18 November 2006

2006: Day 0 - Prerace Qualifications - Veracruz (9-Nov-06)

The prequalification stage was run today to determine the start order for the official start of the race tomorrow. Our plan was to go nice and easy, be safe and get comfortable with the car on the road.

El Jefe in the local paper this morning

After breakfast we began our morning with a navigators’ meeting to explain race rules and instructions on how to read the incredibly detailed route book. It’s about 2” thick and contains symbols and text describing every significant turn, stoplight, speed bump and landmark on the route. We’d done our homework and read the navigator help guides, but it was still very confusing. We stayed after class with the rest of the newbies for an extra lesson on the stages, learning what T, Z, A, B, C, transit and speed controls mean, understanding the race signage, learning that when we enter a control zone, being early has a much heavier penalty than being late, and if your car breaks down in the zone you better get out and push it out of the zone. You know you are not in the United States when you are sitting in a hotel conference room with 100 other people and the instructor is chain smoking!

The official route book

After the meeting we rushed a block down the street to our hotel to grab our race gear and get to the start before 11:30 a.m. Geezer was driving and Stewie copiloting, with Rene and I following in the service vehicle. The race start was a cluster. The race cars were supposed to meet on the pier in the center of town but many couldn’t find the actual start. There is typically a large inflatable arch marking the start, but today there was none. We were learning to go with the flow in Mexico! Rene and I circled around the busy downtown square in the Extinction, talking to Stewie on the walkie talkies and following other race cars who were likely lost too.

Stewie and Geezer before our inaugural run

Gerie Bledsoe, the North American Coordinator, gives the rookies some tips before the start

Finally it all sorted out and Stewie let us know that they were off and running. We headed north out of town, loosely following the coast on our right, though most of the time it was obscured by thick vegetation.

Rene and I cruised along, seeing race cars on the highway here and there and tried to stay on track with a cartoon for a map. We hit a tollbooth, thinking we might be lost, confirming with the tollbooth lady that we needed to take a u-turn, and she told Rene that he needed to pay to go through the toll, then do a u-turn and pay again to come back out. He said, “No I don’t!” and put the Extinction in reverse and wheeled out of there laughing.

Rene said I looked like a CHOLO but it was hot so I didn't care (and I didn't know what it meant....)

We caught up with the race route and got off the highway and entered a mountainous, curvy area that to me looked like a fantastic race route. We wound our way through the hairpin turns, Rene pretending the Extinction was a race car instead of a monstrous truck. I hung on to the oh shit handle and laughed every time the gear in the back crashed from side to side. At least he’d warn me with an, “Oops!” when he’d hit the topes (speed bumps) too fast.

Often confused with the international symbol for boobs, we quickly learned to heed these speed bump signs (topes)

Local fans going wild!

When we made it to the turnaround point, Jalcomulco, we knew we were close to the time all the racers were supposed to have completed their transit time. As we arrived in this tiny village, most of the racers were already lined up on the tiny street and there was barely enough room for our truck to pass. We looked for El Jefe and were surprised to see they were following us. We weren’t sure how we had beat Geezer there but he and Stewie had smiles on their faces and we knew they had a good run.

Jorge and Juan lining up for a speed stage in Jalcomulco

The return run through the mountains was a speed stage and Rene and I found a perch atop a cliff looking over a hairpin curve on which to watch the cars. It was blistering hot but we had a killer view of the valley and a quant village below on the river. I’d seen signs for river rafting and it definitely looked like a sweet area for recreation. Sound carried forever and we could hear villagers singing happy birthday and watched the tiny soccer players on the field about a thousand feet below us. While we were waiting for the racers we were getting bit by bugs in the jungle. By the time it was over I had 50 bites on each leg and every single one of them bled. Argh!

Rene on our perch in the jungle above the race stage at Jalcomulco

The view of the speed stage through Jamulculo

After about an hour the race cars started coming, typically spaced out by a few minutes, and I got some great pictures and video. We could hear each car coming up the valley from miles away and we heard a dull thunk one time that could only be a car hitting something. We looked at each other with wide eyes.

Geezer ripped through the turn perfectly, not as fast as the big guys with the super powerful cars, but not as slow as others either – it was a perfect line. Rene and I were excited on top of the cliff to see El Jefe do such a good job.

The wait is over and the racing has begun....Geezer smiles

Passing through one of the tiny villages on today's course

Local characters were on every corner

Later, back at the hotel we learned the 3 cars rolled on that speed stage and were out of the race! We couldn’t believe it. The spot where they rolled wasn’t even a tight corner, but nonetheless, these are 50+ year old cars on tight, mountainous roads and the driving is tough. The drivers and copilots were safe and that’s all that really matters, though it must be a real bummer to be out of the race before it even starts.

The Studebaker rolled first and some were there to catch it on video and film. Next the Mini rolled. I am not sure of the 3rd car that rolled. Luckily everyone was safe. We’ll see who gets back on the road tomorrow.

Studebaker photos courtesy of Bret Haller www.theunlimitedclass.com

The Mini rolls! Photos courtesy of Bret Haller www.theunlimitedclass.com

El Jefe finishing the day near the port at Veracruz

That night about 20 cars were in the Costco parking lot being tweaked and repaired. There is a lot of altitude change during this race and we are at sea level now so adjustments will constantly be made. Our car ran perfectly except for a little clutch slippage so Geezer made a joke of telling Rene that he would sure feel bad if Rene had to work on the car all night while we slept.

The bummer of the day was losing the argument about where to go to dinner. We ended up at Carl’s Jr. Ugh! All I wanted was authentic fish tacos and a Corona at a breezy palapa on the beach. What I got was a horrible American food chain next to a Home Depot and Costco in a strip mall! The food was terrible but the play area rocked!

Do NOT try this at home. The smell inside the maze at Carl's Jr. still haunts me.

Our last task for the night was to attend the opening ceremony at one of the fancier hotels down the street. We figured out that the veteran racers get the fancier hotels, but we are happy because we are in the NH Hotel with the rest of the newbies and it’s on the beach and pretty darned nice. The ceremony was a discussion of the crashes of the day, warnings about being safe, another scolding about driving too fast on the boulevard, and some awards for past winners. It was outside on the lawn above the beach and very nice, with the Go Fast sponsors keeping everyone tweaked on their caffeinated energy drink.

Happy Geezer

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