19 November 2006

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.

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