The golden plaques hang on the wall, each one showing the cross-country route of a different year on the Great Race.
Lloyd “Bud” Monroe can remember traveling around the country with each of those events. He can recall the seat-of-the-pants car repairs done on the sides of the road, adventures in strange parts of the country while getting race stops set up and of course, hundreds of rare cars from the early days of automobiles.
In his home office, memorabilia helps bolster those memories. Jackets from each year’s race hang in his closet, many with his nickname “Maj. Bud” emblazoned on them. Boxes of commemorative pins, medals and other trinkets from the years of races are stored on shelves.
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“I’ve got all kinds of stuff that they gave us,” he said. “I’ve got so much stuff, it’s crazy.”
Monroe’s involvement with the Great Race dates back to the first running of the event, when it traveled from Los Angeles to Indianapolis in 1984. Since that time, he has served on the publicity team for six different races, even taking part as a competitor for a couple of stops in a classic 1957 Thunderbird.
With the Great Race stopping in Franklin on Tuesday, Monroe is excited to reconnect with one of the most unique events he’s ever been a part of.
“It’s really something to see,” he said.
As a major in the traffic division of the Indiana State Police, Monroe had heard his share of ridiculous requests to divert traffic throughout his career. Few could challenge the letter he received in the spring of 1984.
Organizers of a brand new cross-country event wanted to finish their race in Indianapolis, on the Sunday of the Indianapolis 500. And they wanted the finale to be taking a lap around the speedway.
“I get this letter that comes, and they’re wanting to take their cars around the track, on race day. I looked at it, and thought there’s no way that’s going to happen,” Monroe said.
Still, Monroe wanted to work with the Great Race organizers. He helped plan a safe route for the convoy of vintage cars coming to town, and arranged for an alternative place for the race to finish, this time at Raceway Park on the west side of Indianapolis.
“I got them a place to finish. The (Indianapolis Police Department) let them take one car around the track, way before the race started, of course,” he said. “So that’s how I got started in it.”
The Great Race is a competition unlike any other, a controlled-speed endurance road rally for antique, vintage and collector cars built before 1973.
Instead of going for a top speed, the event is a navigational test, as drivers and their co-pilots need to follow a precise course, said Jeff Stumb, director of the Great Race.
“We think it’s the most unique race in auto racing. You can be 20 years old or 80 years old, anybody can do this,” he said. “Most of the people are doing it just to have a good time.”
Each day the driver and navigator team receives a set of instructions that indicate every turn, speed change, stop and start the team must make throughout the day.
Cars depart at one-minute intervals, and checkpoints along the course will record the exact time a team passes. The goal is to arrive at the checkpoint at the correct time, not the fastest. Teams are scored on their ability to arrive at the checkpoint precisely, Stumb said.
This year’s race is a nine-day trek, spanning 2,100 miles, from Jacksonville, Florida, to Traverse City, Michigan. That’s a change from the days when Monroe participated.
“We went coast-to-coast back then. People had to take an entire month off. It just became prohibitive,” he said.
Following the inaugural race in 1984, Monroe didn’t have any involvement with the Great Race until 1991. By then, he had retired from the Indiana State Police and had more free time.
He had an acquaintance from Madison who was working as the publicity director for the race and was looking for someone to help with media relations for the event. Monroe is a longtime car enthusiast with an affection for Mustangs, so the event seemed like a natural fit.
“I was interested in cars, and I was always around old cars. So that’s the way I got started,” he said.
From 1991 to 1996, Monroe served in the publicity department for the race. He and other team members would work with cities and stops along the route to build up interest in the race. They’d arrive at stops early to set up gates and the finish lines each day.
They announced each car as it crossed the finish line for the day, then would record all of the times. At night, the group would would put together a nightly newsletter updating results from the day and sharing stories with the car owners.
“We’d put out a little paper every night. That got to be pretty lengthy at night sometimes, getting them all printed out and delivered and everything,” he said.
When taking cars that were 50- to 100-years-old across the country, mechanical problems were a way of life. Competitors are allowed to put modern transmission systems in the cars, and update to hydraulic brakes and fueling systems.
But otherwise, everything has to be stock. Participants had to be prepared to fix flat tires, broken crankshafts and cracked engines on the fly, Monroe said.
“It’s amazing what it takes to do something like that. These guys work on those cars all night long, just to get them to start the next day,” he said.
To be prepared, the drivers developed their own solutions to mechanical problems. A small radiator leak could be fixed by crumbling a few olives up and putting them in the radiator to plug it. Wooden clothespins pinned to the gas line would help prevent vapor lock, when gasoline turns to vapor in the fuel line.
Monroe remembers during his first year with the Great Race, the driver of a 1920 Packard had the main bearings go out in his engine.
“They were going to give it up, but decided not to. They went to a parts place, and bought all of the old bearings they could find. They changed the bearings in that engine every night all the way across the country, and they won the race,” he said. “’There are all kinds of crazy stories like that, it’s almost unbelievable.”
Organizers have always made sure that the race and the festivities surrounding it is a spectacle.
The U.S. Navy Band used to pump up the crowd and drivers with performances along the way. Before the 1991 race leaving from Norfolk, Virginia, all of the cars were invited by the Navy to drive onto the docks and have a program on an aircraft carrier.
When the race traveled from Ottawa, Canada, to Mexico City, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police put on one a rodeo show for the participants.
This will be the first time the Great Race will stop in Franklin. But since it’s inception, it has come through central Indiana many, many times, Monroe said.
“When you think about going coast-to-coast, we went through Indiana almost every year,” he said.
Monroe was surprised when he learned the race would be coming to Franklin. Most of the stops in the race are in larger cities, where racers and support staff can all stay together in a hotel. The race organizers have lined up a hotel on the east side of Indianapolis after finishing in Franklin for the day.
But Monroe is happy the race is coming to town. He plans on being downtown when the Great Race roars into the city on Tuesday evening.
“It’s going to be fun,” he said.
The Great Race
What: A 2,100-mile controlled-speed road rally for antique, vintage and classic cars.
When does the race start: Today in Jacksonville, Florida
When does the race end: July 2 in Traverse City, Michigan
In Franklin: 5 p.m. Tuesday
Number of competitors: 149
How can people get involved: The public is invited to come cheer on competitors as they arrive in downtown Franklin, then check out the cars parked around the square.