LOWELL — A milestone event this summer will showcase Lowell’s rich city history. The 31st annual Hemmings Motor News Great Race will stop in Lowell for first time in its 31-year history on Saturday, June 21. The iconic race will show off some of the oldest and rarest cars in the world.
It begins in Ogunquit, Maine, make several stops down the East Coast, and finish at The Villages in central Florida on Sunday, June 29. According to the event website, the route is 2,100 miles long and spans 11 states in nine days.
At City Hall Tuesday, event organizers, including Deb Belanger, executive director of the Greater Merrimack Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau, discussed the event.
Racers will start in Ogunquit on June 21 and end on Middle Street in Lowell for the first overnight stop. Racers will arrive at one-minute intervals after 4:45 p.m. and park on Middle Street for several hours so spectators can admire the antique cars.
The next morning, racers will travel to Bennington, Vt., for the first lunch stop. The stops will continue several states down the coast before it reaches Florida.
This year’s most iconic cars are a 1951 Hudson Hornet from the Pixar move Cars and a 1969 Dodge Charger from the TV show The Dukes of Hazzard.
A 1916 Hudson that raced in the first Pikes Peak Hill Climb in Colorado Springs, Colo., will also appear.
Antique fire trucks will arrive on nearby Palmer Street. Middle, Palmer and Shattuck streets will be shut down for the day.
All vehicles racing must be older than 1972 models. Each racer receives instructions to reach a stop and must follow the instructions down the coast. Every checkpoint alternates a lunch stop and an overnight stop.
A 1-second penalty is given for each second the racer arrives late. The racer with the fewest number of penalty seconds at the end wins $50,000.
The maximum number of racers is 100. Cars normally have one driver and one navigator, but families have raced in the past.
“It’s really a family adventure more than anything,” Event Director Jeff Stumb said. “Middle Street seemed perfect for this year’s Atlantic-coast theme.”
Middle Street is known for its cobblestones, which Stumb said would blend in with antique cars nicely.
The race route’s theme is different each year. Last year, the theme was the Mississippi River; the race began in Minnesota, spanning to the Gulf of Mexico.
Stumb has directed the event since 2010. He said he is especially proud that no major accidents have occurred throughout the years.
Belanger said she expects about 5,000 people will be in Lowell for the event.
She said the first automobile road race in the city was on Labor Day, 1908, spanned 250 miles, and was held to introduce the then-brand-new automobile industry.
By the turn of the 20th century, carriages and chariots pulled by horses were the prime method of transportation. At races, such as at the Three Counties fair in New Jersey in 1893, carriages went as fast as 50 miles an hour, something unheard of at that time.
These recreational events, when the automobile revolution was in its infancy, caused a rapidly growing interest which resulted in the investment of millions of dollars into the industry and created jobs for mechanics and manufacturers.
With this year’s event being broadcast live, Belanger said this will give great national exposure to Lowell’s history.
The 2014 Great Race operations is from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.