Coker Tire buys Great Race: Next race to start in Chattanooga

Coker Tire buys Great Race: Next race to start in Chattanooga

May 10th, 2011 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Corky Coker speaks to navigator Sawyer Stone and driver David Reeder in a 1933 Ford on their way to a safety check for the Coker Tire Challenge, a time, speed and endurance rally held in 2006 in Chattanooga. Stone and Reeder placed first this summer in the 2006 Great Race winning $100,000. Staff File Photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press

Chattanooga's reputation as an auto city has gained another wheel.

Next month, the city will serve as the starting point for the Great Race, the vintage car competition recently bought by Chattanooga businessman Corky Coker.

Coker Tire, his business, is a big provider of antique car tires and purchasing the name and assets to the Great Race was a natural, said Wes Kliner, the company's general counsel.

"Collecting antique cars is a passion for many people, not just in the United States but pretty much worldwide," Kliner said.

He said the Great Race, which started in 1983, had gone into bankruptcy after its previous owners tried to undertake a New York to Paris event.

On June 11, Chattanooga will serve as the start for the weeklong, 1,500-mile competition that will finish in Bennington, Vt., Kliner said. Bennington is the home of race sponsor Hemmings Motor News, he said.

"I think we'll be very successful in restructuring this," Kliner said.

Between 60 and 65 cars are expected to compete, including a 100-year-old Velie roadster, he said.

Kliner said he expects about 300 people to come to the city that weekend, not including car club members who'll make the trip to Chattanooga to support people they know.

Bob Doak, chief executive of the Chattanooga Convention and Visitor's Bureau, said Coker knows how to promote and market vintage cars.

"If anybody knows cars, it's Corky," he said.

Doak said the Great Race has a chance to grow and generate a lot of interest.

"It's another way to get our name out there," he said.

The Great Race isn't a speed contest, but rather a test of a two-person team's ability to follow precise instructions and a car's endurance.

Each day, driver and navigator teams receive sets of course instructions that indicate every turn, speed change, and stop and start throughout the day. The instructions amount to 220 to 250 a day.

The winner is the team that comes closest to the correct time.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.