Of the 96 cars that competed in the 2004 Great Race vintage car rally, a local team's car was ruled the fairest of them all.
Pat McClelland and Norm Hibbard won "Best of Show" for the yellow 1925 Rolls Royce that Hibbard owns. From June 19 to July 3, 96 cars from the early 1900s drove across the country following detailed instructions on speed and route. More than $260,000 was awarded to the cars that most precisely followed the course instructions and had a time closest to the ideal time.
This was McClelland and Hibbard's first time competing in the race, and winning "Best in Show" was the highlight of their trip.
"It was better than winning the entire race and getting money. It meant that the we had the classiest car that finished the race respectably with no big mistakes," McClelland said.
The two also won the seventh stage of the race -- from Hays, Kan., to Colorado Springs -- in the rookie division. Out of 10 hours of driving for that stage, their time was within 14 seconds of the ideal time. Their reward was $500 and a plaque.
"The trick to winning that stage was that the route between Kansas and eastern Colorado was flat. We had the lowest horsepower engine of the 96 cars, so the hills killed us," McClelland said.
The car's low horsepower forced the pair to travel 10 to 20 mph slower up the hills than the route instructions prescribed. McClelland then had to calculate how much faster to drive on other sections to make up the lost time.
"The stages from Colorado Springs to Breckenridge, the Ozarks and the mountains in Nevada and California just ate us up," he said.
Another challenge was the race's grueling schedule.
"It wasn't a scenic tour. It was really intense, and those two weeks flew by," McClelland said.
On a typical day, competitors raced 10 to 12 hours, pulled into a town at 7:30 p.m., displayed the car until 8:30 p.m., cared for the car afterward and ate dinner about 10:30 p.m. McClelland then stayed up, often until 1 a.m., reviewing that day's instructions to see where he could improve.
"We were usually operating on five to six hours of sleep, but it wasn't an issue because you were so keyed up and ready to go. Adrenaline took over," McClelland said.
That adrenaline also was needed to overcome several mechanical problems they encountered. The team lost two days from fuel line problems and two days from speedometer problems.
As newcomers to the race, McClelland and Hibbard received a lot of help and advice from other competitors, McClelland said.
"They were like a fraternity, " he said. "Sure, some of those guys were in it to win, no doubt about it, but our motto was, 'To finish is to win,' and we couldn't have had a better trip."
Although he called it a "tremendous experience," McClelland said the cost may prevent them from competing in it again. Race expenses included $5,000 to enter, hotel rooms and dinners for two weeks and enough gas to drive the vintage car and the support vehicle 4,000 miles.
"It's not a cheap deal," McClelland said, but he thought it was worth it.
"It was a tremendous experience," he said.
Overall, McClelland and Hibbard took 70th place in the race.