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The kids are alright: Auburn goes racing

The Early Ford V8 Foundation Museum and the National Auto and Truck Museum have assembled two youth teams for the 2022 Great Race. In addition, a youth team will also be fielded at the 2023 Bonneville Salt Flats World of Speed races.
Connor Miller, John Taller, Kaden Goebel and Gavin Swift with the 1941 Ford they’re transforming at the National Auto and Truck Museum for entry in the 2022 Great Race.

Connor Miller, John Taller, Kaden Goebel and Gavin Swift with the 1941 Ford they’re transforming at the National Auto and Truck Museum for entry in the 2022 Great Race.

Don Monesmith remembers the very day that he first dreamed of fielding youth teams in the Great Race. That day was June 28, 2017, and since that day, he’s learned several others in and around Auburn, Ind., share that dream. As a result of those individuals’ combined efforts to make their shared dream come true, new youth teams have been assembled for the 2022 Great Race. In addition, a youth team will also be fielded at the 2023 Bonneville Salt Flats World of Speed races.

John McCullough and Connor Miller make up the two-person team that will drive the 1948 Ford Coupe.

NATMUS Youth Volunteers John McCollough and Scott Armstrong with the 1948 Ford prior to the transformation of the car at the NATMUS Garage for the 2022 Great Race.

When Great Minds Think Alike

June 28 was Day Five of the 2017 Great Race, which included a scheduled pit stop at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum (ACDAM) in Auburn, Ind. Monesmith is the Youth Volunteer Program director for the National Auto and Truck Museum (NATMUS), located adjacent to the ACDAM. He was on hand that day in Auburn to welcome the Great Race teams and their automobiles. After witnessing the race, he thought, “How cool would it be to someday have students from our Youth Volunteer Program compete in the Great Race with a car they prepared in our shop?” Then he considered the cost involved and shelved the idea.

Three years later, in 2020, Craig Floyd and the Early Ford V8 Foundation Museum (EFV8FM) in Auburn were scheduled to enter their first Great Race, only to see it canceled due to the pandemic.

The following year, in 2021, the Great Race was back on. In the Rookie Class of the Great Race, the EFV8FM entered a 1946 Ford coupe driven by Ron Stauffer and navigated by Floyd, who serves as president of the EFV8FM. After being introduced at an evening event to a youth team competing in the Great Race’s X-Cup category for high school and college students, Floyd became determined to enter an X-Cup team in 2022. There was one problem: where would he find the students to make up the Great Race team?

Days after the race, Floyd and Nate Fluke, collections coordinator for the EFV8FM, attended the Cars and Coffee show at the ACDAM and displayed the 1946 Ford that had just competed in the Great Race. Then, to everyone’s surprise, they showed up with a second car, a 1941 Ford four-door sedan. It, too, had taken part in the 2021 Great Race. At the conclusion of the 2021 Great Race, the ’41 Ford was donated to the EFV8FM by Win Brown, his daughter, Karen, and son-in-law, David Valdez.

During the Cars and Coffee event, Monesmith, NATMUS board member Travis Sprouse and NATMUS youth volunteer Gavin Swift noticed the two Great Race cars and made a beeline to them for a closer look. After seeing the trio’s reaction to the two race cars, Floyd and Fluke walked up and started a conversation about the cars and the race.

While taking in the Fords, Monesmith said, “It’s my life dream to get our youths in the Great Race. But with the cost of a car and funds needed to race, it’s only a dream. Our museum is not in a position to do it.” After hearing Monesmith talk about his dream, and upon seeing the passion in his face, Floyd replied, “We have the car, but we don’t have the youths. I think we should join forces. If you’re willing, we can use our ’41 Ford and your youths to enter a team in the 2022 Great Race.” With a simple handshake between Floyd and Monesmith, a partnership formed between NATMUS and EFV8FM.

Heading to the Great Race

Since that handshake, the Early Ford V8 Foundation Museum and National Auto and Truck Museum in Auburn have formally established a joint venture that will allow them to enter not one, but two early Ford automobiles in the 2022 Great Race.

The 1941 Ford X-Cup Great Race car undergoes a front disc brake conversion by youth volunteers at the NATMUS Garage.

The 1941 Ford X-Cup Great Race car undergoes a front disc brake conversion by youth volunteers at the NATMUS Garage.

Under the guidance of Don Monesmith and Nate Fluke, the 1941 and 1948 Fords are currently undergoing a transformation for the 2022 Great Race by students in the NATMUS Youth Volunteer Program. Preparation of each car is being completed at the historic NATMUS Garage. The garage originally served as the worldwide distribution center for the Auburn Automobile Co., and shipped parts to Auburn dealers in more than 80 countries. It was built in 1923 and used until the Auburn Automobile Co. went out of business in 1937.

The 1948 Ford coupe is likewise undergoing a front disc brake conversion by the youth volunteer team at the NATMUS Garage.

The 1948 Ford coupe is likewise undergoing a front disc brake conversion by the youth volunteer team at the NATMUS Garage.

Students are divided into two separate race teams based on their ages, and they are given total ownership and responsibility to prepare their early Ford for the Great Race. Once each car is deemed race-ready, they’ll be put through a series of local and regional races in order to prepare the car and members of the team for the race.

The 1941 Ford Fordor will carry a four-member race team of students that includes a driver and dedicated navigator. The ’41 Ford X-Cup Great Race team members are:

• Jack Pontius

• Gavin Swift (navigator)

• John Taller

• Kaden Goebel

The second car, the 1948 Ford coupe, will carry a two-member team of students during the race, including a driver and dedicated navigator. This Ford was purchased by the EFV8FM as a possible fundraising raffle car. After receiving a list containing the names of several students at NATMUS who met the requirements to participate in the Great Race project, the EFV8FM decided to instead donate the ’48 Ford for use in the Great Race and enter it in the Rookie Class. Floyd studied the list of Youth Volunteer Program candidates and decided to add the second car, as he didn’t want anyone who met the requirements to be left out.

The ’48 Ford Great Race Rookie Team members are:

• John McCollough

• Scott Armstrong (navigator)

• Connor Miller

• Jeremy Weirich

Each of the students were selected for the Great Race teams based on the number of hours they had accumulated volunteering for NATMUS. The Great Race starts in Warwick, R.I., on June 18 and ends on June 26 in Fargo, N.D.

The NATMUS volunteer program was founded by Jerry “Muzz” Muzzillo in 1999. The Youth Education Program was founded in 2015 to offer an immersive experience for students aged 13-21. The emphasis is on learning mechanical skills while improving verbal and written communication skills, as well as leadership skills. The participants work from 6-8 to p.m. on Wednesday evenings of each week.

Participants are not required to have mechanical skills, but they must possess a willingness to try new things. Each participant is paired with another participant of similar age, and assigned to an adult mentor, who will lead them through increasingly complex projects that ultimately involve a motor vehicle restoration. During the process, they will learn the proper way to use mechanic’s tools, hand tools and metal-shaping tools. In addition, students will learn basic welding skills and how to maintain a motor vehicle. With their parents’ permission, most will have the opportunity to learn how to drive an automobile with a manual transmission, and are offered the opportunity to be the first to drive the automobiles they restore.

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The 1950s-style belly tank racer that will be entered in the 2023 Bonneville Salt Flats World of Speed races.

A Bonneville ‘Bonus’

After the students joined the Great Race, additional excitement came to the Early Ford V8 Foundation Museum and National Auto and Truck Museum. The museums expanded their partnership agreement with a 1950s-style belly tank racer that will be entered in the 2023 Bonneville Salt Flats World of Speed races. It will be driven by Kadin Goebel in the under-18-years-of-age “Youth Class,” and by Jack Pontius in the over-18-years-of-age “Adult Class.” Both are participants in the NATMUS Youth Volunteer Program.

16-year-old Kaden Goebel (foreground) will be one of two people to pilot the belly tanker at the 2023 Bonneville Salt Flats World of Speed race in 2023. He is joined in this Jan. 23 image at the NATMUS Garage by several of the Youth Volunteers.

16-year-old Kaden Goebel (foreground) will be one of two people to pilot the belly tanker at the 2023 Bonneville Salt Flats World of Speed race in 2023. He is joined in this Jan. 23 image at the NATMUS Garage by several of the Youth Volunteers.

The belly tank race car will be the first Bonneville Salt Flat entry for the EFV8FM and NATMUS. Much like the Great Race venture between the two museums, the Bonneville project will include the Youth Volunteer Program students.

Legendary engine builder Steve Myers has also joined the team. He’ll work his magic on a pair of Ford flathead V-8/60 engines that will carry the belly tanker down the Bonneville Salt Flats in 2023.

Goebel will be 17 years old when he pilots the belly tanker at Bonneville in 2023.

Goebel will be 17 years old when he pilots the belly tanker at Bonneville in 2023.

As his father Cort Goebel looks on, 16-year-old Kaden Goebel settles into the cockpit of the Belly Tanker for the first time.

As his father Cort Goebel looks on, 16-year-old Kaden Goebel settles into the cockpit of the Belly Tanker for the first time.

The belly tanker can be seen in its current form at NATMUS. A formal plan to transform the belly tanker to Bonneville Salt Flat race requirements is underway. Once it’s formalized, the belly tank racer will be moved to a new location to make it race ready. It’s recommended to call the museum before visiting to ensure it’s on display.

What’s behind, what’s ahead

Nearly five years after Monesmith first had a vision for putting students in a Great Race car, he can begin to see it come to fruition. With that vision incorporating NATMUS and EFV8FM, it’s probably bigger and better than he originally envisioned.

“The variety and experience these students are going to get is the capstone of our Youth Volunteer Program,” he said. “It’s an unbelievable incentive tool, just phenomenal, and I couldn’t be happier for them”

The future is looking bright for these two world-class automobile museums in Auburn, and the students affiliated with them. Could there be more breaking news in the future? Stay tuned!

*Author and photographer Al Rogers has been documenting and filming the transformation process of the two Fords slated to compete in the 2022 Great Race, and the belly tank racer that will compete at the 2023 Bonneville Salt Flats World of Speed races. Look for additional coverage when the cars are race-ready.

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