18 November 2006

2006: Day 2 –Veracruz to Puebla - 3rd in Class (11-Nov-06)

Our route today would take us from the coastal jungle surrounding Veracruz to the drier but still mountainous Puebla. Even though I liked Veracruz and love the beach, I am ready to move on and make some progress, and also leave this oppressive heat and humidity behind.

The Extinction ready for the day.

The morning started with Rene driving and Stewie copiloting and the start was downtown near the port. The morning route included some of the same roads we have raced in the last two days.

Veracruz start line on the pier for Day 2

Geezer and I took the truck on the tollway to meet them at the service station around noon. Each day there is a service break in the middle of the day to allow the cars to gas up, the drivers to eat and refresh, and repairs to be made. We use the service stop to switch drivers. We are somewhat unique in this respect as the typical La Carrera team has one designated driver and one copilot and they stay the same throughout the race. We have 4 drivers and 2 copilots and plan on switching at noon each day. Neither Geezer or Rene are interested in navigating, so either Stewie or me will need to be in the car at all times. This is fine with me since I am not that comfortable racing an old car on dangerous roads when I don’t have any time behind the wheel to practice. It is just a bit out of my comfort range and I know we will do better if the guys drive. I like to navigate so it’s a good fit.

One last note about Veracruz – I have never seen so many people in Mexico exercising. Our hotel was on the beach and the boardwalk was filled day and night with runners, walkers and cyclists.

Cyclists in Veracruz

The scenery for the morning was gorgeous – mountains, thick vegetation and sugar cane. We drove pretty fast on the tollway because they never give you much time to catch up with the race cars. Federal Police line the race course and because we’ve got race insignia designating us as a service vehicle, they simply wave as we speed on by.

Gorgeous scenery!

At the service stop I actually had time to grab lunch at a nearby family restaurant with Ray and Daryl. The restaurant sat on a dirty, industrial rural highway, but behind the restaurant was an impeccably manicured lawn with the family’s house and it was simply gorgeous. Sitting 20 feet from the highway, it was peaceful and a little oasis away from the nearby Pemex.

Geezer checks out the competition while waiting for El Jefe to arrive

The race cars started to arrive and Rene had a good day of driving. A speed stage was cancelled because there were too many trucks on the road and other than that, the morning was uneventful as far as crashes go.

Rene arrives.....always with a smile!

Racers begin to roll in after the morning speed stages

A young fan....yes, that's his beer

Stewie ensures the race card is properly marked for the morning route

Rene with a Pemex chica

Ray (Hot Rod Lincoln) and Russell (Lucha Libre Racing) check out the hot chicks.... errr hot cars

Rene, the famous La Carrera race car driver, signs autographs for the locals

I suited up and got ready to navigate while Stewie would drive for the first time. The service stops are always a cluster with 80 some cars trying to get gas, fans running around wild asking for autographs, getting the car restocked with water, checking the timecard for our official departure time and making sure we are ready to go.

Stewie and Rene and I at the mid-day service break

We first had a transit and then straight into Stewie’s first speed stage. We were lined up one by one on the main street of a typical little villiage. The road ahead of us wound up and through the forest up and over a big mountain. We could see the hairpin turns. Navigating consists of more than just telling the driver which way to go. During the speed stages it is critical as the driver approaches a turn, to tell them which way to turn and how severe the turn is. The route book also contains notes like dips, gravel on the road, washouts, landslides, missing road sections, cliffs, water on the road and many more. When you are driving that fast and approaching a blind corner, there is no way to know how harsh the corner is. With a callout from the navigator like. “LEFT 3!” the driver knows the turn is a severity of 3 on a scale of 5 and he can adjust his speed accordingly. The speed stages are 5-15 km each and go by incredibly fast. Some turns are linked so closely that it is very difficult to keep your place on the page. you put a check mark next to each turn so that you don’t lose your place, but it can happen anyway. Imagine going 60 mph in S-turns that are linked so closely together that all you do is turn back and forth as fast as you can. It’s a thrill to me to navigate the speed stages perfectly and have the driver feel confident about where they are going.

Another critical part of navigation is entering the zone prior to the speed stage at the correct time. You have to add the times from the previous stages and calculate your arrival time. If you arrive in the zone early and check in with the officials you will be heavily penalized (1 second for every second you are early). They key is to arrive during a 60 second window after your designated time. If I calculate an arrival of 3:03:30 pm, I will make sure I don’t enter the zone until at least 3:04 pm. I have to also make sure my watch and the car computer are synchronized to the official race time. If I am more than a minute late I am only penalized 1 second for every minute, so it pays to be on time or late rather than early.

You normally check in for the speed stage by driving your car slowly through the zone and arriving at the officials on time, but if cars waiting to race are blocking your path you have to get out of the car and check in on foot instead of from the car. This can be complicated as you normally have only 5 – 10 minutes to get ready for a speed stage and sometimes less if you it took you longer to do your transit stage.

To get ready to race you need to zip up your suit, put on your helmet, strap it on, plug in your intercom, test it by talking to your pilot, get settled in your seat, prepare your route book by dog earring the pages, reviewing the course and highlighting any dangerous areas, covering the first couple turns with your driver and alerting him to any dangerous curves, fastening your racing harness, putting away the water bottles, putting up the window nets, securing the doors with the bolt and carabiner, and taking a deep breath!

It can be hectic if you are short on time and especially if you have an anxiety or adrenaline about the best part of La Carrera – the speed stages!

We checked in, got our time marked on our race card and advanced to the starting line, where they counted us down from 10 and waved the green flag. Stewie had a great start even though the car was overheated a bit from being stuck in traffic in the last couple of villages. The clutch was slipping again but he roared through it. The turns came fast and they were steep hairpins and I was amazed and surprised that he was pushing it so hard that we were sliding around corners. We were making great time and spectators were lining the roads and the corners cheering us on. When we approached the top he passed a car in a turn and we reached the crest and roared on down the backside, passing a Porsche like it was standing still (we later found out he had been having trouble) and hammering it on the straightaway for the finish.

I was laughing and trying to breathe and we were ecstatic. Stewie kept yelling, “THIS IS BETTER THAN DRUGS!! THIS IS BETTER THAN DRUGS!!!” I laughed and said I wouldn’t know but it seemed true and he said he didn’t know either but it felt like it.

We knew we scored a great time but we really had nothing to compare it to, but it sure was fun passing two cars. Our next stage was a transit which brought us into a small village. We wove our way into the town square and were greeted with mobs of people! Unlike the U.S. where everything would have been organized and roped off with rules and instructions, people were jammed into the streets and we literally just drove at the crowd and they parted as we neared. All the race cars were parked in the square and it was so crowded that we could not even get out of our cars. People crowded into our windows shoving race car cards and tshirts and hats for us to sign. We laughed and signed as fast as we could.

An overheated navigator finally extricates herself from the overheated car amid mobs of fans

I turned to Stewie, who looked very surprised, and said, “We forgot to tell you that you’re going to be famous in Mexico and have to sign autographs!” I had seen the madness last year in Zacatecas. We eventually crawled out of the cars and sat on the hood and for about 90 minutes signed cards, posters, notepads, tshirts, dressed, skin and ballcaps. Little girls in pink dresses approached, with their mothers telling us to sign the dress. It was insane. We posed for pictures, held babies and were asked where we were from. I always told them Colorado, but also told them my dad was from Zacatecas. I am sure it was confusing as the car has Zacatecas plastered all over it and has Zacatecas plates, my brother and I are fair-skinned blondes, and I wear a Norwegian patch on my suit.

After the transit my brother was nervous about the overheating and the clutch so outside of the village we called my dad and Rene and asked them to come back. We met them at a tollbooth and Rene checked out the car and decided it was okay, but that he would drive it the rest of the way to Puebla. Rene and I always have a good time in the car, smiling and laughing and singing Bob Marley off key. We finished the day in Puebla in the town square and again were mobbed by the crowds and received our finisher medals. The town was beautiful and the drivers meeting was to be held right there in the square at 9 pm. Rene and I couldn’t decide if we should stay downtown for the next several hours to wait for the meeting, or to return to the hotel 20 minutes away and come back later.

We settled on cold beers in a sidewalk restaurant in the square, people watching and reflecting on the day. We returned to the hotel and learned that Stewie had taken a taxi downtown to the drivers meeting since they weren’t sure where we were. Back at the hotel we ate dinner, then Geezer arrived and shortly after that Stewie arrived for the meeting. To our complete surprise, Stewie was holding two 3rd place silver plates for our finish in the Turismo Produccion class (Production). We were shocked and ecstatic!! It was unbelievable. I knew that Stewie had driven that speed stage in the afternoon faster than any of us had driven so far, but I had no idea that we could place. We all agreed that the 3rd place was crazy and that we wouldn’t be able to, or need to top that!! It was KICK ASS. Later I hung out in the bar with the Hot Rod Lincoln crew for a beer and talk about the day’s events.

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