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Great Race to Return to Central Maine, Choosing Gardiner as Its Finish Line

GARDINER — The last time the Great Race traveled through Maine, the spectacle drew thousands of people to watch the cavalcade of antique and vintage cars reach the end of that day’s leg in Gardiner.

Next June, Mainers will get another chance to see the cross-country rally-style race up close when the Great Race not only returns to Maine but spends the final three days of the race in and around the capital region.

“They’ve never tried that before. The only downside is that they will want to do this every year,” Peter Prescott said.

Prescott, chairman of the board at Everett J. Prescott Inc. and a car collector and enthusiast, has taken part in the Great Race and has sent his 1948 Ford sedan to compete. He’s seen firsthand how the race works, and one of the drawbacks is having to stay at a different place every night.

In 2024, racers are expected to arrive in Maine on Friday, June 28, wrapping up their day in Freeport. That night, and for the next two nights, they’ll be staying in Augusta and completing the last two days of the race from that base, ending up around 1 p.m. in Gardiner on Sunday.

Jeff Stumb, director of the Great Race, said Prescott was surprised to learn the finish of the race would be in Gardiner.

“I think he thought we were just going to make another overnight stop, and I said, ‘Let’s do the finish,’” Stumb said.

In 2018, the Great Race stopped in Gardiner on a route that took drivers from Buffalo, New York, to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Drivers arrived to crowds that had traveled from across the state and beyond to line Water Street and see the spectacle of the  cavalcade of cars pass under an archway marking their arrival at the end of that day’s race leg. They were treated to lobster, entertainment and fireworks before moving on to stay in Augusta that night. The following morning, they departed for Bar Harbor and the rest of the event.

After the conclusion of the race, participants voted Gardiner the best stop on that year’s course.

People check out the Great Race vehicles on display in the intersection of Water and Church streets on June 26, 2018, in Gardiner. Officials say the race will return in 2024 with the start in the state of Kentucky and a finish line in Gardiner, likely attracting thousands of people. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

Stumb said Gardiner was the smallest city where the race stopped that year, but it was the best stop by far.

“Now that we’ve announced for 2024, people have said they hope they have the lobster bake again,” he said. “They are still talking about that six years later.”

No one promotes their hometown and home state like Prescott and his team do for Gardiner and for Maine, Stumb said. “There’s a big sign on his trailer that says, ‘Come to Maine and stay,’ and his car has a giant lobster claw on it.”

The 2024 race marks the first time in the four-decade history of the race that competitors and support teams will be based in one location for more than two nights.

Stumb said part of the challenge of the race is the travel, both for the participants and the organizers who have to secure 300 hotel and motel rooms each night along the way.

Every year, the Great Race draws teams of antique and vintage car enthusiasts from across the United States and other countries to compete in the multi-day race that starts in a different location and takes routes through different parts of the country every year. Next June, the Great Race is scheduled to start in Owensboro, Kentucky, and travel northeast to end in Gardiner, stopping at 17 cities while covering the 2,300-mile route in nine days. Timed segments avoid interstate highways, with cars following local, scenic roads.

On Saturday the competitors are expected to travel to Mount Desert Island and the Seal Cove Auto Museum for lunch and then to the Owls Head Museum for the evening stop, returning to Augusta that night. On Sunday, competitors will follow a route that takes them north and west of Gardiner before the race reaches its end in Gardiner starting at about 1 p.m.

The race is more about discipline than speed; it’s a time-speed-distance rally. GPS and computers are not allowed. Competing vehicles each have a driver and a navigator who are given instructions daily that detail their every move. Along the route, secret checkpoints are set up to track their progress. Cars are penalized one second for each second they are early or late.

No car newer than 1973 is allowed to participate. The winner will claim bragging rights and a $50,000 prize.

Katie Doherty, president and chief executive officer of the Kennebec County Chamber of Commerce, said planning is already underway for the race’s final day, which includes both public and private events in Gardiner.

Among the public events are a classic car show, food trucks and the race itself, after which people will be able to see the cars up close.

Michael Miclon, executive artistic director of the Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center, said the nonprofit is working up a proposal to put on a couple of shows in the historic opera house, which is now undergoing renovations and is expected to be completed in the coming months.

Race participants will end their competition with a lobster dinner hosted at the EJP facility in the Libby Hill Business Park and fireworks Sunday night.

Prescott said the local organizers are planning to produce a pamphlet of local restaurants and attractions for competitors and their support crews to visit on Friday and Saturday night.

Source : Central Mine