18 November 2006

2006: Day 1 – Veracruz to Veracruz, Mexico - The Race Begins! (10-Nov-06)

This could be a blurry entry as it is after midnight, I’ve had several beers, nothing but a power bar and a bag of chips to eat all day, and tomorrow is an early start. This morning we kicked off at the Costco parking lot and there was a good crowd to cheer on the racers.

The official Day 1 race start in Veracruz

Corvette Stingray

Geezer drinks his morning Go Fast!

Jake and Dale get suited up in their Galaxy

1952 Ford

The Mini Crew, still smiling after yesterday's rollover

The Mini gets a new Plexiglass windshield and is ready to race

Today Geezer drove in the morning, with Stewie navigating and they returned to Jalcomulco, near the scene of the rollovers from yesterday.

The start of a morning speed stage near Jalcomulco

An important part of a navigator's duty is to make sure they check in with race officials within a 60 second window of their speed stage start time. Sometimes this means checking in on foot.

Ted and Michael of Lucha Libre Racing getting "The Monkey" ready to burn some rubber

The excitement for the morning included the news that 3 cars crashed already today and are out of the race. Rene and I, while driving the support vehicle all morning, lost track of the crashes and cars needing service because there were so many. We were near Jalcomulco, the site of the 3 rollovers yesterday and came upon Jerry Churchill’s Olds that he launched into the jungle. It is hard to explain, and even though we’ve got pics, you just don’t get the force of the crash unless you are there. We came around a corner and our eyes didn’t translate what we saw. It looked like Jerry had gone wide on a left hand corner, smashed into the curb on the side of the road, careened into the jungle, smashed into a large rock and flipped several times. The jungle brush looked like it had been cleanly cut with a machete.

Arriving minutes after rolling, Jerry Churchill's Oldsmobile is rolled upright again

As we drove up and jumped out of the car several guys were turning the car upright again. Both driver and copilot in their red suits were walking and appeared okay. I shouted to them to confirm they were okay, still not believing the site. That old car looked fairly untouched and even as Rene and I approached, it was dented but not really smashed up that bad. We learned later that night that the frame was twisted and the front end pretty bad from catapulting that rock, but from its resting place in the mowed grass, it still looked pretty good.

I talked to both driver and copilot, got them a bottle of water and made them both repeat to me that they were okay. I even asked the copilot if he wanted a hug or something. I don’t know why that came out, I guess because it was so shocking to see what had happened, and the destruction to the landscape the car had made, and see the two guys walking and fine.

We drove on shaking our heads in astonishment and disbelief - “Wow, effing, wow!”

That afternoon we switched and I got to drive with Stewie as my copilot. I was a bit nervous because it was my first time and I have only driven the car once, and that was before Geezer and Rene rebuilt it. From the mid-day service stop at a Pemex, I suited up and got in the car with Stewie.

Rene and I, suited up for my first drive

We started with a 15 km transit, which means you are not timed, but you have to get to the next speed stage in a specific amount of time, and you need to hustle or you won’t make it. It gave me some time to get used to the car and the cheering fans in every village. We hit the first speed stage and it was a thrill! I kept forgetting that the roads are closed to traffic and I could hug corners in any lane. Being in the other lane is so counterintuitive and though it’s the thing to do in this race, I couldn’t help but think that we are still in Mexico and there could be a truck, burro or child around any corner.

Stewie guided me through the turns announcing, “LEFT 3!” and “RIGHT EASY!” as we flew along at a good clip. I didn’t get passed on the first two speed stages and I was very proud of that. Stewie had already driven with Geezer and he said I was a bit faster. I told him not to tell Geezer that. I thought we were done for the day and going to transit back to Veracruz, but then we learned that we had one more speed stage for the afternoon and it was the windy, mountain road through Jalcomulco where all the rollovers happened yesterday. That made me a little nervous but I decided it was fine.

We ripped through the course and I had a blast. I got passed ON THE RIGHT during the speed stage and that was a surprise since I was so hyper focused on my driving that I didn’t notice anyone behind me, let alone hear them over the roar of our 302. I got passed again by a Lincoln and my competitive nature kicked in when I saw him, but I reigned it back, knowing that I am not an experienced race car driver. After the stage I was smiling ear to ear. I can see how people get hooked on racing and especially the allure of this race. I was proud to have driven the difficult course without rolling!

I am my father's daughter....pretending to take a smokie smokie break after a hard afternoon of racing

We had a transit stage back to Veracruz which consisted of driving through villages and getting on a highway. We stopped at a gas station and Rene jumped in to drive, with me navigating so he could check out the car. The clutch was slipping and he needed to check it out. While we were driving he noticed that the gas pedal was sticking down too so in the next town we stopped at a local mechanic shop to get the linkage re-welded. The shop guys were excited to work on the race car and immediately moved the truck they were working on to service us. Geezer pulled out the fire extinguisher and a bottle of water and they fired up the welder and fixed it. The whole thing took about 10 minutes and cost $5.

Rene and Stewie with the mechanics who helped fix the gas pedal

Geezer supervises the repair

Geezer, The Fashionista

We made it back to the hotel and drank beers with other teams in the bar. I met the guys from the Lincoln Hot Rod Team, including a friend of theirs from Phoenix who surprised them by showing up at the race this morning. They noticed him near the start line and said, “Hey, that looks like Armando” and it turns out it WAS Armando. He had planned a trip to Mexico anyway to visit family and decided to take a side trip to Veracruz to see his buddies.

A well deserved beer after a very long and hot day

That night we heard about Rusty Ward dumping his policia Studebaker in the river. I heard a number of different stories….I think he went wide on the bridge and tipped over on his side and landed in the river that way, and rolled. I also heard that they moved some larger rocks and he drove the Studie right out of there! Rusty always has a smile on his face and right after the crash was on the search for a new A-frame and windshield so he could get back in the race.

Rusty Ward's policia Studebaker taking a swim

Geezer’s quote for the day was, “Normally people spend a lot of money on food when they are on vacation but today we spent $100 in gas and $10 in food for all of us!” After the drivers meeting it was already 10 pm and we realized we were starving and hadn’t eaten all day.

Awarding the winners for Day 1

Rene, Ray, Dave, Armando and I stayed and partied in the hotel bar. Later we checked out the rolled policia Studebaker in the parking lot and met the film crew following La Carrera and promoting their own race, The Gumball 3000 (www.gumball3000.com). They had borrowed their buddy’s Hummer in Mexico City and were adorning it with Gumball stickers.

Armando, with Ray from the Hot Rod Lincoln crew

It was a great and successful first day of La Carrera Panamericana!

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