SAVOY — “The last time I drove that car more than 50 miles was in 1964,” Russ Mowry said, gazing at a bright yellow 1959 Elva Courier racecar parked on the grass in front of Spearfish Canyon Lodge Tuesday afternoon. The 70-year-old Vietnam veteran, retired helicopter pilot, amateur racecar driver and legendary pinstriper has logged some 2,500 miles on the car since July, when he left his New Hampshire home on to retrace a journey he took in the same car 50 years ago.

Mowry and the Elva are parked in the Black Hills this week to pinstripe bikes during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, something he’s done for 17 years. And here we find our time traveler some 1,200 miles from his goal … well, one of his goals. There’s more to this trip than mileage and memories.

“For the last 10 years I’ve been thinking about this year,” Mowry said. “It being a sentimental journey for me is nice, but I wanted to assign a higher purpose to it.”

Mowry’s retracing his steps to raise money for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund; a non-profit dedicated to supporting U.S. combat veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan suffering from traumatic brain injuries. Those who donate are encouraged to sign the red racing stripe running down the center of Mowry’s rare British roadster, one of no more than 50 known to exist in the U.S.

In 1963 a 19-year-old Mowry rolled into the Black Hills in a four-year-old Elva Courier. He’d just paid off the little roadster, which his father bought him when he graduated high school. He came by way of Canada, where he ventured after watching Graham Hill take the podium at Watkins Glen for the 1963 American Grand Prix. Mowry left the Hills bound for California, cutting through Wyoming, Idaho and Nevada.

“It was the first time I left the house,” Mowry said. “For 19 years old, on his own for two-and-a-half weeks, it was quite an adventure.”

Mowry sold his beloved Elva in 1964 when he enrolled in school to become a teacher, thinking a Volkswagen Beetle would make a better college car. It was a mistake Mowry couldn’t shake from his head until 2001, when he located and rebought the exact same Elva, albeit in poor shape.

“When I found it it was a complete abandoned wreck. So I bought it back and I built it as a vintage racer, but I drive it on the street, too,” Mowry said. “I’ve raced it at Sebring, Lime Rock, Watkins Glen — but having that car on the 50th anniversary, 50 years out of the first time I did it (his cross-country trip), it’s a no-brainer to do it again.”

Like Mowry himself, the Elva has changed. One of the biggest differences is the car’s lack of a windshield, which Mowry ditched while lightening the car as much as possible to give it a competitive edge in wheel-to-wheel vintage racing. These race-spec changes to the Elva have made Mowry’s second cross-country journey behind the wheel a bit more visceral.

“It’s not unlike riding a motorcycle: not having cruise control, not having a radio, not having all the creature comforts that cars have now, not to mention no windshield and no roof and just getting beat up all day long. But there have been many moments where I’m just sitting there going, ‘this is just absolutely the coolest thing I could possibly be doing,’” Mowry said with a smile. “It’s not a casual activity to drive that car, I mean, you have to be on top it all the time. It’s not comfortable, but I’m not uncomfortable in it. I’ve been passed by state troopers three or four times — no windshield, no roof, a roll bar — obviously it’s a race car, but they’ve not bothered me.”

Mowry said he thought he’d have to be lifted out of his little English roadster at the end of every day, but one of the things that makes the car impractical for road use, its five gallon fuel tank, ended up a saving grace for Mowry’s back. Both he and the Elva get a break about every 100 miles. The two old friends have experienced no problems on the trip thus far, and the driver assumes that if the car made it 1,200 miles without incident, it’ll make it all the way.

“These two trips have been the bookends of the library of my life. Because, at 70 years old … not that it’s over, but, the bigger part of my life is bracketed by these two trips,” Mowry said. “My wife is grounding me after this trip.”

Mrs. Mowry is set to join her vagabond artist huband today, and the two of them will pull the rest of the miles in the Elva together, finally reaching Monterey, California, where Mowry will push the car to its limits on the legendary twists of Laguna Seca Raceway at the annual Monterey Historic Motorsports Reunion – a fitting end to a journey that began at Watkins Glen some 50 years ago.

Those looking to make a donation to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund — or looking to have their bike striped by Pinstripe Legends’ 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient — can find Mowry and his Elva hanging out in front of the Spearfish Canyon Lodge at Savoy till Saturday.


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