More than 100 antique automobiles will make their way through Beckley Friday as one of the final legs of a nine-day, 2,300-mile time, speed and endurance rally though 10 states.
The rally, known as the Great Race, will make a pitstop in downtown Beckley Friday evening giving a chance for people near and far to get an up-close look at vehicles all built in 1974 or earlier.
Organizers of the event say they are thrilled to be able to welcome the Great Race to Beckley and hope it will be the first of many more events to come this season following wave of canceled events last year due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“We’re slowly seeing these events coming back and I think this really will kick off event season in Beckley,” said Lisa Strader, executive director of Visit Southern West Virginia. “We’re just real excited for people to be able to come out once again.”
The 2021 Great Race began Saturday, June 19 in San Antonio, Texas and will finish in Greenville, South Carolina on Saturday June 27.
On its seventh day, racers will drive through West Virginia and make a lunch stop in Huntington followed by an evening overnight stop in downtown Beckley.
The festivities planned around the Great Race in Beckley will take place 5-8 p.m. Friday in downtown with opening ceremonies beginning around 5:30 p.m. The first racer is expected to cross the downtown finish line between 5:30-5:50 p.m. The rest of the racers will arrive in town roughly one minute apart throughout the evening.
The racers will arrive on Neville Street downtown by way of Robert C. Byrd Drive and be led to designated parking areas in order for people to take a closer look at them and learn more about them from their crews.
The oldest cars scheduled to be in the 2021 Great Race include a 1916 Hudson Pikes Peak Hillclimber and a 1917 Peerless racer.
The Great Race, which began 38 years ago, is not a speed race, but a time/speed/distance rally. The vehicles, each with a driver and navigator, are given precise instructions each day that detail every move down to the second. They are scored at secret checkpoints along the way and are penalized one second for each second either early or late. As in golf, the lowest score wins.
Cars start – and hopefully finish – one minute apart if all goes according to plan. The biggest part of the challenge other than staying on time and following the instructions is getting an old car to the finish line each day, organizers say.
Strader said its likely people will catch a glimpse of these antique cars along the road as they make their way on a designated route to Beckley from Huntington “but if you really want the true experience of the cars, up close and personal and meet the drivers then coming to the event in (Beckley) is going to be your best bet.”
Antique and collectable cars from Antique Automobile Club of America-WV Whitewater Region and Shade Tree Car Club will also be on display during the event in Beckley.
To make way for the cars and spectators, Word Park will be blocked off all day. The city will also be blocking off Neville Street to Heber Street starting at 2 p.m. and Heber and Main Streets to Kanawha Street started at 5 p.m.
The event, which is being sponsored by Visit Southern West Virginia alongside the City of Beckley, is family-friendly, free to the public and will also include live music until 8:30 p.m. provided by Randy Gilkey and Buddy Allen & Cheat River Band.
Food vendors will also be scattered throughout the downtown area including Appalachian Kettle Corn, Chick-fil-A, The Cast Iron Cafe, Flynn’s hotdogs, Bro. Marsh & Sons Barbeque, and MAD Concessions.
Parking will be available at the Beckley Intermodal Gateway garage and along side streets.
Strader said this is one of many events that was planned for 2020 but had to be postponed due to Covid.
She said Visit Southern West Virginia was actually approached a few very ago about having Beckley as part at the 2020 route.
“We’re excited that they chose Beckley,” Straders said. “The race coordinator, he came, and he visited, and we drove (around town), and he was pretty adamant that he wanted it to be in downtown Beckley. They like small towns. They like the look and the feel of it, they like the community.”
Strader said this is the third time the Great Race has been through Beckley. The race had Beckley as a lunch stop in 1995 and 2005; however, this is the first time Beckley has been an overnight stop for the race.
Strader says this means instead of just stopping for a few hours mid-day and heading to their next location. Following the event in downtown, the racers, their crews and all the race organizers, which Strader estimates to be around 450 to 500, will spend Friday night in Beckley at local hotels before making their way to their next location the following day.
In addition to participants filling up local hotels, Straders says the Great Race has a dedicated following of its own which will likely bring people from all over to the area.
“That’s going to help the whole community out so much,” she said. “They’ll have to buy the gas and eat here and there may be people who have never been to Beckley, so we get the opportunity to showcase our area.
“The travel and tourism industry was heavily hit by the pandemic, but I think no more than the vendors because there just weren’t events anywhere,” Strader said.
“But we’re really looking forward to having this happen again and hopefully this will just be the first of many as we go through the season to welcome back some of the larger events that Beckley Events plans throughout the summer and into the fall.”
While gathering in large crowds has been deemed safer by many health officials following the rollout of the Covid vaccine, Strader said they are still trying to be as safe as possible and will have several hand washing stations set up throughout the area.
Strader said she knows people are itching to get back out and hopes the event will be a moral boost for people as well as businesses after a tough year.
“It’s going to be a great event,” she said. “I can’t wait to see these cars.”
Main sponsors from the Great Race are Hemmings Motor News, Hagerty, Coker Tire and Reliable Carriers.
For more information about the Great Race go to greatrace.com.