Abi Ivemeyer’s phone pinged with a three-word text message, and with it came sweet relief.
“ABI!!!!! We’re approved!”
The Aug. 26 text was from Gina Gonzalez, an assistant athletic director at Georgia Tech. The approval regarded a duty very dear to the fourth-year electrical engineering major – serving as this year’s driver of the Ramblin' Wreck. The ACC had given Tech clearance for Ivemeyer to lead the Yellow Jackets out onto Grant Field behind the wheel of the beloved 1930 Ford Model A sport coupe.
Said Ivemeyer, “That was the hill I would die on.”
The ride out from Bobby Dodd Stadium’s northeast tunnel will look different, but Ivemeyer will be most pleased to be taking part. Due to the ACC’s COVID-19 policy permitting only essential personnel onto game fields for football and other sports, it was uncertain whether the Wreck would be able to lead the Jackets onto the field for its 60th season.
But Ivemeyer and Tech prevailed in securing an exemption. She called it “absolutely my No. 1 priority coming back to campus, to make sure that happened.” Saturday, she will be making her first ride-out (as it’s called by members of the Reck Club, the school spirit club that cares for the Wreck) for Tech’s home opener against Central Florida.
It will be different from those made by her predecessors for many reasons, one being that she won’t have navigate around the marching band, which has been confined to the Bobby Dodd Stadium stands.
“I’ll actually have a lot more free reign to drive where I please and make that impact,” she said.
The Wreck’s viability to scoot across Grant Field arose with the ACC’s policy regarding its games during the pandemic. Beyond players, coaches, officials and team support staff, the policy encourages schools to “strongly consider” limiting field access to essential personnel such as security, game management personnel and television crew.
Tech inquired with the ACC about making an exception for the Wreck (Reck Club members prefer “Reck”) and its driver. The conference answered back that it would allow it, as long as one of the essential personnel drove it instead of Ivemeyer.
As intriguing as the idea of coach Geoff Collins piloting the Wreck may have been, Tech sought to sway the conference, making the argument that Ivemeyer was uniquely qualified to be its sole driver. In a three-page proposal to the conference, Ivemeyer pointed out that, with the season only weeks away, there wasn’t time to train another driver. Further, doing so (with Ivemeyer and a replacement driver sharing the cab of the Wreck) would be a health hazard to both.
She brought up another safety point, noting that drivers are elected following the previous football season in order to give them time to learn how to operate the Wreck.
From the proposal: “There is elevated risk associated with driving among many people on a field, and the Reck has a history of abrupt and unanticipated mechanical malfunctions before football games. Having another inexperienced and unqualified person to operate the Reck would greatly jeopardize our historic traditions and the safety of everyone in its vicinity.”
Ivemeyer proposed keeping herself isolated in the cab with the windows rolled up – no passengers or cheerleaders perched on the running boards – and then leaving the stadium immediately after the ride-out. The ACC, perhaps spooked by the possibility of a careening Wreck rolling over and taking out players and coaches, granted permission.
The Wreck and Ivemeyer and Florida State’s team of Osceola and Renegade, a student dressed as a Seminole warrior and a horse, were the only exceptions made by the ACC. (The conference showed more latitude than the SEC, which is not allowing Georgia’s Uga and other live mascots from attending games.)
The Wreck’s fifth female driver, Ivemeyer has had to shelve some plans she had for the year, but has implemented others that have enabled her and the Ford to serve the student body in a uniquely 2020 way.
Ivemeyer delivered personal protective equipment in the Wreck during the first week of the semester, and the Wreck is now the rare depot for masks and hand sanitizer that makes its presence known with an “Aooogah.”
“If you ever see the Wreck and are in need of supplies, come on up and I’ve got you,” Ivemeyer said.
If her last name sounds familiar to Tech fans, it’s likely because her father and brother both played for the Jackets. John Ivemeyer was a three-year starter at left tackle in the mid-80′s. Bailey Ivemeyer was a walk-on offensive tackle who was put on scholarship prior to the 2018 season.
“We’re really hopeful we can get to Saturday and it all goes off,” John Ivemeyer said. “Not only for the players, but for Abi, too. She’s worked hard to get to this point.”
A love for Tech and its football team was not the only thing that John, an engineering manager for the Southern Company, passed down to Abi. Like Abi, John was an electrical engineering major (Bailey, now at Caterpillar, studied mechanical engineering) and she plans to pursue a master’s after her expected graduation in May.
“Utility power lines and all that kind of thing, that’s kind of my jam,” said Abi in a distinctly Tech sentence.
The Ivemeyers join at least two other families with a driver and a Jackets football player. (Darryl Dykes, the 1983 driver, is the father of Bryce Dykes, a quarterback in 2007-08. Brad Sand, the 1995 driver, is the brother-in-law of Chris Bland, a member of the 1990 national championship team.)
Ivemeyer is undoubtedly the first to steer it through a pandemic. When she gives rides to students in the rumble seat, they first have to attest that they’re either roommates or family, and then she disinfects the bench after the ride.
“I don’t think any driver in the past has had to do that, but it’s definitely worth it,” she said.