They don't call it ``The Great Race'' for nothin'.
A great adventure. And great for business-at least for Coker Tire Co. Inc.
Fifteen days, 13 states and 4,000 miles later, Coker Tire President Joseph ``Corky'' Coker and his wife Theresa finished the annual timed endurance rally across the U.S. in 32nd place, only three minutes and 31 seconds behind the winners. For the contest, ``Team Coker''-it was the husband and wife duo's first time together as driver/navigator-stoked up the company's 1937 Buick ``Coker Special'' vintage Indy race car. It's normally used to promote the Chattanooga-based distributor's vintage tire brands and wheels to collectors and enthusiasts.
The rally's challenging east-to-west cross-country route runs primarily on secondary roads, and teams must meet specific speed and distance requirements between daily scheduled stops. Time penalties are accrued and the team with the lowest cumulative time at the finish is the winner.
Driving a 1928 Ford Model A Speedster, Greg Cunningham and Sam Geoppinger of Ponca City, Okla., raced into the final destination of Tacoma, Wash., as winners of this year's event.
Mr. Coker called it ``a special trip'' for him and his wife, in her first Great Race, and said, ``Theresa's accurate navigation kept us in the hunt. We incurred just five minutes and 12 seconds in total cumulative time penalties during the entire rally, which is a great score. This year's event was so competitive that even that great score barely put us in the top third of the entire group.''
Open to pre-1959 antique and classic cars, the race rolled out this year from the west side of the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., caravanning more than 100 vintage and antique cars up Pennsylvania Avenue on their trek west to the Pacific Ocean. It was sponsored by Coker Tire, the Army National Guard, Ford Motor Co., Geico Insurance and Interstate Batteries.
Drivers from around the world, including the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Germany, Japan and England, competed. To date, The Great Race has racked up more than 6 million miles and, according to its sponsors, has been the center of free family celebrations in more than 500 cities in North America.
This year's winning participants shared a $250,000 purse.
Brands marketed by Coker Tire include the Coker Classic, Garfield, Simplex, Betco, Pro Trac, Excelsior and Beck, along with vintage Firestone, BFGoodrich, US Royal and Michelin tires.
``The majority of the cars in the Great Race run on my products,'' Mr. Coker told Tire Business. ``It's a very important venue for us because, first of all, these folks are out there driving and experiencing these vehicles, which is our encouragement to people with collector cars-so they can get out there and wear tires out.''
He admitted ``that's obviously self-serving.''
But as the drivers raced from the nation's capital to Tacoma, through nearly 50 towns across the country, ``in every single one of these stops we had a coffee break, lunch stop or evening stop. Those who are interested in collector cars come out,'' Mr. Coker said. ``It is a tremendous venue for getting our word out and interacting with collectors....
``All day long I compete in the rally, but in the evening my staff and I fix flats, change tires and talk to customers and interact with them about their needs and wants and outfitting their cars with tires. It's a neat deal for us and right down our alley.''
Percentage-wise, of the almost 100 vehicles in the race this year-ranging from a 1910 car to a 1960 Cadillac El Dorado-``80-plus of them had our tires on them-all of our tire brands in one form or another,'' he said. ``I'm thankful and blessed by great customers who enjoy what they do.''