21 November 2006

2006: Day 6 – Aguascalientes to Zacatecas - 3rd in Class (15-Nov-06)

Today was a big day with a finish in Geezer and Rene’s hometown Zacatecas (so... long post and lots of pics). We were blessed with a noon start from the tent in Aguascalientes which was a nice break. I took a brisk swim in the hotel pool in the morning and took my sweet time getting ready. We needed the time because when I arrived at the tent Rene had the back wheel off and said the brake pads were getting thin. Geezer did his famous, “Ach! Don’t worry about it!” so we cleaned the grease up and put it back together.

Talking to Ralph and Bill that morning I learned that their seats had worn out andthe springs were poking into their asses. I offered the two foam cushions I had purchased to give me some extra height while driving and they were totally appreciative, saying I had "saved their asses."


How I saved Ralph and Bill's asses

Rene and I were in the car this morning and we were both excited to hit the Zacatecas area around noon. We had three speed stages to tackle and about 160 km of transit in country that was familiar to me and incredibly beautiful. Our last speed stage before switching drivers at noon was La Bufa in Zacatecas. From the tent in Aguascalientes we drove a short distance to the start in the town square. We had somet time to hobnob with fellow racers and enjoy the beautiful downtown and the huge clock whose face opened on the hour to show a bullfighter and bull do their dance.


Rene and Kristin ready for the sprint to Zacatecas


Rene at the start with Rachel Larrat (AKA La Chica Loca) of the 2003 Lotus, part of the Unlimited Class


Eduardo Leon, the race director, gives us the green flag at the start

Zacatecas has a high desert climate with moderate temperatures and clear blue skies. Once I came here in the early 90s I could understand why my dad stayed. It gets cold at night because it sits at 8,200 feet with mountains all around, but the days are sunny and warm. Zacatecas topography reminds me a lot of Golden, Colorado and I have always loved it. The downtown is very European feeling, there are not many tourists and it is very clean. This colonial city is known for its silver mine established in the 1500s, the stone masonry made of native pink sandstone, a 16th century stone aqueduct, the oldest bull ring in America (which is now a luxury hotel), and an impressive mask museum.


The beautiful village of Guadalupe, outside of Zacatecas

La Bufa towers over the city of 200,000 with a chapel on top and a statue of Pancho Villa, commemorating his big win over 12,000 of General Huerta's soldiers. We were to race up the hairpin curves of La Bufa twice today and we decided the two Zacatecas residents would do the driving (Rene and Geezer).

As we approached the land where he was born and raised, Rene was getting increasingly more excited and I’m sure, proud to be racing through his hometown. I was stoked as well because I knew the area too and Rene’s family would be there cheering us on. We hit the outskirts of Zacatecas - the village of Guadalupe where both Geezer and Rene live and also have their shops. We drove right by the TumbaBurros de Zacatecas shop, with Rene’s shop next door and I too felt like we were home!


More enthusiastic fans!


Passing the TBZ shop proudly in the race car

We had completed the first two speed stages successfully and made our way through Zacatecas to the base of La Bufa and our last speed stage of the morning. We strapped in, sang some Bob Marley, I told Rene to be careful and we were off. We roared off with the flag and headed up the mountain. We heard a loud horrible noise and I knew instantly we had dropped the exhaust again. Oh well! We quickly got up to speed and in between directions I glanced up and saw 4 or 5 people jumping up and down like popcorn on the side of the road and I knew it was Rene’s family and it made me smile.

There was no time to talk about the exhaust and nothing to do about it anyway so I continued to bark out the corners to Rene and there were a lot of cliffs and hairpin turns and Rene nailed them. I was a little nervous, knowing what a dangerous road this was, and hearing firsthand last year the story of a Porsche not just going wide on a turn up here, but completely missing the turn and launching off the side. They were lucky enough to hit a rock to stop their progress, but chatting with a guy in a huge neck and chest brace was unnerving.

The dropped exhaust pipe dragged on the ground and made us louder than normal. I imagined the sparks must look fantastic. There were lots of spectators on La Bufa and we roared by them and I prayed Rene would keep us on the road. We came around a corner and to my horror, a man was walking across the road. On the right there were two smaller people and it was only by the grace of God that they decided not to follow their friend, as if they had, we would have hit and surely killed them both.

It was an exhilarating run and I later admitted to the team that it was the first time on La Carrera I was truly scared. No offense to Rene as he did a fine job racing his heart out and keeping us safe, but I told him he was hitting the “4” corners like they were “2s” and I was hanging on for dear life! For me it was a trickier speed section to navigate than Mil Cumbres and I lost my place once but was able to quickly find it again without Rene knowing.

Immediately following the speed stage we stopped and jumped out to wire the exhaust back up and get down the road to the service station. Rene’s family was there and they were such enthusiastic, smiling people and I loved their energy! His sisters were so proud of him and were still jumping up and down. What beautiful people. Rene was beaming.


Rene's sisters and their kids - our #1 fans!

Geezer and Stewie were taking over for the afternoon and I was excited for Geezer to be racing La Bufa. I knew that Rene and I had placed well in the morning and knew that Geezer would keep it up.


Geezer gets ready for his run up La Bufa in Zacatecas

At the service station George and Tom with the Volvo were hanging out. George said to me, “You know how you slap the hands of the kids from the car window when you go through the villages? And sometimes it kind of hurts your hands?”

I nodded my head in agreement and he went on to exclaim, “Those little buggers stole my fingers!” and he showed me his hand and my eyes couldn’t focus on what I was seeing because he was missing the fingertips on his hand! I looked at that hand and my brain tried to figure out if it was fake but it was real. I started to laugh, George was already laughing and we could not stop. He told me that he lost the tips in an ATV accident when he was 31 and I told him it was like a bad horror film because I thought for sure it must be a joke but it wasn’t.

Later I told Rene the story and he said, “I’ve got something at my house for George! I’ll grab it tonight, don’t let me forget.” Rene loves a laugh, so I couldn’t wait to see what he had for George.

Rene and I packed the truck back up and headed for the TBZ shop. Another crew member in a truck and trailer was going to follow up and park there since the parking downtown Zacatecas is so limited. We got to the shop, parked the truck and trailer inside, greeted the guys and they got right to work rewelding the rails on the trailer since a few of them had cracked. We ran next door and met his parents, who were lovely people, and it was easy to see where Rene got his smiling disposition. We grabbed a taxi downtown to catch the finish for the day, knowing we were already late.


Rene and his parents in Guadalupe

The traffic downtown was terrible (rush hour) and so we jumped out of the taxi and hustled the last 6 blocks or so. Downtown was jammed with people and race cars and a very festive air. The pink sandstone cathedral was brilliant in the late afternoon light and we weaved our way through the crowd to find El Jefe. One race crew member was in a 2nd floor balcony throwing tshirts out the window to a cheering crowd.


The beautiful sandstone cathedral in Zacatecas


Kristin y amigo Antonio de la Mini

When we arrived at El Jefe, Geezer’s stepdaughter, Claudia was there with her two kids and husband, Norberto. I hadn’t seen the kids, Bernie and AnaLuisa in a year and they are so darling. Rene’s family arrived and everyone was partying. My Mini buddy, Antonio brought over some Modelo and everybody was laughing. George was in a 2nd floor balcony of a bar and “showed his tits” New Orleans style. What a wild child!


George the wild child, flashes from the balcony


Claudia and AnaLuisa


Geezer and Kristin with Rene's wild sisters


Geezer and his hija


The race cars were going to be parked here overnight but Rene and I needed to get the car to the TBZ shop for some minor repairs. We were blocked in so a handful of guys “bounced” two different cars out of the way so we could get out. Good thing most cars in Mexico are small!

At the shop the crew hustled to reweld the exhaust and fix some steering stabilizer chingadero on the front end. Geezer presented finish medals to the TBZ crew, telling them that their work was integral to us doing so well in the race and they were the reason for our success. A couple of Rene’s buddies were there as well, getting their hands dirty and helping to fix the car.


The TBZ crew - the behind the scenes secret to our success

A little before 9pm Geezer asked his good friend Mario if he could drive me down to the Quinta Real for the driver’s meeting. I met Mario last year at his fried chicken restaurant and he’s a great guy. The Quinta Real is a 5-star hotel in an ancient bullring and it is the coolest hotel I’ve ever been in. The party was in the actual bullring and when we were here as spectators last year, it looked fantastic. I was excited to get out of the shop and drink a few beers and also I hadn’t eaten all day so I was starving.

On the way there Mario expressed to me how important this race is to my dad, and especially having his two kids there to support him. Mario gets it. I know why I came and it's not to race a car across Mexico. Sure, I love the adventure and I'm always up for a challenge. But more importantly, I have never seen my dad follow a dream, outside of his career success. He grew up with Depression Era parents who saved pennies and didn't waste money on luxuries.

My dad's dad died in his early 50s, and though I never met my grandpa I have always known that my dad got his adventurous spirit from him. I don't think they had much money, but they lived well and my grandpa always had a cool job - either running the Ford dealership or running the local rural airport. My dad tells stories of his dad taking him up in a biplane and flying upside down. So when I heard my dad was getting serious about running this race I was 100% behind him. I could think of nothing better than to be a part of this adventure with my dad, to have this beautiful experience and share it with him. So far the experience has been everything I could have imagined, and more. I don't spend much time with my parents anymore as we all live so far away from each other, and I love that this week we are making memories of a lifetime.

At the bullring I found the Hot Rod Lincoln racers right away and ate some frijoles in corn tortillas to put a little something in my stomach before I had another beer. We were laughing and joking around and Stefan from Sweden was admiring Bill’s “Jaguar Racing” tshirt. It was pretty cold that night and Stefan, even though he’s from Scandinavia, was cold in his shorts and tshirt. So he told Bill he would give him his “Vikingo” tshirt if Bill would give him the long sleeved Jaguar shirt. Laughing, they both stripped off their shirts and a bunch of people seated in the bullring started hooting and hollering and laughing.


Stefan and Bill strip.....and trade shirts

The awards ceremony was brief tonight and the mood was festive as we all knew we had one more day of racing to go. Out of the blue I heard over the speaker, “VANCE STEWART AND KRISTIN STEWART.” I was totally in shock, and handed my camera to Ralph and said, “I’m on the podium; can you get a picture?!” Damn, I was excited and didn’t even know what place they had announced, but assumed it must be 3rd. How incredible to have placed on the day we finished in Zacatecas! I could not wait to tell my team! Getting 3rd place in Puebla was unbelievable but this was over the top! Standing on the podium was surreal and also pretty kick ass.


On the podium in the bullring for our 3rd place finish in the Turismo Producion class

Afterwards a bunch of us walked to the hotel downtown where the cars were parked and had drinks in the bar and mellowed out. I called Geezer with the good news and he kept repeating back what I told him…….what? we got 3rd place? What???? I called Rene was not able to get through, and was really bummed to not share the celebration with him in his hometown.

I was fatigued and so was everyone else and I wanted to have this night last forever but I knew I needed sleep. I caught a cab home to Guadalupe, which was about 15 minutes away, and was proud of myself for holding a conversation in Spanish with the cab driver for most of the way.

When I got to Geezer’s house, I got through the front gate but the front door was locked. I dreaded waking someone up by knocking and then his two dogs started barking. Ugh! Geezer was sleepy and opened the door and he had been crashed out in the livingroom on my pullout bed until I got home. I was really glad I came home that night! I felt a bit like a teenager and also thought it very sweet that even though he was napping, he had waited up for me.

I was happy happy happy because I was getting lickies lickies lickies from Cinder the black lab and Malva the white boxer. They are the sweetest dogs and I love them to death. I lost my black lab to cancer a year ago and it has been really hard to not have a dog but I am on the move too much right now to get another one. The night was going to be short, but I knew I would fall asleep right away and tomorrow as our last day of racing.


Happiness is a warm puppy! Malva and Cinder

2006: Day 5 – Morelia to Aguascalientes (14-Nov-06)

This beautiful morning in Morelia we had an 8 am start with Rene driving and me navigating. I was getting excited to get closer to Geezer and Rene’s hood. I’ve been to Aguascalientes before as it’s only 1-1/2 hours from Zacatecas and Geezer’s house. Rene and I had a busy morning with a 30 km transit to Mil Cumbres, then four speed stages in a row.


Morelia, from my hotel window

I was excited to be running the famous Mil Cumbres, but also a little subdued after hearing about the grave condition of the copilot of the Jag that crashed there yesterday. Also, at the starting line where Eduardo Leon normally pokes his head into our car and tells us good luck before waving the green flag, this morning he told us to please be very careful. We had heard from veteran drivers that Mil Cumbres is often foggy in the morning and the roads are damp. I talked to some other drivers who said if the conditions were anything less than perfect they were going to drive like grandmas and be very careful. It sounded like a good plan to me, but I still had fire in me that wanted to go fast.


Young fans !Viva Mexico!

Each morning when the navigator picks up the race card for the day, we also sometimes receive addenda to the route book. Each turn or direction has a reference number and depending on the weather, road conditions and construction, they give us updates. Today, for Mil Cumbres we were notified that an entire section of the road was washed out. We had heard it yesterday from the drivers who came through the opposite direction, but no one seemed to be able to pinpoint where it was on the route.

After about 30 min of climbing out of Morelia and into the mountains, we arrived at the lineup at Mil Cumbres. I snuck into the weeds to take a quick leak before suiting up and getting ready to race. The fog was settled about 50 feet above us in elevation and though the roads were dry where we were, we knew they could be damp and foggy up ahead.


The fog settling on the start of Mil Cumbres (1000 summits)

We checked in with the officials and proceeded to the starting line. Normally we sit and silence while they count down from 10, but this time one guy started counting and another guy frantically told us in Spanish about the washed out road. I didn’t catch all of it and was riffling through the route book pages and listening to Rene repeat what he said in Spanish. And then we were off!

Mil Cumbres was a trip. Rene and I talked about it later and neither one of us remembered the section of washed out road, though I want to say with a lot of vagueness that I think it was towards the beginning of the course. We ripped through the S-turns and hairpins like nothing else existed on the planet but our car. The roads were dry and Rene drove aggressively with perfect lines on the turns. We passed a Porsche and towards the end of the stage we passed a VW on the right. It was a kick! Before we knew it the 17 km were over and we were laughing and full of adrenaline.


The Mil Cumbres washout, in the direction Rene and I were driving. How did we miss seeing this???? Photo courtesy of Bret Haller, www.theunlimitedclass.com

After Mil Cumbres we went right into another lengthy speed stage of 18 km, one of the longest I had done. Folowing that we had two more shorter speed stages to take us down out of the mountains and back to Acambaro where we were yesterday. Finally, on Day 5 of the race, and after 4 speed stages in a row, I truly felt like I had mastered the race card and how to add up the times! It shouldn’t have been that difficult but it was. In Acambaro, where we had the service stop yesterday, we got gas and got on the tollway for a 237 km transit to the service stop.


Ralph Carungi in his Hot Rod Lincoln in Acambaro


Kristin and Conrad with the Porsche

Rene and I had driven the same route yesterday in the truck and it was fun to see the gorgeous scenery again without having to take pictures of everything. Rene had been teasing me because I take so many pictures, but when it’s all over, everyone is always glad I took so many.

We cruised through villages with cheering people and schoolchildren behind the school fence jumping up and down. They loved it when we honked and when they were on the side of the road close to us as we slowed down for the speed bumps, they always waved and shouted for tshirts or postcards or whatever else we might be giving away. In one village there was a small parade with men on horses carrying religious looking banners.


A parade in a tiny village

We weaved our way up the country roads, passing where we could and traveling through towns called Salvatierra, Celaya, Salamanca and Irapuato. I had fun practicing my Spanish and doing the navigation in Spanish when I could. Whenever I saw in the route book that there was a Federale checkpoint I would always tease Rene that I was excited for the inspection and would pretend to fix my hair and put on lipstick. But every time it was noted, there was never an inspection or even anything official looking on the road. This time there were a handful of young Federales standing around and so Rene stopped and waved them over and took a picture of me with the guys.


Federales!


"Every little thing....is gonna be alright!" -Bob Marley

We always pass race cars back and forth on the transits and it was good to see the little white Alfa Romeo from Ann Arbor, Michigan on the road again after they threw their bearings and wrecked their motor on the first day. They spent 30 hours rebuilding the motor in Mexico City and were back with smiles.


The Alfa Romeo from Michigan, back on the road!

In Silao we had a service break and Stewie and Geezer were there waiting for us. I was tired from the hectic morning filled with speed stages. I got a grilled ham and cheese sandwich at the Perkin’s type restaurant for Rene, who would be continuing on with Stewie navigating in the afternoon. Jorge Arroyo came by to visit and Geezer gave him a TBZ hat to show his colors. Geezer bought the car from Jorge about a year ago and Jorge still felt like it was his baby. He drives a topless LT now, but it is easy to see that he still loves the old Ford. He has run La Carrera 13 times, about 7 of those with the Ford. He said he’d email me the history of which years the Ford ran and how well it did.


This is what happens to my hair when Rene drives fast


Geezer and Jorge Arroyo, the previous owner of the Ford

We heard that the yellow Lincoln that crashed yesterday was getting fixed and going to be back on the road. No one seemed to know how the injured Jag copilot was doing and he was often on my mind. It seemed strange to be smiling so much and having so much fun while a 19 year old was fighting for his life. I think at this point there are something like 33 cars out of the race.

Geezer and I did the transit in the truck from Silao through Leon. We missed the turn south of Leon and ended up driving through the heart of the city, which took a long time but I was glad to see more of the country. We took the tolllway to Aguascalientes which the race cars took a different route with 2 speed stages on their way to Aguas.


The lake outside of Leon

Our arrival into the city was a little hectic as we arrived in rush hour and had to stop at AutoZone for some car parts. We ran into a fellow wearing La Carrera badges and he asked if he could follow us to the finish line as he was lost. Evidently he came to check out the route and plans to race his 1965 Corvette next year. He said he’d been lost most of the week and I could understand that considering the route books the service vehicles get are somewhat vague, and I hoped he’d do better navigating at the race next year. Geezer and I arrived downtown near the finish arch without a problem, until we hit the last turn coming out of a small side street. There were cars parked on both sides and the trailer didn’t fit. We were pointed downhill and after Geezer tried about 20 times to backup, with 5 different guys telling him which way to turn, we put the truck in park and everyone lifted the trailer off the hitch, then I drove the truck forward and they walked the trailer down the hill.

Finally we arrived at the finish arch and it was set up in a large party tent next to the hotel. Our finish lines are often in the town square or in the heart of the city and are most always congested and difficult to get around. It is really nice to have the space to park the truck and trailer and a little room to breathe for the race cars. The typically partying was going on and it is always a car show with lots of spectators and people asking for autographs – it’s always a lot of fun.


"Hanging" out with Ralf and Stefan from Sweden in the Falcon who were chasing the overall leaders of the race even though they are in a historic class


Rene with the yellow Lincoln driver and copilot, ready for the road again after the crash




The English journalist from Chrysler Magazine, tagging along for the fun


The German hotties in the pink Mustang Fastback


Rene and the Swede speed racers


Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) art in the hotel lobby

Next was a stop at the bar since there really wasn’t time for dinner. I hung out with Jorge and his copilot, Juan, who are both a lot of fun. I had learned that day that each time we checked into a hotel we got free drink coupons for being in La Carrera. Tonight we had vouchers for margaritas but I had already been drinking beer and the waiter said I couldn’t trade for a beer. Oh well!

That night the awards ceremony was held at a cockfighting ring near our hotel. After a lengthy promotional video for Aguascalientes which put almost all of us to sleep (but only because of our fatigue and sitting down and relaxing for the first time all day), they had a wonderful program of a laser light show, couples dancing in traditional dress, a mock fight between one man pretending to be a deer and one the hunter, and cholos (lariat roping guys). It was getting late, the program started late and we were all fatigued. There was a lot of confusion as to where the ceremony was going to be held as well, so I don’t think everyone made it. After the show we moved into another room where they awarded the trophies for the day.


Cholos

Rene was having a great time double-fisting margaritas and I had to decline another beer because once again I had eaten very little today. It makes for a quick buzz! Afterwards I told Rene I had to get some REAL food and we found a tiny taqueria and chowed down some tacos and we were happy. We sat with the guys from Michigan and they talked about blowing their bearings for the 2nd time. They believe they have an architecture problem with the car since the first time it happened was after about 300 miles, then they rebuilt and it happened again after 300 miles. They were bummed to be out of the race, but happy to be a part of it and planning already for next year. We were laughing and carrying one when one of the guys didn’t look so good. He seemed to have some gastric problems that came on suddenly and he looked really pale and sick. He got up to go to the restroom and after a few minutes I asked one of his buddies to check on him. Rene talked to the cook and we realized that they had all eaten the peppers, including the seeds. Rene gave the gringos from Michigan a big warning, the guy came back out of the bathroom looking a little better and we all had a good laugh, including the cook. We finished the night in the quiet hotel bar, having a beer again with Tony, the Mustang engine builder.


The guys in the Alfa from Michigan...check out the guy on the right just AFTER he ate the hot peppers

19 November 2006

2006: Race Safety Equipment

La Carrera Panamericana is a serious race and it requires serious equipment, both for the car and the occupants. I know very little about car racing but learned a lot on this trip. Cars are outfitted with full cage rollbars and it was amazing to see the aftermath of cars rolling on the first two days of racing on the twisty mountain roads of Veracruz.

These are cars from the 1950s and 1960s and they are made of tons of steel with steel dashboards and plexiglass side and rear windows. They don't have anti-lock brakes, crumple zones or airbags. During the race we discussed the choice you make if a deer or other large animal crosses the road. Many agree the best thing to do is hit the animal, because if you try to swerve and miss it you can end up going off the road and being injured much more seriously.

Our personal safety equipment consists of full Nomex suits, often double layer, or single layer with Nomex underwear. We wear open or closed face auto racing helmets outfitted with intercoms to allow the navigator to guide the pilot during the speed stages. We add neck braces, Nomex gloves, Nomex driving shoes and strap ourselves to our seats with racing harnesses. Our names, blood types and allergies are affixed to the side of the car, our helmets and our suits in case of a crash. We have safety nets over the open windows to prevent limbs from flying out the windows during a crash.



During transit stages we are wearing our suits, but may have the top pulled down if it’s hot. Prior to a speed stage we safety bolt the door so that it doesn’t fly open during a crash, affix the window safety nets, put on our helmets and gloves, attach and test the intercom, and tighten up our harnesses until we can barely move. Then we are ready to go.


Names and bloodtypes on the side of the car

After experiencing this race and seeing firsthand what a rollover crash can do to the car and the drivers, I decided that I would rather be in El Jefe if I was going to hit a deer or something big rather than the Excursion. These old cars are tough! They come out of a rollover with some dings and dents but it is truly amazing. Sometimes they bang out the fenders and get them on the road again the next day. Others have bent frames but still look fairly intact. There is something to be said of a car made with that much metal.

Not very flattering, but here are the "chubby cheeked" pics of us smashed into our safety equipment:






2006: Day 4 – Queretaro to Morelia (13-Nov-06)

We were blessed to have a 9 am start this morning, after the long day yesterday and not getting to bed until after midnight. It was the first day I didn’t end up in the bar at the end of the day, haha. Geezer was driving this morning and I was to navigate. It was our first time together in the race car and I was excited.


My navigation didn’t start out too well as the departure from Queretaro was filled with construction and confusing directions. We took a wrong turn and took 10 minutes to circle our way back. When we got back to where we were, race cars were going two different directions. We were supposed to make our way to Huimilpan, which Geezer immediately started calling Humpy-Pan. We were on a highway and things weren’t adding up. We had missed the turn but we came upon another turn to Humpy-Pan so we took it. We had a limited time to get there and it was 25 km, and I thought we’d be okay. Geezer drove fast through the country roads and ripped through the villages. In one village we knew we were getting close and we got a wave of directions from the Federales, saw a few other race cars and knew we were back on track. Geezer flew so fast through those roads and we had big smiles on our faces.

We have a rally computer in the car but we couldn’t figure out how to use it so all we used was the clock. Because of that, the route book directions with mileage were difficult for us. Each direction or landmark that is given has a km reference. It’s not too hard to guess how long it will take you to go 2 km, but when the kilometers get longer than 10 km it is hard to guess without mile markers. I had a big lessons learned when my next direction said two topes (speedbumps) in 9 km. I waited, guessing at the kilometers and didn’t warn Geezer ahead of time. Before I knew it we rounded a corner and saw the race car ahead of us with his brakes on, going over a speed bump. Geezer slammed on his brakes and didn’t lock them up but was able to slow down a bit before we hit it. I guessed we were going 40 mph when we hit it, but Geezer told me later he thought it was more like 60 mph. Either way there were two big smashing noises as we went over and we looked at each other with wide eyes knowing there was nothing else we could do.






Great scenery!

A big part of La Carrera Panamericana is about speed bumps. Geezer and Rene built the car to handle them very well. When other cars such as Porsches and VWs and Fiats were slowing down and going sideways at 1 mph over the bumps, we could hit them at a decent speed and keep on going. The car is stout and handles them well. But hitting one at a high speed is a different story. I looked out the back window for leaks and apologized to Geezer and then understood that even if a bump is 9 km away, I should warn the driver. I felt bad but there was nothing we could do.

We continued on at a high speed, unless we were weaving through the villages, up and down through the countryside and passing a huge lake. We finally made it on time to the first speed stage of the day. Geezer ran it really well and it was a blast to finally be racing in the car with him. Afterwards we had a long transit on the tollway to Acambaro. I had calculated my time wrong – I guess it just wasn’t my day to navigate – and I thought we had 50 minutes to go 137 km (85 miles) when really we had 1 hour and 50 minutes to go the distance. I told him to haul ass and he was absolutely flying! He was passing race cars left and right and loving it.


Tom and George AKA Wild Child in the Volvo

We don’t wear helmets or the intercom for the transits, the windows are down and it is louder than hell in the car and outside of the car so if we talk we have to yell. I was doing fine navigating, ticking off the km signs and looking for the next big turn to the service for the day. I yelled to Geezer that in 2 km there would be an exit to Acambaro and we would take it to the right and I motioned with my hand. He nodded in agreement and kept on motoring. I next saw the sign that said, “Next Exit Acambaro” and I waved my hand. But then, there was the exit and Geezer was still going 100 mph and we flew on by it. I yelled that was our exit and he seemed to understand and he kept on going.


The Mini motoring

In the States if you miss a highway exit, you keep on going and get off on the next exit and turn around. In Mexico on the tollway if you miss an exit you slam on your brakes and back up because you never know when the next exit will be. I didn’t know this and believed he was simply driving down to the next exit. We had gone about 5 km and I shouted to him something about the next exit. He looked confused and I finally saw that he didn’t realize we missed the turn. Next year I am going to have the ear muffs that other racers wear that have the intercom for the transits. It can be really difficult to communicate because of the noise. My ears regularly ring at night when I go to bed.

Now that he understood we kept on going as fast as we could go. We noticed a yellow Lincoln had missed the turn as well. It is really difficult when you know there is a turn coming up and you see cars making the turn, and cars continuing straight. You can never trust that the other cars are going the right way…..you have to trust your own navigation skills, take in the directions the other cars are going and make your own decisions. I felt bad thinking that the yellow Lincoln was probably following us, but in the end it is their own decision.

Suddenly, as the Lincoln was passing us on the left, Geezer slammed on his brakes and stopped. We had been looking for a place to cross over the median but there was a water drainage in the middle that was impossible to cross. I asked him what he was doing and he said he was backing up. I said, “You’re backing up to the exit????” I couldn’t imagine it being easier to go in reverse for 10 km but I was going to go with whatever he wanted to do. He said he saw a turnaround and sure enough, there it was, a hidden dirt crossover that we were able to traverse with only a small scrape of the pan. We were back on the tollway and 13 km away from our missed exit. We got it this time and after another 2 km rolled into the service station.


Geezer describing the clutch slippage to Rene at the service stop

I grabbed a Go Fast from the Go Fast guys and we told Rene to double check underneath the car from the speed bump we hit. We would typically back the car up the trailer so Rene could get underneath during the service stop.

In the afternoon Geezer drove and Stewie navigated. We were all excited because the end of the day included a speed stage through the famous Mil Cumbres (thousand summits), a beautiful wooded mountain area that flowed like a roller coaster with turn after turn. The area is highlighted by the Pink Floyd documentary of two band members running the race in 1998 in their matching Jaguars. Everyone talks highly of Mil Cumbres and of the extreme danger of the course. This year the route book noted many landslides and sections of washed out road from the rain. It was full of obstacles, hairpin turns and cliffs. I was excited for Geezer and his speed run and told him to be safe.

Rene and I cleaned up after El Jefe left, putting gear and tools back in the car, changing out of my race clothes, using the restroom, filling the truck with gas and getting back on the road. We weren’t following the race cars this afternoon, but rather taking the tollway all the way to Morelia in the state of Michocan. Michocan is the recreation center of Mexico with a huge lake, mountains and beautiful scenery.


The huge lake near Morelia in Michocan


Arriving in the town of Morelia

As always Rene and I had fun in the truck, blasting Bob Marley, laughing, seat dancing and passing an imaginary doobie. We arrived in Morelia in the afternoon to a ton of traffic and found our way to the hotel. This time the hotel had a great parking lot and we found a nice spot in a fenced area with other service vehicles. We spent the rest of the afternoon drinking beer in the parking lot and hanging out with the other service teams. We were going to head downtown with a group of people for the day’s finish when Antonio from the Mini Crew received a call on his cell phone saying that two cars had crashed on Mil Cumbres, one a Jag and one a Lincoln. Ray was there from the Lincoln Hot Rod #101 and we were anxious to hear which Lincoln, and to hear if anyone was injured. The details were sketchy but it sounded like a yellow Lincoln went off the road and crashed but they were okay. The red Jag was not so lucky and the copilot was rumored to have two broken legs. I shivered with fear and reality and felt blessed that everyone was relatively okay.

Five of us grabbed two taxis and headed downtown for the finish. It was a beautiful downtown with an amazing church and excited crowds. When I ran into Geezer, he exclaimed, “A girl kissed me!” and did a little dance in the street. Each day that you finish you receive a medal and today was his first medal. I cracked up knowing what a big deal it is for these guys to pose with the sponsor’s model chicas, almost more important than doing well in the race!


A security cop in downtown Morelia


Church in the Morelia town square


Geezer dances with his first finish medal


Girls Girls Girls!


The race staff was phenomenal

He had tales from Mil Cumbres, saying it was a blast and that he passed a Porsche!! He also passed the red 1963 Galaxie #363 driven by Jake and Dale and found them later and said sincerely that he hoped it was a safe pass. They laughed and said, “Yes, the pass was fine but we were bummed to be passed by a 1952 Ford!”


The Galaxie Geezer passed in Mil Cumbres, reported to been having mechanical trouble but a pass is a pass!

We heard some more details about the crashes. Evidently the yellow Lincoln swerved to miss a deer and went off the road and crashed. Their car was pretty banged up but it looked like they would be able to get back in the race after repairing it.


The race cars arrive, some with more damage than others from Mil Cumbres, like this Austin Healy


The yellow Lincoln after crashing on Mil Cumbres (photo courtesy of Bret Haller www.theunlimitedclass.com)


The Studebaker in the weeds on Mil Cumbres (photo courtesy of Bret Haller www.theunlimitedclass.com)


Carnage from Mil Cumbres today


Rene and I at the finish party in Morelia

Rene and I joined the Hot Rod Lincoln crew for beers and I rode back to the hotel with him to check out the Lincoln. I love the Lincolns in this race.


Having a beer with my pals, the "Hot Rod Lincoln" team from Phoenix: Ralph, Ray, Dave and Bill


Bill and the Day 4 victory cigar



Back at the hotel we worked on the car a bit, signed autographs and talked to spectators who came to see the cars. It was raining and bit and cooler and there was a lot of work going on in that parking lot. I socialized, borrowed a creeper from a crew for the Hot Rod Lincoln guys, hung with the Mini crew from Cancun and was happy to see that the pink Jag was in the process of getting a new distributor and would likely be on the starting line the next day.


Fraser Stevenson works on getting the pink Jaguar back on the road after a day off




The Studebaker back at the hotel

Around 8 pm we began to walk to the driver’s meeting about 6 blocks away but we heard there was a shuttle bus so we got on board. The bus sat there for 10 minutes and waited while more and more people crammed themselves on the bus. I couldn’t believe that many people could fit on this halfsize bus! We laughed as we sucked in our guts to let one more person on. When we finally got going it took another 10 minutes for the bus to back up and do a 30 point turn to get out the parking lot, Mexican style with everyone on the sidewalk and the back of the bus whistling and telling the bus driver what to do. When we got to the meeting, Rene took a video of everyone getting off the bus, laughing the whole time and pretending to count 90 people getting off.

At the meeting we learned that the Jag didn’t fare very well in the crash. Eduardo Leon, the director of the race, said that the car was cut in two and the condition of the 19 year old copilot was grave and asked us for our blessings. He again stressed the important of safety for all competitors and service vehicles as well, noting that he had a report of a Porsche Cayenne service vehicle going 110 mph and that was simply unacceptable.


The open top Jag appeared to be torn in two (photo courtesy of Bret Haller www.theunlimitedclass.com)

Today's winners on the podium

Rachel Larrat and Steve Warwick of the Lotus Elise




Stefan and Ralph from Sweden on the podium again

After the meeting back in the parking lot, we watched while Doug Mocket’s team of professional mechanics dropped in a brand new aluminum $15,000 motor. It seems that before Mil Cumbres they lost their back brakes so they ran the section with no brakes and using the engine to slow down. That was pretty hard on the engine, but I guess you drive differently when you know you have a replacement engine back at the hotel. Then they lost their clutch and still made it for the finish and still winning their class – amazing!


Doug chats with Rachel while his mechanics drop in a brand new engine



I did make it to the bar tonight for a beer with Rene, Ray and Tony who builds mid-60s Mustang and Ford engines and was here supporting a white Mustang Fastback from NY. He said he thought there would be more partying at this race, but was now understanding that for the drivers and copilots it is a very tiring test of endurance and many go to bed at a decent hour.