CUMBERLAND - Despite rain and cool weather, drivers from across the country stopped in Cumberland as the National Guard Great Race made its lunch-time pit stop in the Queen City.

"I love old cars," said racer Larry Campbell, who participates with his 1928 Ford Roadster. "I get to spend three weeks with my son, 24 hours a day. I enjoy coming to beautiful towns like this one you would never see on the highway."

For 24 years, the Great Race has held this event, changing routes each year, as classic and antique cars compete in the cross-country endurance race. On Sunday at about noon, the racers made their stop, parking rows of classic cars along the downtown Cumberland mall.

While their cars sat some of the drivers milled around before going to the Culinary Cafe for lunch, talking to one another, many looking road-weary after hours of driving. As they pulled in, many were grateful for a place to escape the rain, because some of their vehicles did not have tops that went up and others did not have windows.

"We do this every year, though there are different routes each year," racer Len John Vanderwel said. His vehicle, a 1954 Indy racecar, was one of many that did not have a top to serve as protection from the elements. "In weather like this, you get wet and you get cold, but today is very challenging," he said.

The drivers were not the only ones willing to get wet for the sake of seeing the classic vehicles. Several devout car enthusiasts watched as the antique cars rolled down onto the mall.

"I don't envy some of them in open vehicles," Kenny Glessner said. Glessner, as well as a few others had managed to find an escape from the rain under and awning. Glessner, like other observers, said how impressed he was as he saw one antique car after another roll into the mall.

"It's one thing to go to a car show," Patrick Geraghty, another observer, said, "but to know these guys are driving them around the country is something completely different."

Yet, it is still early in the race, which started in Philadelphia on Saturday, and the drivers will have to make it through to San Rafael, Calif., the finish line on July 8.

No matter the weather, the competitors continue through, trying to get that coveted perfect score for the day, arriving at each destination at exactly the right second, with no penalties for being either a second early or a second late, an achievement that earns the racer $100,000.

As racers try for this goal each day, the ultimate goal, winning at the finish line will give them a portion of the $270,000 purse, with the largest prize from that going to the Grand Champions at a total of $100,000.

That kind of a prize acts as a definite incentive for the racers, who invest a great deal of money and time into participating.

"You leave at seven in the morning to stop at six or seven at night," racer Stanley Jones, said. "You'll see areas you would never voluntarily drive through, and it's not cheap." Despite reasons not to do so, Jones has been racing for years, bringing each of his children and gradually bringing each of his grandchildren along on the ride with him. "I've done it too many years to quit now."

Sarah Moses can be reached at smoses@times-news.com.

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