This Race Won't Be to the Swift

Times Staff Writer

A $100,000 purse awaits this year's winner of the 3,200-mile Great American Race, but Peggy and Bob Berry of Huntington Beach want more.

"There's also a $25,000 prize for the oldest car to finish," said Peggy, who will navigate and be relief driver for her husband during the North Hollywood-to-New York City race June 24 to July 4. "We figure we have a shot at that, too."

The Berrys will be driving a bright red 1914 Model T Ford Speedster in competition with 120 other cars built before 1937. Their entry will be the first Model T in the Great American Race, now in its third year.

The race for antique and classic vehicles offers a total purse of $250,000. Sponsored by a Dallas battery company, the race is run over a predetermined, monitored course. Cars are assigned preset times, and the driver finishing closest to the time wins.

"I know the Berrys have a lot of experience and know what they're doing," said race executive director Tom McRae in Dallas, "but it's going to be a tough and demanding race for them and their car."

But Bob Berry, 70, a real estate agent and former design engineer with a lifelong passion for exotic and antique cars, cautions other racers to be wary of his fragile-looking entry. He is replacing worn parts to give the car more power to withstand the rigors of the nation's highways.

"We're both going to be in good condition," he said, noting that he and the car are the same age. Berry will be 71 on May 12.

The cars entered in the race can be slightly modified with the race sponsor's permission, said Bob Berry, who plans to add extra power to maintain speeds of 50 m.p.h.

He also is adding a second radiator to keep the car from overheating during the desert portion of the race and will attach a windshield and roof to the normally open driving area to protect the team from the sun and possible rain.

The Berrys already have taken practice runs to San Diego and Las Vegas while adhering to race rules, and say they came within three seconds of their predetermined time for the Las Vegas trip.

"Now that's pretty close," smiled Peggy, 58, who said last year's Great American Race winner came within 4 minutes and 50 seconds.

McRae said the race offers the thrill of participating in a cross-country adventure and being part of a massive patriotic ballyhoo.

"I guess I'll feel like a real pioneering woman for the race while we're crossing the country," said Peggy Berry, principal of Beatty Elementary School in Buena Park, "but Bob and I are very competitive people. We're in this race to win . . . and we will."

Another reason for that attitude is the $20,000 they expect to spend just to be part of the race.

Besides the $6,000 entry fee, it will cost $5,000 to modify the 71-year-old car to withstand the journey, $3,000 for pre-race testing and practice navigation, $3,000 for a support car with spare parts and $3,000 for the actual running of the Speedster.

Race officials estimate a total of 150 million people will see the cars on television and at the 10 overnight stopping points in Barstow, Flagstaff, Albuquerque, Wichita, St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and New York City.

Each of those cities will have celebrations, "and that's going to be the real fun of the race," Peggy Berry said.

On Orange County streets, she said, "everyone waves at us and has a good time seeing the car up close."

Although they enjoy the attention, "We plan to ship the car back after the race," she said.

"We'll fly."

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