23 October 2007

2007: A Few Leisurely Pre-Race Days in Oaxaca....Not!

We have about 3 and a half days here in Oaxaca before the race officially starts and I know they are going to pass very quickly. I was really hoping to see the oldest ruins in Mexico, which are only 5 miles outside of Oaxaca, but our days filled rapidly with race-related tasks and it did not happen. We had all of Tuesday, Wednesday and half of Thursday to prepare before Day 0 of racing began.

Each day we drive El Jefe to a grassy field behind a very nice semi-pro baseball stadium. All the cars and many service vehicles were parked here. The stadium provided a place for us to register, prepare our cars and in general get ready for the race. There is a bit of mayhem to it all, and festivity. Race cars get revved up and tuned and large service trucks drive in and out amid the swarms of people. Race officials cruise around on small dirt bikes and one mobile mechanic's scooted around nearly on ground level on a tiny little platform that sounded like it was powered by a lawnmower engine.

Victor Menenses, PanAm Race Official, chats with Jerry Churchill

The lawnmower motorcycle thingy.

Kristin at bat in the baseball stadium.

Today we officially registered for the race, received our goody bag of race hats, tshirts and jackets, received our FMAD race licenses, race ID tags and the almighty ROUTE BOOK which would be our bible for the next 8 days. We progressed through a medical inspection which entailed a blood pressure check and temperature check and all went well. Last year on the first morning I had slammed a Red Bull and driven El Jefe for the first time, then went to get my blood pressure checked. Mine is normally 110/60 but that day it was 120/90 or some horrible reading that indicates I'm having a stroke. I was alarmed but learned it was my adrenaline. But this year I was hoping to have handle on it and I did get a good reading. Whew.

Geezer fills out registration forms while Rene gets his photo taken for his FMAD license.
Geezer's secret to success: low blood pressure.

The next big hurdle was to get El Jefe to pass the tech inspection. About 15 cars at a time were lined up in the grass awaiting their turn. Each car took about 15 minutes to pass or fail. They check to ensure your car meets the specs of the class you are running in, and that it meets safety regulations. We are in the Turismo de Producion Class (Production) which has the following guidelines (paraphrased and condensed):

Production sedans from 1950-1954 with original bodywork and FH/OHV with V8 cyclinder with iron block engines or inline FH/OHV and SOHC 6 cylinder and OHV/OHC and DOHC 4 cyclinder. Engines must be of same make/family and configuration as original.

  • 5-speed transmission allowed except for cars with OHV V8 engines, which are limited to a 4-speed transmission.
  • Disc brakes on four wheels are allowed and may be vented.
  • Space-frame (tubular) chassis not allowed.
  • Original chassis and main frame member is mandatory or similar one of same family.
  • Engines of limited production or special racing design are not allowed.
  • Headers are allowed on all cars.
Displacement and carbueration for cars equipped with engines of:
  • 4 cylinders up to 2000cc (122 cu in) and 2 carbs with 2 barrel each.
  • 6 cylinders up to 5000cc (305 cu in), 3 carbs with 2 barrels or one 4 barrel carb of 600 cfm max.
  • 8 cylinders up to 5000 cc (305 cu in), 1 carb with 2 barrels, Holley 500 cfm max or 1 carb with 4 barrels of 600 cfm max.

El Jefe passed the tech inspection with flying colors and we were in! There are new regulations for stronger and better roll cages this year, but because Geezer builds roll cages as part of his business and we felt we had a very safe cage.

The Tangerine Scream Porsches

Rene demonstrates "Zacatecas Butt" - evidently some kind of physical trait where your butt is kind of flat.....and he said the Daytona Coupe had it too.

Today, amidst all the activity, I of course made time to socialize with the friends I made last year, and also to meet many new people. My buddies Jorge y Tomas from Michigan who were not able to race this year had told me to be sure to introduce myself to Gary Faules. Gary and I had passed a few emails prior to the race, and I could see before meeting him that he was a fun-loving guy and I already liked him. I easily found Gary and his son Will standing next to their wickedly fast Mustang and introduced myself. Gary practically jumped into the air, knowing that he had promised Jorge y Tomas that he would deliver a big hug to me. I didn't know it was going to be a hug with legs, but of course I liked it! And it didn't take me long to figure out that Gary's beaming smile wasn't just first-time-at-the-PanAm-pre-race-excitement, it was a nearly permanent fixture on his face that he would spread across Mexico for the next 10 days.

The infamous Gary Faules Hug-With-Legs!

Yesterday afternoon, the day we arrived in Oaxaca, I got a call from Ray Maione, the mechanic from the Hot Rod Lincoln team. In a tired voice Ray told me they had made it to Guadalajara from their starting point in Phoenix. After hanging up I asked my dad how long it would take them to get from Guadalajara to Oaxaca and he said, "Oh, about 24 hours." Yikes! And sure enough, this afternoon the Hot Rod Lincoln boys arrived looking more than a bit weary as they had driven straight through. They had asked me what route we took through Mexico City, and I told them it was the one where we followed a policeman and his flashing lights. They told me they were hopelessly lost too and I told them that everyone gets lost in Mexico City - it seems to be the one sure thing about traveling through Mexico City.

Ralph and team finally arrive after a non-stop drive from Phoenix.

One part of the PanAm that causes a constant stir is the young chicas who run around in tight and skimpy outfits advertising their products and posing with the crowd. Rene named them the Hoochie Mamas (no disrespect intended on my part) and at every opportunity he would yell frantically at me to come take his picture with the chicas bonitas...."HOOCHIE MAMAS! GET YOUR CAMERA, COME TAKE MY PICTURE!!!!" This year I decided to make Rene take pictures of me with the guapos and especially the guapo policia, federales, security men, and in general men in uniform. My plan worked. Forget racing - I'm having a blast.

Rene had it going on here with the Yamaha Mamas but I outdid him by posing with lots of guapos today.

In the registration line I reconnected with Bret Haller from last year and met his buddy, Kevin Ward, who won the PanAm in 1992 in a Studebaker. They are the founders of The Unlimited Class and very cool guys.

I met the vibrant Rebecca Olausson, the Swedish photographer, who is taking photographs for a book Johnny Tipler is writing on the race, and doing her own story on the women of La Carrera. Rebecca and I (two blondes) were standing there talking when Jonas (another Swedish blonde) walked up. He casually chatted us up for a while and was very sweet and we thought he was just getting to know us but then at the end he paused and then asked us if we had some tools he could borrow. We both chuckled about that.

Geezer from Norway and Rebecca Olausson from Sweden.

Jonas, under the hood of Ralf Christensson and Anna Sorensson's speedy Swedish Falcon.

I spotted the guapos from Cancun, Benjamin and his sons and crew, who drove the Mini last year but were in a Mercedes this year. Always a class act, these guys rolled the Mini last year on Day 0 and were back in the race the next morning after a few hammer hit readjustments to the body and a new plexiglass windshield.

Chip Johns showed up in a Falcon that looked like it could tear up any road it had in its sights, and he introduced us to his girlfriend, the blow up skeleton! His colorful character simply spilled out of him.

Chip Johns' new girlfriend.

Geezer seemed to be in heaven and smiled with his teeth all day. My memory of my dad from growing up is that I never saw him without a mustache and when he smiled he never showed his teeth. The PanAm has changed all of that. I have many pictures of him now with the biggest smile he can muster. It could not get better than that! The schoolchildren were out in force, some in uniform, and mostly traveling in their small groups, all with cell phone cameras and all with smiles. We'd sign autographs here and there and pose for pictures.

Geezer was excited when his Minnesota buddy, Todd Landon, showed up with two of his extraordinary Mustangs.

In the early afternoon Rene and I decided to get some ice for the cooler. We walked outside the stadium and headed for the main street. A mile later we were still in search of ice (hielo) and it felt good to get out and walk and check out the bustling city. We finally found a tiendita selling ice and beer so we got both. On the way back we stopped and got Geezer some McDonald's for lunch. I knew he wouldn't eat unless the food was put in front of him, because he was too busy having fun.

Walking on the busy streets I noticed that there are many things you can do in Mexico and no one blinks an eye. You can get your freak on and most people won't notice. Here in the United States it feels to me like people are much more judgemental and they gawk if anyone or anything is beyond the norm. There are many less rules in Mexico and I like it that way. For instance we walked into McDonald's carrying ice and beer and I just don't think that we would have done that in the U.S., or if we had done it, they might have asked us to leave because of the beer. I saw a motor scooter with Dad driving, Mom on the back, and a toddler smashed in between them like a sandwich. We passed by 6 or 7 people scrunched into a tiny Nissan Sentra taxi - you see that thing everywhere in Mexico. Here in the U.S. we would have waited for the next taxi so we could retain what we think is our personal space, and waste more resources. I see it all of the time in elevators at home - there is plenty of room but no one wants to move closer so people choose to wait for the next one. Same thing for subways - people are so reluctant to let more people on.

I met Eddie from the Habich Team who were parked next to us. I asked him if he wanted a beer and his face lit up and then I felt terrible because when I went to grab a cold one the cooler was already empty. Where did that beer go?

Geezer and I chatted with the ever smiling Christian Reichardt who drove his Original PanAm Lincoln 6,571 miles last year roundtrip from L.A., and met his new navigator, Dan Roche. You can make friends quickly at the PanAm - we are all here for the same general reasons and we know that by the end we will be bonded in ways we could have never imagined in the start. I love it because the majority of the people are here to have a good time, challenge their cars and their bodies, and still come out smiling.

When the day was done we had another beautiful evening eating in the open air at the Victoria Hotel with the city below us and the dark outlines of the mountains hemming us in. What an amazing place. I love all of this.


Magliano said...

Very intersting commentary on the inside of LaCsrerra!! I loved the comments about the people of Mexico.
You go, Girl!

Gary Faules said...

What can I say... What an awesome post and commentary and I just love the photos. And for the record... None of those Hoochie Mamas had anything on you Babe. ;)

I sure hope we will see more. (write ups that is.)

Anonymous said...

does anyone know how to get into touch with chip johns?