31 October 2007

2007: Day 6 - Aguascalientes to Zacatecas (Geezer's Hometown)

I told an adoring fan I liked his shirt - many of the local club members wore them showing they were official motorcyclist police of Aguascalientes and the back had a skull riding a motorcycle

so he did a strip tease......

and gave me the shirt off his back!

so Geezer made him the proud owner of a TBZ shirt

Stewie and Stacy, the copilot of the tiny Fiat Abarth, discuss the route of the day in Aguas

Team TBZ at the start in Aguas

Tom Overbaugh's beautiful original PanAm Lincoln lost its transmission, then they bent an axle on their trailer so we took the car to the TBZ shop where the TBZ guys fixed the axle

I ran into Rene's dad taking his mom for a walk outside their shop in Guadalupe!

The route at the end of the run up La Bufa. When you see multiple turns on one row of the page, that means they are S turns - one after another.

Ralph and Bill of the Hot Rod Lincoln Team get the party started in downtown Zacatecas

Bimbo and Rene drive El Jefe back to the shop for more work

I forgot what it's called but in Zacatecas we receive necklaces with shot glasses and we march with the mariachi band all through downtown Zacatecas, stopping to dance along the way, en route to the party at the bull ring.

Eddie, mechanic extraordinaire for the Habich Team, boogies to the beat

John and Emine of the beautiful Daytona coupe from Canada

Kristin and Anders from the Swedish Team led by Mats Hammarlund (after about 9 shots of tequila) with Johnny Tipler, Motoring Author in the background

Kristin and Brad Kaplan of the legendary yellow original PanAm Lincoln

Rene, Bimbo and K at the bull ring party

The epic 17th century San Pedro bullring with the 16th century aqueduct in the background in Zacatecas

29 October 2007

2007: Day 4 - Queretaro to Morelia

Hola amigos. We had a solid day of racing yesterday and ended up at 40th place for the day. We came through Mexico city at 41 degrees and rain and that was cold! Rene drove in the morning with Stewie navigating and the morning was mostly transit through the mountains, but then they closed Periferico in the heart of Mexico City and raced a fast and straight 5km. In the afternoon Geezer drove with Stewie navigating. I stayed in the service truck all day as I am still a little spooked.

In the morning we had a caravan of 3 trucks and trailers going through Mexico City. Behind us was the burned out Corvette from Colorado. I got to talk to both driver and navigator to hear about the experience, which I will relay later. Freaky for sure. In Mexico City we got pulled over by the local police and Geezer had to pay $120 USD because two of the trucks blew a red light. Then the Corvette guys got pulled over and had to pay another $100 USD for some unknown infraction - we think for not having registration for the Corvette. Imagine being seconds away from going up in flames the day before, trailering your Vette which is mostly ashes by now, and getting pulled over because there were no papers in the glovebox. Hello! There is no glovebox. Anyway.

Last night Rene and I partied in the zocolo with Brad from the yellow Original PanAm Lincoln until the cars arrived. It was a great party and we got back to the hotel to work on the car. As usual Rene did his magic and replaced the regulator as we were having trouble with the alternator. He did something else but he told Geezer he won't tell him what the problem was until we get to Nuevo Laredo. He is a funny guy!

Today we head out of Queretaro towards Morelia. This afternoon we navigate the famous Mil Cumbres (1000 summits/1000 turns). In the Zocolo I had a nice talk with Angelica Fuentes who navigated the winning car last year. She has been racing La Carrera since 1992 and is in high demand to navigate. In 1992 during the race she lost two dear friends when they went off a cliff. She confirmed my feelings of still not being comfortable with getting back in the car and said I should go back when I'm ready.

Morelia is a beautiful area and some of it reminds me of Colorado. Mexico is mountains....everywhere you look.....and Morelia has a huge beautiful lake to add to the beauty.

hasta luego....

This is Geezer in Morelia at dinner, frustrated because the waiters don't always understand his Spanish....he asked for CUATRO CORONAS and they brought two. ?? That's him hiding his head under the tablecloth so he can speak to them in Spanish but they won't see that he's a gringo and disregard him, and later enunciating CUATRO CORONAS to the plate. He is nonstop entertainment!

28 October 2007

2007: Day 3 - Puebla to Mexico City to Queretaro

Thank you very mucho to everyone who has emailed, called, texted and left messages on my blog. My phone display broke when we went over the cliff. I can receive calls but can't do anything else - can't even see the screen, it is just a blur of lines like an old fashioned TV channel that went off the air. You can still call me though!

I am lucky enough to have the internet this morning, a Go Fast energy drink in my hand and the news that it's daylight savings so it's actually 530am instead of 630am. We ride today from the beautiful city of Puebla, across a mountain pass that reminds me of home, to the world's biggest city - Mexico City. According to Eduardo Leon, the race organizer, they will shut down Periferico in the heart of Mexico City for a very fast speed stage. He said he will believe it when he sees the first green flag. He said this is like closing the 405 in L.A. on a Sunday. My guess is that because it's Mexico, it will go better than planned as people in this country, in my opinion, handles change, disruption and chaos better than we do in the U.S.

After Mexico City we make our way to Queretaro, the home of my dear friends Rudi van den Berg and his wife Gabi. It is a bummer but they are both out of town right now. We depended heavily on them last year when our car broke down in the mountains 2 - 1/2 hours outside of Queretaro. Rudi and Gabi lead our service truck up the mountain in the dark through villages and roads that didn't make any sense to us, to finally rescue the car.

Stewie just walked in the room and said two Belgians are in jail for going 110mph in a school zone and having a car accident. Please note that all of the information we receive is word of mouth and should be considered gossip until we hear official race news. Hopefully no one was injured. [A postscript note - we heard later that no such speeds were involved, though the crash did involve 3 race cars and a local car but I didn't hear of any injuries and I don't think anyone went to jail.] This race does not tolerate behavior that endangers anyone- the race doesn't call for it and the only time we hit high speeds are on the interstates and when the roads are closed to the public for official speed stages.

Geezer says to tell everyone we are doing good and working our way towards later starting times every day. Puebla had the earliest start last year as well and you can see the fatigue is catching up to everyone. He said when he got to the parking lot this morning in the dark by himself he said, "Do I really want to do this?" But then Stewie showed up, and there was Rene with a smile and there was me with a hug and kiss and he said he knew then that yes, this was exactly what he wanted to be doing.

Hasta luego, amigos!

some photos, the early start, the burned out corvette, the navigator (close up of guy with brown hair and goatee - his goatee is singed), la pena de bernal (mountain).

A very early morning in Puebla

Kari Rensing, navigator of car #555, Porsche 911 GT3 and Bret Haller, founder of www.theunlimitedclass.com

The beautiful 1965 Corvette, reduced to its frame

The Corvette navigator, a man lucky to be alive, with burns on his backside and a singed goatee

One of my favorite teams - Richard Tyzack running the beautiful "Bag O'Nails" Mustang built by Todd Landon

Tough to spot but there is a cool mountain in this pic - la Pena de Bernal outside of Queretaro

The original PanAm Lincoln guys are all crazy - Brad Kaplan of the #404 yellow Lincoln

Simon Jefferies of the "Bag O'Nails" Mustang with mechanic Seamus Nolan with their 1st place for today's route

26 October 2007

2007: Day 1 - So This is Racing.......Over a Cliff!

In front of the beautiful cathedral in downtown Oaxaca at the official start of the race

>>>>>Original Post>>>>>>>>>>
It's been two days since I've posted and we think we have a good excuse. Rene and I put the car over a cliff in a speed stage in the mountains yesterday. We both came out unscathed and the car was amazingly fine. The pictures don't do it justice and I am at a loss of words to explain due to a lack of sleep, nonexistent diet, inhaling too many gas fumes, cigarette smoke and maybe one extra mezcal. And this is just Day 1.

In lieu of words, here are some pictures from yesterday. We heard that 9 cars went off the road in the mountain stages between Oaxaca and Tehuacan. Those mountains were humbling.....unlike any mountains I have experienced in the US, Canada or Europe and in the top 3 of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.

The good news and the only important news is that as far as we know, there were no injuries from today's crashes.

And so, todos vaya con dios!

>>>>>End of Original Post>>>>>>>>>>

I'm back, after the fact, here to flesh out some of the details of Day 1 of the race. Our crash could easily be classified as a very minor one, especially since both occupants and the car were not harmed. On the drama scale I give it a 7, but hey, that's my scale and everything is relative. It did take some time for me to process what happened, and I guess that's why it's two months later and I am just sitting down to write.

It changed the face of the race for me in a good way. I have a much more realistic view of the danger, and know that indeed, this can (and did) happen to me. Before I would have readily admitted the real dangers of this race and even cited historic fatalities, a solid car, the importance of safety equipment and safe driving, but a part of me thought that the crashes largely happened to the "other guys" - the professional racers, the guys who do this all year long, the guys who push their limits. I felt we were not in that class of racing - we were just here to have fun, not push our limits, smile and cross the finish line.

The morning started out smoothly with Geezer driving and Stewie navigating the same course they ran yesterday in the Day 0 qualification. Rene and I waited at the clogged and bustling Oxxo station for El Jefe's arrival. We heard that Rolf's Falcon went off the road, but was back racing again. It is always alarming to hear someone went off the road and I am always uneasy until I hear that the driver and copilot were okay. Rene was full of energy this morning and I too had anxiety and nervousness leading to our first time in the car for the 2007 race. It seemed like it took forever for El Jefe to get there, and we were happy to hear that everything went well in the morning.

Rene and I suited up and I was pretty nervous, now that I look back at it. The afternoon's speed sections included some very dangerous mountain roads, with sketchy road surfaces and numerous cliffs. As the copilot I normally preview at noon the sections we will run in the afternoon. I highlight any turns that are a 3 or higher (on a scale of 4), any rough road sections and any cliffs. My highlighter was about worn out after doing this for the pages for the afternoon of Day 1 - there were many, many dangerous curves, cliffs and rough roads. I took Rene aside and showed him all the highlights and stressed to him the importance and driving safely. I also asked my brother to talk to him and maybe calm him down a bit. I watched Stewie pull Rene aside and tell him to take it easy, that we weren't going to win anything this year, to keep the car on the road and drive steady.

We put on our Leatt Braces which on me was pretty big and cumbersome. I couldn't see how I was going to last all afternoon wearing it. It felt like it was stretching my neck upwards and holding my head too high. Turning my head was almost impossible. But I would wear the brace, I knew that. We headed off down the road, full of excitement and a bit relieved to get going. We had a very short transit before our first speed stage, which is why we suited up at the gas station.

Rene ran the first stage very well and very fast but the car overheated. After the speed stage he pulled off the road in front of a shack and hollered at the people watching to get us some water. I stayed in the car, strapped in, because I knew that he didn't need my help and that it would take me 5 more minutes to get strapped in. I had messed up the calculations for our arrival time at the next speed stage - I was rusty and couldn't remember how to calculate the numbers on the card. Rene put water in the radiator and jumped back in the car but El Jefe wouldn't start. He whistled at a truck going by and got them to jump us. We were now late for the next speed stage, but being late is a lot better than being early as the penalties for being early are much greater. The truck took off and we waved in thanks and Rene jumped back in just as the car died. It was very frustrating but he tried the ignition one more time and the car started!

We hopped back down the road with a lot of nervous and hyper energy. We were shouting over the roar of the car and Rene was asking me which was to go. I shouted and told him to keep going until he saw the line-up of cars at the 2nd speed stage. He was going too fast through the village and the line-up of the speed stage and I told him to slow down! We were already 10 minutes late for our designated start, but that was only a 10 second penalty and that absolutely did not matter to us. Rene shouted that he wasn't going to wear the Leatt Brace and we went back and forth on that one a bit. He said it wasn't comfortable and I said I didn't care because we didn't have our other braces with us and we couldn't race without them. I made him pull over to the side of the road and take a minute to properly put on his race gear. The whole thing was nerve-wracking. It really didn't matter that we were late, but it felt like it mattered. Finally we got in the queue to race and we were off on a very long speed stage, close to 30 km and the longest speed stage we'd ever done.

We were in some serious mountain terrain and the turns were back-to-back in quick succession. It was very intense driving and Rene was driving as fast as he did back on Day 6 of last year. About 21km into the speed stage we came around a left hand turn and the back end wiggled and threatened to spin. I am pretty sure that if I could have seen Rene eyes, they would have been wide open. I wasn't scared and the skid scrubbed off most of our speed and Rene kept us on track, but I remember thinking, "That is the first time we've almost spun out." I knew that Rene was surprised - maybe he looked at me - I can't remember, but I told him in the intercom, "Don't worry about it, just get back on track and go, you're fine." About 3 turns later we came through a cut in the mountain going right, hit a small downhill straightaway that led into a sharp left (3) and he slammed on the brakes and braced.

I know my brain didn't know what was happening as we skidded straight for the edge of the road. To our left was a steep cliff to the valley below and to our right was an uphill mountainside covered in jungle. But before that mountain went up, it went down.

I remember quiet and peacefulness as we slid in slow motion towards the edge of the road and the unknown. The car dipped steeply down and crashed over small trees and thick brush until we came to rest bout 15 feet down the incline. El Jefe was almost resting on the passenger side of the car, but also tipped downhill towards the front of the car. From our resting position we looked to be hanging in the air.

I have had moments after near misses where I knew I was okay, and moments where my brain needed to catch up to what had happened. I totalled my Audi wagon last March when I hit a 900 pound elk while going 70mph on the Colorado Interstate at night. The elk hit the hood and my side of the windshield and after getting sprayed with glass but not feeling any impact I didn't know if I was okay or not. I was literally terrified that I would look over at my passenger and see that she was bloody and/or dead. We shouted at each other at the same time, "ARE YOU OKAY? I'M OKAY!" and I reached out blindly to grab her hand because I needed to physically touch her which would be the second step in knowing that she was okay, after hearing her voice.
It took what seemed like a lifetime but was probably only 30 seconds before I had the courage to turn and look at her. We were both fine but I definitely experienced that moment where I didn't know if I was physically okay and I was terrified that my passenger would be covered in blood.

This time with Rene, when the car stopped, it was very quiet and still. We confirmed that the other was okay and my physical position as far as the angle of the car upon the earth became clear. I looked at Rene and said with fear, "Is the car going to move?" I know I had grasped my racing harness with both hands at the sternum and I knew I wouldn't release that harness if there was a chance the car was going to break free and roll. Below us was thick jungle but there was no end to the ravine in sight and to me it was certain that the car would roll many times before stopping. Rene, with full confidence, said the car was stopped and he climbed out his door, which was literally above me. Once he got both feet on the ground his face showed fear and he looked down on me and said, "Walk very softly!"

For the first time I was really scared. I did not want to go for a ride in that car, but I was scared to unbuckle the harness for fear that my movement would cause the car to break free. I probably asked him if he was sure, which was a stupid question, but I wasn't ready to make my move. I grabbed my cell phone which was velcroed to the dash and handed Rene the Route Book, then unbuckled my harness and crawled as fast and gently as I could up and out of El Jefe.

To be continued......

The Hot Rod Lincoln at the official race start in Oaxaca

El Jefe in front of the the cathedral in Oaxaca

Stewie in the morning

Suited up and ready to go!

Geezer in his underwear....again

The Mats Hammarlund team works on the speedy yellow Volvo

The Corona Ford

Rene immediately after our crash - note the skid marks

Yep, everything is OK

The view looking back up the road. Picture courtesy of Bret Haller and TheUnlimitedClass.com