La Carrera Panamericana is a serious race and it requires serious equipment, both for the car and the occupants. I know very little about car racing but learned a lot on this trip. Cars are outfitted with full cage rollbars and it was amazing to see the aftermath of cars rolling on the first two days of racing on the twisty mountain roads of Veracruz.
These are cars from the 1950s and 1960s and they are made of tons of steel with steel dashboards and plexiglass side and rear windows. They don't have anti-lock brakes, crumple zones or airbags. During the race we discussed the choice you make if a deer or other large animal crosses the road. Many agree the best thing to do is hit the animal, because if you try to swerve and miss it you can end up going off the road and being injured much more seriously.
Our personal safety equipment consists of full Nomex suits, often double layer, or single layer with Nomex underwear. We wear open or closed face auto racing helmets outfitted with intercoms to allow the navigator to guide the pilot during the speed stages. We add neck braces, Nomex gloves, Nomex driving shoes and strap ourselves to our seats with racing harnesses. Our names, blood types and allergies are affixed to the side of the car, our helmets and our suits in case of a crash. We have safety nets over the open windows to prevent limbs from flying out the windows during a crash.
During transit stages we are wearing our suits, but may have the top pulled down if it’s hot. Prior to a speed stage we safety bolt the door so that it doesn’t fly open during a crash, affix the window safety nets, put on our helmets and gloves, attach and test the intercom, and tighten up our harnesses until we can barely move. Then we are ready to go.
Names and bloodtypes on the side of the car
After experiencing this race and seeing firsthand what a rollover crash can do to the car and the drivers, I decided that I would rather be in El Jefe if I was going to hit a deer or something big rather than the Excursion. These old cars are tough! They come out of a rollover with some dings and dents but it is truly amazing. Sometimes they bang out the fenders and get them on the road again the next day. Others have bent frames but still look fairly intact. There is something to be said of a car made with that much metal.
Not very flattering, but here are the "chubby cheeked" pics of us smashed into our safety equipment: