A Historic Race Hits the Road Again

Rising gas prices may cause many to curtail their road trips this year. But one group of car enthusiasts is putting petrol costs aside for an adventure more than 100 years in the making.

On the morning of April 14, six racing teams met in Times Square to begin the World Race 2011 New York to Paris competition. Commemorating the Great Auto Race of 1908, this year’s 65-day, 24,000-mile journey across three continents will be the first of its kind in a century and will follow much of the same route raced 103 years ago. Originally scheduled for 2008, the event was canceled after Chinese officials revoked the racers’ visas because of the political unrest in China at the time.

While this year’s teams hope to prove that multi-fueled cars can travel long distances, they also want to inspire others to take to the road. The racers will compete in cars ranging from a 1916 Studebaker Racer to a 2010 Ford F250, some of which have been retrofitted to run on a combination of fuels. The six teams will first race the original 1908 route from New York City to San Francisco. Along the way they will be honored in 12 cities, including Buffalo, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Reno.

Once the six teams reach San Francisco, they will fly to China as their cars are ferried across the Pacific Ocean to Beijing. Upon receiving their cars, the teams will meet up with three additional teams and begin the race’s second leg across China, Kazakhstan, and Russia. As the racers cross into Lithuania, a team from Germany will join them as they make their final dash into Europe, across Switzerland and France to the finish line at the Eiffel Tower.

Reaching Paris first, however, will not alone determine a winner. Contestants will be judged on a point system throughout the race. The team that earns the most points at the end of the race will be crowned the winner. Teams can earn points by correctly answering questions about the 1908 competition and by reaching a daily destination. Teams can also lose points for infractions such as speeding tickets.

Jeff Mahl, whose great-grandfather, George Schuster Sr., won the Great Auto Race of 1908, will be riding with all of the contestants, serving as the race’s docent. He will provide historical information on his great-grandfather’s experiences during the 1908 competition. He is also keeping a daily blog and will provide streaming video of the race on the event’s website.

Photo courtesy of World Race 2011