends, and anything to do with the car hobby. Mike and Steve have “talked about doing the race for ten years.” For the 2018 race, they submitted an entry, but were not selected. They were put on the waiting list. (Only 120 cars are selected for the race.) The two entered again for the 2019 race, and made the cut this time.

So what is the Great Race all about, you ask? The event was started in 1983 and takes its name from the 1965 movie, The Great Race, starring Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Natalie Wood, and Peter Falk. The Great Race is not a speed race, but a time/speed/distance rally. The primary sponsors of the race are Hemmings Motor News, Hagerty Insurance, Coker Tire, and Reliable Carriers. It is open to cars from model year 1974 and older. Each day, teams are given precise instructions that detail their route down to the second. There are 3 to 5 segments that are timed each day, and teams gain, or lose, points based on their time above or below the specified time for the segment. A perfect time for a segment is called an “Ace,” so potentially a driver could earn 3-5 Aces per day. Cars will start daily one minute apart and, ideally, finish the same way. The miles driven daily average around 250.

Many of the cars in the race date back into the 1916 to 1940 timeframe. Due to this, handicap points are awarded to older entries. Of course, with many of the oldest entries in the race, just finishing each day becomes a big part of the challenge. Teams entered in the race come from all around the United States and the world. Racers from Japan, England, Australia, and Canada are entered. There are five classes in the race: X-Cup (college students), Rookie (first-timers like Mike and Steve), Sportsman, Expert, and Grand Champion. Top finishers in each division will earn a share of more than $150,000 in winnings!

Over the years, the race has gone from west to east across various parts of the country, but this is the first time the race will start and end on the West Coast. The race begins on June 22, 2019, in Riverside, CA, and ends on June 30 in Tacoma, WA. This is a 9-day, 2,300-mile adventure. (Of course, many teams will travel a considerable distance getting there and back. Mike and Steve estimate they will drive about 5,500 miles round trip.) The racers will travel through 18 cities in California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.

There will be overnight stops in Lancaster, Chico, and Eureka, CA; Gardnerville, NV; Grants Pass and Bend, OR; and Vancouver and Olympia, WA. Each overnight stop becomes a major car show and festival in that city. The cars will all be on display and spectators are invited to look the cars over and visit with the teams. Of course, many of the teams will be thrashing on their car preparing it for the next day, but that’s part of the spectacle as well.

Mike and Steve have been diligently preparing for the upcoming race. Last summer, Steve bought a very nice 1969 Buick Riviera just for the event. Steve is the second owner of this very sharp, 70,000-mile car. After purchasing the car, Steve took it to Kevin Bowman, at Bowman Real Hot Rods in Brandon, SD, for a heavy dose of general maintenance and upgrades. A very complete engine “tune up” plus exhaust, brakes, and radiator work was done. Steve had Kevin lower the car with new springs and dropped spindles. Disc brakes were added, along with custom wheels. And, yes, it has air conditioning, which the guys feel will be a big plus on the trip!

Mike anticipates he will spend much of the winter figuring out how to interpret and follow the directions given daily. There are study guides and tutorial videos available to help understand the course instructions. Navigating the Great Race involves no “high-tech” equipment at all. The “navigator” (Mike) can use in-car timing devices, but nothing digital. A clock with a sweep second hand is one of the primary tools. No GPS devices, no cell phones, and no calculators are permitted in route calculations. (A lot of the “honor system” comes into play here.) All “speed-up/slow-down” calculations are done by hand. That would challenge most of today’s motoring public!

The Great Race has to be one of the ultimate car guy adventures! Mike and Steve are both looking forward to the race and will be preparing right up to race time. They have no expectation of being big winners this first time out, but would be happy to earn an Ace or two during the race. Regardless of how they do, they know they’ll have a blast in the process. As an added bonus, Mike and Steve’s wives are going to meet and follow along on the race for the last four days so they’ll be able to participate in the festivities as well. After the event, we’ll be in touch with these two Great Racers and will do a follow-up article detailing some of the highlights of the adventure. Until then…best of luck guys!

For more information on the Great Race, go to


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