Great Race to make its first stop in Morgantown

Apr. 20—MORGANTOWN — If Jeff Stumb were a betting man, he'd wager you've never seen anything like what'll be rolling into town on June 24.

That's when some 120 antique, vintage and collector cars will make a mid-day pit stop in Morgantown as part of a nine-day, 2, 300-mile race from Owensboro, Ky., to Gardiner, Maine.

Morgantown is one of 17 cities that make up the Great Race 2024 race route.

This will be the race's first stop in West Virginia since 2021, when drivers passed through Huntington and spent the night in Beckley on Day Seven of the journey from San Antonio, Texas, to Greenville, S.C.

The University City will be a lunch stop on Day Three of this year's event, breaking up the 183-mile stretch between overnight stays in Marietta, Ohio, and Frostburg, Md.

"Morgantown was an easy choice and had it worked out, it would have made a great overnight stop as well, " Stumb, the race's director, said. "But I'll say, a lunch stop, actually, can be more fun because you've got cars coming and going for about three hours. It's a whirlwind. We'll make 130 old cars look like 500 ... You hear people talk about herding cats. That's kind of what this is like."

While the word "race " may conjure images of 100 old cars careening through the West Virginia hillside, that's not what this is.

"They are allowed an analog stopwatch and a set of kind of cryptic instructions. Not so much tricky, it's just you have to find a certain sign and at that sign you have to do a certain speed. It's all based on time, speed and distance. So, we know where they should be at any given moment during the day down to the second, " Stumb explained.

"We'll put out secret checkpoints. We might have six or seven or eight checkpoints during a day. They don't know where they are. They try to do everything as accurately as they can, and then we penalize them for every second they're early or late. It's just as bad to be three seconds early as it is to be three seconds late."

Not to mention these vehicles are all at least 50 years old, meaning keeping the wheels turning can be half the battle.

The older a vehicle is, the better its scoring factor.

A 1916 Hudson took the top spot last year. A 1932 Ford Speedster carried the 2022 winners to victory.

It's serious business.

The 2024 race regulation guide is about 30 pages long. I'll summarize it for you: If it's digital—down to wrist watches and tire gauges—it's probably unsportsmanlike and will get you penalized, or worse. Cell phones ? Emergency use only. Even a vehicle's original odometer must be removed or rendered unreadable as it can be used to measure distance.

"It would be difficult to cheat. While you were trying to cheat, you'd miss an instruction, " Stumb said, alluding to the 200-250 course instructions provided each day that indicate every turn, speed change, stop and start the teams must make.

For their troubles, the winning driver /navigator team took home $50, 000 last summer.

While Morgantown is a midday pass-through this time around, the city has put itself on the map with Great Race organizers thanks in large part to the efforts of the Visit Mountaineer Country CVB, which put up the city's $2, 500 application fee.

"We've been as pleased with Morgantown as anybody we've dealt with in quite a long time, " Stumb said. "I'll tell you that we deal with [CVBs ] all over the country, and they're right up there with the best we've worked with."

Stumb explained it was previous race experiences in Owensboro and Gardiner that landed them the large kickoff and finish events this summer.

As for event logistics, Morgantown Marketing Coordinator Shannon Davis said High Street will be closed June 24 to allow the cars to be displayed.

There will be a public-event portion from approximately noon to 3 p.m.

"The event will feature 120 vehicles parked in twos along High Street in downtown Morgantown, as well as a finish-line display and event at the top of High Street, " Davis said.

Stumb guaranteed the free gathering will draw a lot of eyes to Morgantown and promises to be a show.

"The neatest thing about it is it will be the most-unique event you'll see in Morgantown all year. Everybody knows what a football game or a basketball game is like, " he said. "Chances are, you've not seen anything like this."

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