Town nails best Great Race pit stop

At just about high noon Monday, Williams-Grand Canyon Chamber of Commerce got official notice.

Williams garnered best pit stop for The History Channel Great Race 2001 beating out 22 other contenders nationwide. But best of all the prize benefits the whole town in the form of a $5,000 donation to Williams Library. The winner, picked by racers, nailed the title based on crowd turnout and enthusiasm, venue decoration, originality and overall hospitality.

Great race officials issued a press release explaining why racers picked the three towns they did. Kirkwood, Mo., won best overnight stop and Montrose, Colo., took the title for best lunch stop.

“Williams, Ariz., known as the ‘Gateway to the Grand Canyon,’ won best pit stop,” the release states. “Buckskin-clad mountain men, damsels in distress and old West dance hall girls greeted racers.

“Streets were lined with red white and blue balloons. Refreshments included Frisbee-sized sweet rolls, home-baked goods and fresh fruit.

“Great racers and fans appreciated Williams old West hospitality and the open stores where Great Race staffers rushed to buy souvenirs.”

Three-time Great Race Grand Champion Wayne Stanfield of Annaheim, Calif., roared to his fourth championship Saturday, first across the finish line in Pasadena, Calif. Stanfield in a 1934 Roush Racing Ford Indy racer. He had rookie navigator Andy Massimilla of Stratham, N.H. along for the transcontinental trek with a $250,000 purse.

Only three seconds separated the winners from two-time champions Rex Gardner of Stilwell, Kan., and Gary Kuck of Lincoln, Neb., in the Carquest 1917 Hudson Racer.

Although their stay was brief, Williams residents who greeted them won’t soon forget the racers who lined Williams’ Route 66 pit stop last week.

Local pit stop

The first wave of racers hit town around 7:45 a.m. Thursday with the last cars pulling away at 10 a.m. About 94 vintage vehicles pulled in for a 30-minute break from their grueling cross-country race.

When they hit town, they were met by young and old.

On the east end of town they encountered pre-1840s era l Williams Buckskinners, as well as Wild West Cataract Creek Gang members playing cards and Civil War tunes from the Fifth Regimental Cavalry Band.

“They also passed two awesome signs as they were escorted into town,” said Donna Cochran, Williams Main Street manager. “Both were beautifully crafted by Veda Cole of the Buckskinners.

“One showed a boy crying and said ‘Our library needs new books;’ the other stated ‘Have Books Will Travel.’”

Williams was one of 22 towns vying for the $5,000 prize for library in the town with the best pit stop. The winner, picked by racers, nails the title based on crowd turnout and enthusiasm, venue decoration, originality and overall hospitality.

“On Fourth Street, racers were cheered by youngsters from Progressive Preschool waving checkered flags,” Cochran said. “On Route 66, the welcoming crowd was great with several who dressed up — Miss Kitty and Betty Harkrader in lovely Old West dresses, Jean Harvey in authentic Navajo garb and Carol DeLander in a Gatsby-era gown.

“Robert Whinnery had his pony wagon out and even decorated it with patriotic bunting.”

Food for all was piled high at Cruisers Cafe — cinnamon rolls from Pine Country, fruit cups from Miss Kitty’s and scones from Red Garter Bed and Bakery. Coffee and juice were also on hand. De Berge Gallery also donated funds to cover food items.

“KRTE Radio’s live remote was fabulous along with Alan Harkrader’s rendition of “Route 66,” she said. “NAPA Auto made free fluids available to all racers.”

Major sponsors for Williams pit stop included Sprint PCS and Marvelous Marv’s tours. Several other local businesses and individuals donated funds and volunteer hours to the effort. Cochran said even tourists joined in the event after seeing the pit stop promoted on Channel 2 TV in their motel rooms. City crews helped set up, and the Chamber Ambassadors were out in force.

She said racers commented Williams was one of the best stops, had the friendliest people and was the only stop providing coffee.

“What a privilege to have an event of this magnitude in Williams,” Cochran said. “But it’s really community support that makes an event like this awesome.”

Race route

The History Channel Great Race 2001 started in Atlanta on June 17, and was slated to cross the finish line in Pasadena, Calif. on June 30. Racers competed for a share of the $250,000 prize purse, the richest in vintage car racing.

This was The History Channel’s fourth consecutive year as title sponsor for the vintage car race that has enthralled car buffs around the world for the past 19 years.

The criteria for qualified vehicles has been expanded this year to include cars manufactured before 1951 and pre-1960 sports cars, race cars and motorcycles. The 2001 field entries include a 1910 Selden Raceabout, 1911 Velie H1 Racytype Speedster, 1916 American LaFrance Fire Chief’s Car, 1917 Hudson Indy Racer, 1921 Marmon Speedster, 1925 Rickenbacker, 1934 Ford Indy Racer, 1934 Mercedes-Benz Cabriolet, 1935 Pierce Arrow, 1949 Volkswagen Hebmuller Convertible, and a 1954 Chevy Corvette.

Traveling more than 4,000 miles in 14 days, drivers and navigators look forward to the ceremonies planned in each host city as a welcome respite. They traveled more than 300 miles each day in mercurial old machines with no air conditioning, at times facing temperatures soaring into the 100s.

But they should remember Williams for its cool climes. As they passed on the way out of town, they passed this friendly reminder posted on signs: “As your day grows hotter and gears start to grind, remember the coolness in Williams you’ll find. As racers left Williams behind, more Buckskinners graced their west-end exit with a black powder salute.

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