"Great Race" Rolls Through Region 8

JUNE 22, 2004 -- Posted at: 7:15pm CDT

POCAHONTAS, AR -- In 1983, a couple of friends had an idea to hold a rally-race. Drivers in 69 vintage automobiles rode for seven days from Los Angeles to Indianapolis. In what's now called the Great Race, teams are traveling this year for 16 days.

One of their stops includes Pocahontas. Hundreds of enthusiastic car lovers waited patiently as rain hit their heads.

Larry Rose, a Pocahontas resident, was in the crowd. "We're hoping with this turnout today, even though it's raining, that we'll show them that we're a good small community," said Rose.

Cities along the route from Jacksonville, Florida to Monterey, California are competing for a $5,000 prize to be given to their city's library. Organizers said Pocahontas is one of their favorite stops. They've stopped her two times in the last 5 years.

"This is the kind of venues that we look for. The crowds are great," explained Stefani Turcol, a member of the Great Race staff. "It's $3 million dollars worth of cars. It's one of the only times that you can see this many cars parked on the streets in little towns like this."

The focus though is on the Great Race. Teams get instructions 20 minutes before they start each day. They must go the designated speed limit, and must stay on back roads. The goal is to stay as close to the time organizers have calculated it should take them to get to the next stop.

Turcol added, "The navigator's job is one of the most important jobs, because they have to figure out all of the math."

NASCAR team owner Jack Rousch has three cars in the Great Race. Dick Burdick is a five-time grand champion.

His youngest daughter, Nikki Burdick said, "His secret is his navigator that he has, and getting a lot of sleep at night."

She and her sister, Amy, have grown up watching and helping their father compete.

"My daughter is seven, and she's coming along now too, so it's definitely a family event," added Amy Burdick.

The Great Race itself isn't the only story to tell. There are people on the staff who have family members inside of the cars. There are fathers and sons as well. There's also a crew from Searcy. Now they make a unique duo.

Their team is called "Lacey Racers". Linda Pike got started in the Great Race by helping a friend and her husband.

"The next year my husband bought a car and went, and after three years, I said, I'm tired of hauling bags, I want my own car," said Pike.

This is Pike's eighth year to drive. Five of those have been with her friend of more than 20 years, Sheila Watson.

Watson said, "She asked me for three years, before I finally said yes."

As for being the only female duo in this race..

"There's a lot more competition. The guys are a little nervous sometimes, because we have beat them all before," said Pike.

"Probably as long as we have the Great Race we'll be part of it," added Watson.

Some interesting footnotes to this race: there are nine people from Arkansas who are either driving or navigating, and "Focus on the Family", an inspirational segment seen on KAIT, also has a team competing.

Their final stop on Tuesday was Springfield, Missouri. The race began in Jacksonville, Florida on June 16th. It ends in Monterey, California on July 3rd.