For many decades now, there has been a hamlet in the rugged, Ponderosa and Fir covered mountains of San Bernardino located about 100 miles East of LAX, that has provided an island of serenity and small town charm with little fanfare and recognition.
Last week, all of that lack of recognition changed just a little when The Great American Race bestowed the honor of the title - Great American City!
At last weekend's awards ceremony in Anaheim, the drivers of the Great American Race named Big Bear Lake the Great American City out of their 43 cross-country pitstops (roughly 4,000 miles), from Concord, North Carolina to Anaheim, California.
The race for 2007 (the 25th anniversary edition) decided to include Big Bear Lake on the list of cities in which to stage a pitstop due largely to the lobbying efforts of the president of Bear Valley's own antique car club - Cliff Fowler.
The Great American Race began in 1982 when an auto enthusiast, Curtis Graf, and a close friend, Tom McRae, both of Dallas, Texas, learned about a cross-country rally for classic cars. They approached Norman Miller, a fellow Texan and president of Interstate Batteries, about sponsoring the pair if they entered the race. Miller agreed. Within weeks, the original promoter had lost interest and the entrepreneurial McRae soon found himself in partnership with Miller in promoting the inaugural Interstate Batteries Great American Race.
Knott’s Berry Farm, an amusement park in Buena Park, Calif., hosted the official start when 69 classic cars took the green flag, waved by Tony Curtis, star of the 1960s movie “The Great Race.” Seven days later, 62 vehicles finished in Indianapolis, Indiana, and the Great Race was on its way.
(ht: The Great Race)
To people who are familiar with Big Bear, Cliff Fowler is a recognizable fixture and personality in that he can be heard on the local radio station, 93.3 FM - KBHR (K-Bear), delivering the weekly fishing report titled "Fowlers Fish Tales". Most people tune in to hear some of Cliff's most famous phrases, delivered in a studied and punctuated style, that may include "that beautiful blue jewel located 7,000 feet up in the San Bernardino mountains", "for the bait boys ... a sliding egg sinker and Goo [Eagle Claw Nitro, Power Bait] or Wigglers off the bottom for some good action along the shore”, and ".... so pull up a rock and teach a worm how to swim, this is Cliff Fowler … for this week’s edition of … Fowler’s Fish Tales".
Great American Race participants made their way up Cushenbury Grade to Big Bear Valley on July 13. They left from Laughlin, Nev., on that morning for what turned out to be a long day. Fowler called the penultimate day of the Great American Race brutal for the drivers.
Cresting the mountain at Cushenbury Grade road that leads from Lucerne in the Mojave desert before a relaxing stopover at the Big Bear Lake Airport. Image Credit: Great American Race
This from The Great Race website –
Big Bear Lake, California wins 2007 Great American City Award
ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA - July 15, 2007
After the 2007 Great Race participants visited 44 different communities; enjoying celebratory welcomes all the way across America, they voted Big Bear Valley, California the best of the best, giving them the prestigious Great American City Award and $5,000 for their local library. The Big Bear Lake Antique Car Club spearheaded the event and started working on it five months before the arrival of the Great Race. The event was held at the Big Bear Airport as a Pit Stop for the racers on Friday, July 13th, which was also the last day of competition.
“I’m emotionally double parked,” stated Cliff Fowler, Big Bear Lake Antique Car Club President. “Earning the award was something I had a personal vision to do everything in the world to accomplish. I was so honored that thousands of people in town came out for this once in a lifetime event, that’s what Big Bear is all about. We only have 17,000 people who live here, but when it comes to a common cause like this they show their true colors.”
In a scene reminiscent of the 1960’s movie “The Great Race,” thousands lined the winding mountain roads leading into and out of town to cheer on the racers. The reception was a welcome relief after their drive out of the California desert and 120 degree temperatures in Laughlin, NV. Locals waved home made banners, posters and American flags while cheering the racers up the mountain to the community’s 7,000-foot elevation.
“It was a tough choice for the racers with so many great stops to choose from,” said Bill Ewing, CEO of Rally Partners, Inc. “There were so many memorable stops that it was a difficult choice, but Big Bear’s enthusiasm and warmth won out.” With the help from many local sponsors they were able to shower the racers with gifts such as a commemorative hat, a coffee mug and a wooden carved bear driving a red sports car which was raffled off at the competitors final awards ceremony.
“Big Bear was one of my favorite towns,” said Bob LaBine, winner of the 2007 Great American Race. “It was great traveling up the roads and seeing so many people greeting you with signs.”
Portions of Blake Edwards’ 1965 film “The Great Race” were filmed in Big Bear Valley, among other locales in the Big Bear mountain region. The movie was loosely based on the original Great Race that took place in 1908. In 2008, the Great Race will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1908 race from New York to Paris with The Great Race 2008: New York to Paris.
This was the first time the Great Race had ever been through Big Bear, but it will not be the last.
[Reference Here] And these excerpts from the Big Bear Grizzly -
Drivers overwhelmed by Valley hospitality
By JUDI BOWERS - Saturday July 18, 2007 - Big Bear Grizzly
They came, they saw and they definitely liked Big Bear. So much so, the Great American Race drivers voted Big Bear as the Great American City.
When the Great American Race 2007 rolled into Big Bear July 13, they were welcomed by thousands of open arms. The Big Bear community turned out to greet the drivers and navigators as they made their way from Yucca Valley up Highway 18 to Big Bear Airport. The welcome didn’t stop there.
Competitors get a grand sendoff as they crest the Onyx Summit when they left Big Bear Lake and the Big Bear Valley, down highway 38 on to the finale in Anaheim. Image Credit: The Great Race
Big Bear also waved goodbye as the teams left Big Bear Airport and headed out of town on Highway 38 over Onyx Summit. Groups of people waited at turnouts along the highway and at Onyx Summit waving, sporting signs and cheering the drivers on.
Cliff Fowler of the Big Bear Antique Car Club organized the pit stop in Big Bear. He said the community support put Big Bear over the top as the drivers voted for their top pit stop. There were 45 to choose from. The racers left Concord, N.C., June 30 and made 45 stops along the way.
“It was miraculous,” Fowler said, adding the town came together for a common goal.
Pam Heiman, branch librarian, is thrilled. “We’re pretty ecstatic around here,” Heiman said. She gushed about how fun the event was, how the community under Fowler’s leadership and organization put forth a combined effort. She said it was fun and whether Big Bear won or not, it was a positive experience.
Big Bear Lake Airport Landing (tarmac location)
In Big Bear, the flavor of the town began as the cars made their way up the highway from Yucca Valley. Greeters lined the road with signs and flags and more. When the cars arrived at Big Bear airport, they were greeted by hundreds on the tarmac. The drivers and navigators were given gifts and food, and a ticket. The ticket was for a drawing to be held at the rally’s end July 14. George Crezee of Unreal Furnishings, created a bear carving commemorating the Great Race. The carving was sent to the finale site and presented to the holder of the winning ticket there, Fowler said.
Fowler said that Wayne Stanfield, chief operating officer for race organizers Rally Partners, told him the Great Race hadn’t seen this type of enthusiasm from a community in 20 years.
“I could not be prouder of this town,” Fowler said. He said the experience and winning the award leave him very emotional.
Fowler thanked the sponsors, the city of Big Bear Lake, San Bernardino County, the Resort Association, Chamber of Commerce, KBHR and Stater Bros. for the financial support. He said the town couldn’t have pulled off a pit stop of this magnitude without them.
The participants in the Great American Race 2007 left Big Bear with a warm and fuzzy feeling, which is just what Fowler had planned.