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Racing Sisters Roll Through Maine

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Celie Deagle
/
For Maine Public
The Gentry sisters have a long history with the annual race; it's part competition, part family tradition, and part summer fun.

Most moms would be horrified by the thought of their teenage daughters taking a nine day road trip in a 1964 Dodge Dart. But Beth Gentry of Newnan, Georgia says that she is elated.

“I’m super excited that they want to participate in something that we’re doing,” Gentry says. “I mean, you know, the fact that they’re enthusiastic about old cars and doing something that we do.”

Gentry is the most recent grand champion of The Great Race, a vintage car rally has being going since 1983. Her two daughters Olivia and Genna are driving in this year’s event, which started in Buffalo, New York and will end in Halifax, Nova Scotia. There are 150 competing sponsored teams with entrants from all over the United States and Canada.

Seventeen-year-old Olivia says it’s become an annual tradition.

“I think one thing that really made us fall in love with it is, like, we grew up on this deal, we grew up on the race,” Olivia says. “And these people, they really become like your family. We're still competing against each other, and everybody still wants to win, but I could walk up to just about anybody here and they know me so well.”

Olivia and her younger sister Genna, age 15, have been sitting in on these races since they were infants. Now they are racing in their own car, a cream-colored Dodge Dart named “Daisy” that's from their family’s large collection of antique vehicles.

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Credit Celie Deagle / For Maine Public
Olivia and her younger sister Genna, age 15, have been sitting in on these races since they were infants. Now they are racing in their own car, a cream-colored Dodge Dart named “Daisy” that's from their family’s large collection of antique vehicles.

The sisters have already made a name for themselves in the annual competition. They won the rookie division last year, and now have their eyes set on their mom and cousin, Jody Knowles.

“Last year they were Grand Champions, so I mean it's always hard to beat anybody that's that good. They're really good,” Genna says. “I've learned everything I know from her.”

The girls don’t believe they will win this year.

“The goal is to just get better, if we can't pull it off this year, than hopefully next year,” Genna says. “Every night we've been coming in and saying, hey, what adjustments can we make to get ready for tomorrow?”

The race is not about speed. It a precision rally, and works like this: each car is outfitted with an analog clock and an odometer. The team is then given cryptic instructions about where to find the next checkpoint. The score is determined by arriving at checkpoints at the right time, and whoever comes closest to their exact time wins the rally. A lot of this precision comes down to the navigator.

In this case, it’s 15-year-old Genna, who is too young to drive.

“The first couple days, we kind of struggled a bit,” says Genna. “We're very hard on ourselves, cause we're so competitive.”

The navigator has to make sure the team is heading the right way, but must also keep track of the driver’s speed, and time stopped.

“[Olivia] has to drop speed into the turn to make the turn safely and then get back up to speed. But I have to time it and then figure out how much time we lost,” Genna says.

There are five categories in the race, which are based on experience. Winners of their division each bring in a smaller prize, but the Grand Champion takes home $50,000. The entry fee is $6,000 to $8,500. Olivia and Genna put their winnings from the rookie division into this year’s entry fee.

The Gentry sisters have been to Maine before, for the 2014 race that started in Ogunquit. This year’s course will take them to stopovers in Bangor and Bar Harbor. In Gardiner, the street was lined on both sides as the cars rolled in.

“Gardiner's beautiful, this is an amazing stop. There's tons of people here. We know all the Maine teams, too. Super nice people,” Olivia says.

The sisters say they’ve been able to see so much of the country through this annual race. For them, it’s part competition, part family tradition, and part summer fun.

Olivia and Genna’s grandfather and mother completed the Great Race ten times in a 1932 Ford Cabriolet. Their grandfather passed away in 2010, and now Beth navigates for her cousin in that same Ford.

“I’m super proud of their accomplishments and they just took right to it,” Beth says.

You can keep up with the Gentry sisters’ score online

The race will conclude in Halifax, Nova Scotia, July 1 for Canada Day.

Lucia Helder is an intern for Maine Public.