Driving the pace truck at the Subaru 4 Mile Chase is tougher than it sounds.
Take last year, for example, when a pedestrian strolled off the sidewalk near the finish line without looking - right in front of the lead vehicle. The result was almost tragic.
"We speed up in the last couple of blocks on Elmwood to get down Bidwell to park in a driveway, so that we can get out and beat the runners to the finish line," said Dan Finucane, who again will be driving the truck on Friday night when the Chase returns to the streets of Buffalo.
"I'm hitting the horn with the lights flashing, and we have volunteers trying to keep the spectators on the sidewalk. But as I start to turn on to Bidwell, a lady decides to run across Bidwell - even though one of more experienced volunteers, Greg Morcio, was telling her to stay where she was."
A video of the incident sent to Finucane a day later revealed that the woman was not listening to Morcio, and she wasn't paying attention to traffic.
"I hit the brakes to avoid her," Finucane said in an understatement, as the six "passengers" in the back almost were bounced out of the cab. "We were really close to hitting her.
"It was the closest call I've had in this job – nothing else comes close."
Finucane has had a year to let his nerves calm down, and he'll be back on the job Friday for the 37th annual running of the event. As last year's incident shows, his drive around the course requires plenty of concentration during its 20-minute time span.
"I'm not sure how long I've been doing it – maybe 12 to 15 years," Finucane said. "I've been working the race for more than 30 years."
The Chase is believed to be the only major local race to use a formal lead vehicle. Race director Jim Nowicki has a permanent seat in the back of the pick-up truck, as he uses a megaphone to yell out instructions to volunteers on the course or to Finucane when the runners get a little too close to the vehicle ("GO!"). Other passengers include two volunteers who report the standings back to the start/finish line by phone, a reporter, and a photographer.
"I'm not sure if Jim talked me into doing it, or just told me I was doing it," Finucane said about driving the truck. "Jim has a unique way of getting you to do things. I had been working traffic control for many years, and then started riding shotgun to help the previous driver.
"Jim and I knew each other since we are both basketball officials, and he asked me to help."
It's the only time of the year that Finucane drives a pickup. He usually sticks to his own SUV.
Driving the vehicle in those circumstances is not easy. The usual pace for Finucane is a little bit faster than 12 miles per hour, since the runners usually run something under 5-minute miles. If one of the leaders puts on a surprise spurt, the truck has to speed up too - without warning - to avoid getting in the way.
"I'm looking both front and back as I drive," he said. "I watch the lead runners through my side mirrors."
The trip usually isn't as dramatic as it was last year, but Finucane does have to be prepared for the unexpected. One time, a bus pulled out in front of the truck, causing Finucane to let the lead pack go by him for a while. Another time, an ambulance came up Elmwood Ave. in the middle of the race, but the police officers and volunteers made sure that no problems were created.
Finucane credits the Buffalo Police for helping the race run smoothly. It's not easy to fully close down major streets such as Delaware, Elmwood, Bryant and Forest on a Friday night in the summer, but usually problems are avoided.
The veteran driver will be leading another great field of runners around the course, as top-flight competitors will gather on Elmwood Ave. at 7 p.m. Friday in pursuit of a share of $10,000 in prize money.
It's somewhat rare for returning champions of the Chase to take part, but Monica Ngige of Kenya is scheduled to be an exception. She finished first last year in 20 minutes, 37 seconds. Ngige has won 15 major races in her career.
But there will be good competition for her. Mary Wacera of Kenya won the Boilermaker Race in Utica last weekend, and figures to be a major threat. Jessica Odorcic of Madison, Ohio, holds the female course record at Subaru (20:38, 2012), and qualified for the Olympic trials last year. Mary Wangui of Kenya has impressive wins in 5-kilometer races in Nashville and Grand Rapids this year.
For the men, defending champion Silas Kipruto decided not to enter the Chase this year. That may open the door for Edwin Rotich of Kenya, who is one of the top-ranked 10-kilometer runners in the world. He has 25 major wins to his career.
Bernard Lagat, a 22-year-old Kenyan, looks like an up-and-comer on the racing circuit. He has a couple of second-place finishes at major races on his resume this summer. Juris Silenieks of Pittsburgh was the first American native over the finish line last year. The Syracuse University standout was All-Atlantic Coast Conference in 2016, and part of the NCAA Champion cross-country team in 2015. Zakaria Adan Ojouma could be a sleeper after a 21st-place showing in Utica last weekend.
As usual, the race may inconvenience some drivers in the area on Friday night because of street closings between approximately 6:30 and 8 p.m. Proceeds from the race benefit the ECMC Foundation and the Police Athletic League.