For the love of vintage cars … and life

By Andrea Gaines

I grew up with a father who adored old cars.

He didn’t seem to mind that they broke down all the time.

My mom sure did, but dad was a tinkerer.  And, he could fix anything.  He had a passion for old sports cars, but, as I also came to understand, he loved the mechanics of things – including, to the delight of my mom, household plumbing.

Another man who loves the mechanics of things is a guy named Ken Walsh, who owns Walsh VIP Auto Service in Purcellville.  His dad, Jerry Walsh, owns Purcellville Shell.

Over the summer Walsh (as the driver) and his “navigator,” Donnie Nesselrodte, who owns Purcellville Tire and Auto, competed in something called the Great Race … and won 3rd place in what’s known as the Rookie Class.

One source describes the very unusual event as something that “turns average car guys into local celebrities …”

So, here is the story of these two local celebrities.

What is a precision race, or rally?

The Great Race (formerly known as the Great American Race) is described as a “time, speed, and endurance car rally.”

The 2021 race ran from June 19 to June 27, as 150 old cars (built before 1973) and their drivers and navigators drove some 2,600 miles from San Antonio, TX to Greenville, SC.

The many fascinating stops along the way included the Horton Classic Car Museum in Nocona, TX, the Heart of Route 66 Auto Museum in Sapulpa, OK, the Elizabethtown Sports Park in Elizabethtown, KY, and Galax, VA.

You might remember a movie by the same name, staring Natalie Wood, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, and Peter Falk.  That great race took the characters from New York to Paris … by land or by sea or both, I do not know.
This is a precision pace race.

Each morning, drivers and their navigators are given specific instructions on how to move over each mile – go 17 MPH for ten miles, take a left, and go 25 for the next ten miles … arriving at a specific location at a precise time.

If, as Walsh told me, a driver loses a few minutes at a railroad crossing, his or her navigator must tell him what speed to maintain for the next several miles to make that time up. The navigator needs to be really good at math.

Mr. 409 poses with Superman on a pitstop along the way in the Great Race 2021.
Mr. 409 poses with Superman on a pitstop along the way in the Great Race 2021.

The car

Walsh was on a wait list for some four years before he got in.  Even with 150 spots, far more drivers want in than get in.

Walsh and Nesselrodte’s chosen weapon for the competition was a classically elegant 1962 Chevy Impala SS, the same one his dad purchased in 1967.  Vehicles must use original factory parts, and modern navigational aids like GPS are prohibited.  This one is named “Mr. 409,” after Walsh’s dad. The elder Walsh drove this little beauty of an Impala for many years.

This is the fascinating world of vintage, classic, and antique cars.  And, people are happily obsessed with them.

Other treasurers in the 2021 Great Race included a 1916 Hudson Hill Climber, driven by Howard Sharp, a 1966 Ford Mustang driven by Ahna/Curt Holder, a 1965 Chevy Corvette driven by James Goode, a 1937 Ford Tudor driven by Craig Rubright, a 1966 Aston Martin driven by Jlo Lomas, and the 1963 Mercedes 190SL driven by Bill Sandefer.

Walsh wanted to give a shout out, not just to his navigator, but to Evan Myrick, and Billy Coburn, who “worked his [rear] off” getting the car ready.

He also wanted to recognize his “social media guy.”  He can’t release his name, but he does “wear a silly hat,” said Walsh.

“Every aspect of this car has been rebuilt,” said Walsh, “Front to back, top to bottom. Everything.”

The work paid off in Great Race 2021.

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