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


George Sullivan said...

Where the hell are my other 2 fingers. Your comments and stories are great I have really enjoyed them very much.
George "The Wild Child"

Dharsage said...


Wow, this is damn amazing!

Well written, and great detail all the way throughout. I envy your experiences.

Good luck this in this years race! Be there at the finish line, and if you can, be there before anyone else~