Old car, new tricks

Minnkota's plant fuel supervisor, Tony Aman, has made the cooperative proud with his completion of the famous Great Race.


Kaylee Cusack


August 23, 2022

Tony Aman is a “car guy,” and it’s been a decades-long infatuation. So, when Minnkota’s plant fuel supervisor heard about an annual cross-country rally pitting vintage cars against each other in a competition of navigation and endurance, he wasted no time contacting the organizers.

“The waiting list is around six years, so I started building a car for the Great Race,” Aman said.

The first Great Race was held in 1983, with 69 antique car drivers navigating a route from Los Angeles to Indianapolis over the course of a week. In 2022, 133 driver-navigator pairs would travel from Warwick, Rhode Island, to Fargo, North Dakota. Aman and his partner Sally Johnson would be one of those duos.

The call to participate came earlier than Aman expected. The 1935 Ford that he was building for the race wasn’t where it needed to be for competition.

“They call you up and tell you that you have seven days to decide if you’re going to do it or not. Well, I had waited four years already. I wasn’t going to miss my chance,” he said. “Even if my car wasn’t ready, we were going to go.”

Sally and Tony show off their wheels for the Great Race. (Aman)

Luckily, Aman had a backup set of wheels that would fit the pre-1973 model year requirements of the race. He already knew his 1931 Ford Roadster could handle a long, unpredictable journey – that’s why he built it in the first place. He’s a thrill seeker.

“The components are built so that it’s reliable enough to go to the Arctic Circle and back. I’ve been up there on a motorcycle to the Arctic Ocean, and I thought, how cool would it be to go up to the Arctic Circle in a Model A, right?” he said with a chuckle.

In mid-June, Aman and Johnson made the drive from North Dakota to the Rhode Island starting line. Between the journey there and the race itself, the Roadster put on about 5,200 miles in 12 days.

Tony and Sally pose with their race mentors. Every Great Race rookie team is provided with a mentor team to help them with questions along the way. (Aman)

The Great Race isn’t a simple speed contest. Aman says every day was its own rally race from point A to Point B, with drivers evaluated on how well they completed speed calibrations and followed route instructions. A half hour before a contestant’s starting time every morning, they received a set of 170-190 instructions. In that half hour, the driver and navigator worked out a chart for their car to show how fast they could stop and speed up to hit certain route checkpoints accurately. These calculations are done beforehand to avoid mental math on the road.

“There are turns where the navigator will say, ‘You’re going to take a left-hand turn, you’re going to take the turn at 30 mph, and you’re going to come out at 40 mph.’ That’s all day long,” Aman recalled. “From the starting line to the first checkpoint, they know it takes one hour and six seconds. If you’re there at one hour and seven seconds, you’re there late. If you’re there one hour and four seconds, you’re early. You’re penalized by seconds.”

It took a lot of materials and equipment to stay on route and on time, including daily instructions, a 50-page rookie handbook, and the all-important stopwatch. (Aman)

In the moments the stress of the competition lifted, Aman was amazed by the stunning countryside of the route’s backroads through Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota. There were certainly tough times; it rained so hard a couple of days that they couldn’t see, missed some turns and had only an umbrella to protect them.

Sally does double duty as navigator and umbrella holder. (Aman)

However, rolling into each evening’s pit stop community reminded Aman of what really oiled the competition – the people.

“Every night, you would pull into a town and park on Main Street and do a car show. There would be 133 cars, and it was always so crowded that sometimes you couldn’t get your car out of there to get back to the hotel,” he explained. “If someone needed help to fix their car, you would go over and help them. And they’d do the same for you.”

One of the Great Race's Main Street pit stops in Medina, Ohio. (Aman)

When the final points were tabulated at the Fargo finish line, the Aman/Johnson team was awarded 93rd place. Aman said he was disappointed with his rookie-year finish. However, he’s gathered enough road experience and tips from race veterans (“car guys” like him) that he has high hopes for 2023’s Great Race from Florida to Colorado.

“I believe next year we can be in that top 25-30. I’m hoping to have my other car done, but you know how that goes,” he said with a grin. “We met a lot of interesting people from all over the world, so we’re looking forward to seeing some of them again next year.”

To learn more about the Great Race, visit greatrace.com.

Tony's grandkids were waiting for him and Sally when they rolled into Fargo to finish the race. (Aman)


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