Last updated: March 31. 2014 5:28PM - 815 Views
By - cberendt@civitasmedia.com

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A race that extends along the entire East Coast this summer will come straight through Clinton, prompting local tourism officials to make a day out of it — with classic cars, music, good food and a smorgasbord of activities for gearheads and everyday spectators alike all thrown in the mix.

The 2014 Hemmings Motor News Great Race: Maine to Florida is coming through Clinton on Thursday, June 26, and in conjunction with that event, the Sampson County Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) and Ol’ Lightnin’ Rods Antique Car Club are inviting classic car owners, sponsors and spectators to be part of the “Sampson County Great Race Cruise-In.”

The event will take place from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at the Sampson County Agri-Exposition Center, 414 Warsaw Road, Clinton. It is free to all drivers and spectators, but CVB director Vickie Crane said space is limited.

The Great Race is an event that brings vintage car enthusiasts from across the United States together to compete in a timed, controlled-speed, endurance rally — this years will begin in Maine and end in Florida — with the hope of winning a $150,000 grand prize.

This year, the race will extend for 2,100 miles, from the starting point in Ogunquit, Maine on June 21 to the finish line in The Villages, Fla., on June 29, navigating a total of 10 states in nine days.

Along the way, towns serve as overnight stops or “lunch stops” for the approximately 100 drivers and race support team members. As part of a lunch stop, those race teams will converge at the Expo Center in Clinton, allowing the local community and visitors the opportunity to welcome the race teams and take part in a full day of fun, Crane said.

“To add to the event and to bring even more spectators, car clubs from across North Carolina will be participating in the Sampson County Great Race Cruise-In allowing visitors the opportunity to see cars from all eras. We’re inviting all North Carolina car clubs to participate,” said Crane, noting 83 such clubs across the state.

One of those is Ol’ Lightnin’ Rods, whose massive car show has been a fixture at October’s annual Court Square Street Fair for years. Beginning at 10 a.m., spectators can gather to enjoy exhibits, music and various food vendors, including Southern Smoke BBQ in Garland.

The arrival of the race teams are at the heart of the event, and Crane and others are revved up about the prospect of being a part of something great.

“They all don’t come at the same time because it’s a race,” said Crane, “but they’ll come to the Expo Center between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. We’re trying to make it a day of activities other than just the Great Race drivers. We have four food vendors lined up and GALOT Motorsports is going to bring over one of their big rigs. We figured with it being a Thursday a lot of people will be coming over on their lunch break.”

She explained that the drivers would be spending the previous night in New Bern before coming back west to Clinton, and then from Clinton would head back east toward Wilmington. Drivers will arrive in Clinton from N.C. 403 on that Thursday, continuing on to College Street and circling the courthouse in downtown Clinton before going on to Warsaw Road and the Agri-Exposition Center.

“I think it’s very exciting,” said Crane. “I’m happy to bring something to town that is a little bit different.”

Crane said she was contacted a while back by Great Race director Jeff Stump about Sampson County possibly serving as a stop for the race, whose route changes every year. Last year, the race extended from St. Paul, Minn., to Mobile, Ala.

“He called me several months ago and asked if the Convention and Visitors Bureau would be interested in being a lunch stop and I took it to the CVB Board. They were excited about the opportunity,” Crane said. “The (Great Race) organizers sent their scout here and we explored at least three locations — because of logistics, the size of the parking lot and the availability of restrooms and air conditioning, they thought the Expo Center was the best fit.”

In addition to being a day of fun, the Great Race will put Clinton and Sampson County on the national stage as the race is filmed by Fox Sports Network and will be aired in January 2015. Last year, the Fox Sports Network had over 900,000 viewers tune in to watch the Great Race.

There are 100 drivers participating in this year’s edition. As Crane leafed through a detailed manual for last year’s event, she noted that a driver and a “navigator” are listed for each team, so event organizers are expecting about 250 drivers and team members in total.

Leading up to the Cruise-In, the CVB is asking for local support through sponsorships, which organizers said would allow them to promote the event and Sampson County, while demonstrate to the Great Race participants what true Southern hospitality is all about.

Sponsorship opportunities include “first gear” at $100 to “third gear” at $500. Car dealers may display up to four vehicles. The deadline for sponsorship is May 14. Music and other activities are still being lined up.

“We’re making plans,” Crane said. “We’re really looking forward to it.”

Those wishing to participate in the event or serve as a sponsor can call Vickie Crane at the Sampson County CVB, at 910-592-2557 or email vickie@visitsampsonnc.com for more information. To learn more about the Great Race and the Sampson County CVB visit www.greatrace.com amd www.visitsampsonnc.com.

Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at cberendt@civitasmedia.com.

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