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Carnegie’s Model T rules in Montana

Tom Carnegie drove his 1926 Ford Model T to his fifth win in the Montana 500. (Dan Pelle)
Tom Carnegie drove his 1926 Ford Model T to his fifth win in the Montana 500. (Dan Pelle)

Late model racing’s biggest event in the Pacific Northwest, the Montana 200, is just around the corner on July 23.

While that event hits the 22nd anniversary, the Big Sky state has been holding the Montana 500 since 1961, with a Spokane Valley driver one of the winningest in the race’s history.

The Montana 500, held in June, features racing in a vintage Model T that zips from point to point in and around this year’s host city of Butte. Missoula, Fairview and Dillon have hosted the event in the past.

Spokane Valley’s Tom Carnegie picked up his fifth win in 17 starts this year while covering three days of racing in just more than 10 hours. The first two days both cover 200-mile distances with the final 100-mile run set for the third day. Carnegie managed an average speed of 50.54 mph during the race, while also logging the most miles – 540 – in a Model T he constructed three years ago at his Antique Auto Ranch in the Spokane Valley.

Highway travelers may gaze in wonder at the moving museum of nostalgic Model Ts competing in the Montana 500, but for Carnegie it’s all business with little time for show and tell.

“I like to think of the Montana 500 as an endurance run, rather than a race,” Carnegie said. “It is of primary importance to complete the entire run as results are based in part on miles completed. As for characterizing the run as a rolling car show, well maybe. The cars on the road and the passengers inside get a transitory show that they seem to enjoy based on the looks on their faces.”

While traversing the Montana countryside can be appealing for racer and tourist alike, even the sights get little notice from the five-time race winner.

“The Montana countryside is certainly pleasing to me, although I don’t get to look at it as much as I’d like as I am usually concentrating on driving,” Carnegie said. “The main payoff for me in racing the Montana 500 is the chance to be with my friends doing something that we love to do.”

That love is made of mechanics who know the Model T as well or better then most in a local auto repair shop. The Montana 500 requires the cars to be as close to original as possible with little room for modifications. While parts failures can occur, a race that runs off a map and set route does add an element with which many drivers on local drag strips or oval tracks rarely deal.

“Of the many elements that can lead to failure with a car and race, it’s the potential for folks to get lost that can cause one to lose the Montana 500,” Carnegie said. “We have had drivers who have been known to take wrong turns.”

Carnegie is tied with one of the greatest to compete in the Montana 500, Bud Peters. Both have five victories to lead all drivers. Carnegie was the youngest to compete in the race at the age of 16 and also the youngest to win the race at 18.

Despite earning his fifth win this year, Carnegie is getting ready to work on another Model T for the 2013 race.

“Once a car is built, it can be used for several runs with very little work from year to year,” he said. “Typically, I will freshen my motor every four years or so. To freshen a motor, I will typically regrind the valves and maybe re-ring the pistons or re-bore the cylinders. This is the third run with my newest car. It has about 5,000 miles on it and I believe that it has pretty much peaked as far as performance is concerned.”