24 October 2007

2007: One More Day Before The Race Starts!

Today is Wednesday, October 24th and tomorrow is Day 0 of racing already! We got to the ball stadium for another day of pre-race socializing, checking and re-checking the car and our equipment, and anxiety-ridden anticipation. Ray told me that he and his buddy Russ, both firemen in Phoenix, met some fireman from Oaxaca and they were taking them on a personal tour of Oaxaca and the ruins. The Mexican fireman gave them patches and hats from the local station and said they would call ahead on the PanAm route to make sure that Ray and Russ were taken care of all throughout their trip. What an amazing international brotherhood!

More and more cars arrived today until the race field was bursting with activity and seemed like it had to be nearly full. There seemed to be a lot of Studebakers this year, but as far as I could tell, only one was in the Original PanAm class. There were quite a few Mustangs too, which always makes Geezer and I smile as we love the Mustangs. Many cars arrived with work still to do, while others spent time tinkering and washing and polishing their cars, some maybe not knowing that the Mexican roadways would throw everything at our cars in the next 8 days until most of them looked dirty, broken down and battered, and some knowing, but wanting their cars to look shiny at the start.

Mats Hammarlund from Sweden and his crew. (http://www.mhracing.com.mx/)

The weather continued to brighten and the clouds lifted and at times we’d put on long sleeved shirt, but for the most part the weather was perfect. They had predicted rain, which isn’t so good for racing, but the sky seemed to be clearing a path for us. Stewie’s flight arrived today so Rene, Geezer and I piled into the Excursion (“The Big Mama”) for a 20 minute drive to their airport. Connections to Oaxaca are challenging so he left DC yesterday afternoon and spent last night in Houston in order to get here by noon. He walked out the airport door and in his backpack showed us what made it feel like a lead weight – 30 pounds of El Jefe race postcards. Many teams print postcards with a picture of their car and often of the driver and copilot, to hand out to the kids and fans. We didn't do it last year but this year we had 2,000 to distribute.
On the way back to the stadium we updated him on El Jefe and the pre-race activity. He’d need to register today, get his FMAD license and medical inspection and then we’d be all set. I wanted a blow up skeleton too so Rene bartered on a street corner and paid $10 for two of the Dia de los Muertos dolls. Geezer had a plan for one of them, and I wanted to bring another home. I love the Day of the Dead. It seems to me that Mexicans have a fantastic way of honoring their dead with respect, yet also mocking death in a humorous way in a very meaningful celebration.

When we got to stadium Ralph waved me over to the makeshift cafĂ© a local named Ron Irwin had set up by our cars. He poured us all a mescal and Ralph told Stewie to come over and join us. Stewie seemed a little hesistant – maybe because it wasn’t noon yet? I don’t know but he made it over and we sipped some killer mescal and in some part of me I was feeling that we were approaching the end – the end of one year of preparation to get here, the arrival of Stewie, completing Team TBZ for 2007, and the last day before the race begins. But the end of one thing is always the beginning of the next and that is why we are here – to race La Carrera Panamerica!

Ron Irwin taking care of us with the mescal bar about 5 feet from our cars.

I chatted with Ron Irwin, an American who moved to Mexico several years back. His grandmother, who is part Lakota Indian, told Ron he needed to grow his hair, take an Indian name and get back to his Lakota roots. Ron said they had the big house, the cars, the motorcycles, the toys and all the “stuff.” But he decided Grandmother was right so he and his wife packed up and moved to Oaxaca where they run several different businesses. They have a tour guide service called Viajes Oaxaca (lacasadegranite@hotmail.com) and they will take to you to all of the places that you won’t find on your own, with other guides, or in books or the internet. He said if I wanted to rock climb, backpack, sleep on the beach, go to hot springs, see the ruins no one else sees, and stay at their house in the mountains, he would make it happen. The man is so accomplished I can’t even remember all of his talents and trades. I believe he was a nurse in the US and now has acquired many more skills like rug weaving and cooking and making mescal. We met his son Lathan (a Lakota name) who was about 5 and loved El Jefe. We strapped Lathan in the race car, put a helmet on and let him “drive.” He was tearing around corners on two-wheels, passing the race leaders on the straightaways and winning the entire PanAm to the roar of the crowd.

We were keeping an eye on the Hot Rod Lincoln which was parked next to us and when the guys left we took one of the blow up skeletons and taped her to their hood in a spread eagle. As soon as we did it, people from the crowd flocked around to take photos and we had a good chuckle. It was Geezer’s idea, I will just say that right now.

When Bill and Ralph came back to their car and saw the skelton they started laughing. I'm sure they automatically thought it was me behind the gag, so I had to swear to them that it was Geezer's idea. Bill thanked us profusely and said he wanted a skeleton but Ralph wouldn't let him get one.
Rene spent part of the day having custom stickers made for El Jefe. This year we already had a ton of stickers, from last year and also somehow the stickers seem to procreate on their own. After tech inspection the cars receive their sponsor stickers for the year, and obsolete sponsors from last year are removed. Geezer had also added a bunch of stars to El Jefe which made her easier to recognize on the road and gave her more of an Evel Kneivel look, which I love.

The “sticker man” had a computer and printer under a little tent and could make about anything you could dream up and it was cheap. We added some bold red TBZ stickers to our helmets and Rene went a little wild with glee adding stickers to the car. The first one was “No Big Pedote” which loosely translated means “You don’t have to make a big stink about it.” I am having a hard time explaining the humor correctly but it was pretty funny and something that he and Geezer would say if something serious happened with the car, like, “No big deal” and laugh about it. That one went right by the exhaust – for the stink.

The next one had a bigger story behind it. Rene’s nephew, Fabian, is 16 and works in my dad’s shop in Zacatecas. Rene and Geezer built a VW Bug “vocho” race car this year which they try to race every month on a track in Zacatecas. One Saturday as they were wrapping up at work, Rene invited Fabian to come to the race with them on Sunday. Fabian said yes, but he never showed up. On Monday Geezer and Rene said, “Where were you, Fabian?” Evidently, as the story goes, while Rene laughs hysterically telling it, Fabian told his girlfriend he was going to the races on Sunday morning with the boys and she said, “NO ME LLEVAS, NO VAS” which means, “IF YOU DON’T TAKE ME, YOU DON’T GO.” Sounded pretty final to me and poor Fabian, just 16 years old, stayed home.

Mi amigo especial, Tonio, from the Cancun Mercedes crew.

In trouble with the federales again.

On one of our walks around the grounds, one thing Geezer pointed out was the other teams that have family ties. He said he thought we were the only father and daughter team, which made me sparkle just that he thought of it. It was precious to me last year to be there with my dad and the more time we spend together and the more memories we make, the richer it gets. Other family teams that I am aware of included:

· Gary Faules driving the white Mustang with his son Will crewing him solo.
· Benjamin S. de la Pena Mora and his sons, Jose y Patricio in the yellow Mercedes.
· Daryl Habich and his son Roger in the speedy Studebaker.
· Another team consisted of grandpa and his son in the car and the grandkids crewing.
· Gustavo Robles and his son in the Ford like ours.

The festivity of the afternoon continued until we decided to head back to the hotel and grab some dinner before the first and most important meeting of the race – the navigators’ meeting where they review the rules and regulations of the race and distribute addenda to the route book.

Back at the hotel I stopped at the front desk to ask if I could get a massage. Ralph told me they would come to your room and it was $40. I’d never had an in room massage so I thought it was a good place to start. My stress level at work prior to the race had been through the roof and I had traveled every week this year except 6 and I was at my wit’s end. That manifests in my neck and shoulders so I was really grateful to have the opportunity for a massage. The front desk said they’d send someone up at 6pm. I went to my room and sat on the edge of the bed for about 5 minutes with excitement and anxiety, how funny.

The knock on the door came and the masseuse was a woman about my age who spoke no English. My Spanish is rusty but good enough to get along and keep me out of most trouble. I invited her in and she put her towels down on the coffee table, laid a towel on the bed and turned to face me and said a bit sternly in Spanish, “TAKE OFF ALL YOUR CLOTHES.”

I got a little nervous and a little giggly and as she turned her back to unfold more towels I dropped my tshirt, shorts and underclothing in 2 seconds flat and stood there in my full glory, waiting for inspection...... I guess? Hahaha. She looked at me, put a towel on the bed and told me to lie face down.

Once the massage began I relaxed and began to sink into it. As she worked my neck and back the aches and pains come out. You know how sometimes you don’t know how jacked up you are until someone touches you? That’s how I was. She had a light touch and I like my muscles abused by a strong Swedish woman with large hands, but she was a small Mexican woman with a soft touch and I couldn’t think of how to tell her that I wanted her to use more pressure.

I finally settled on, “Mas fuerte, por favor” (stronger, please) which she readily understood, though I had to remind her a few more times. I was falling deeper and deeper into oblivion despite the loud and exciting race activity going on one floor below my open window. My room was perched above the lobby driveway and so there was a constant staccato of arriving race cars and service trucks, revving engines, honking and conversations and I didn’t miss a detail of it. I chuckled to myself that this was absolutely the loudest and least serene massage environment I’d ever experienced.

But then things got even funnier. Above the engine noises I heard a voice distinctly familiar to me whispering intently, “Kris! …Kris!.... Kris!” It was none other than Rene, mi hermanito y piloto, and my eyes rolled back in my head as he most certainly knew I was getting a massage right now. I tried to ignore him, thinking that he was below my window but soon came a knock at the door. I almost burst into laughter and the masseuse asked me if she should open the door, I reluctantly mumbled, "Si" and Rene poked his head in the door and asked frantically, “Where is your father?!” I said I didn’t know and then remembered that the race meeting was supposed to start at 7pm and that I had the route book which would probably make Stewie nervous. So I told Rene, “Can you come in here and get the route book out of my green duffle and give it to Stewie?” Of course I was covered and the masseuse continued but I had to laugh at the circumstance. Rene ran out with the route book and I breathed deep to return to my place and apologized to the masseuse.

The laughter subsided but then a few minutes before 7pm there was another knock on the door. Okay, yes, so I had a moment of feeling annoyed but then I laughed and said yes when the masseuse asked again if she should open the door. It was Geezer this time and I thought, “Lordy, what’s next?” The masseuse let him in and he said, “Are you going to the meeting at 7pm?” I said, “YES, as soon as I’m done here I will be down there.” How funny this whole experience was, for me it could only happen in Mexico, or only at the PanAm and as funny as it was, it fit perfectly and afterwards seemed normal.

Afterwards I definitely had “Massage Head” which meant I was so relaxed my brain is kind of turned off. I joined the copilot's meeting and my neck felt 100 times better. The copiloto meeting is very important and often times drivers that are newer to the race will attend as well. It was standing room only and we sat through, oh, I don’t know, at least 90 minutes of meeting information, changes to the route book, instruction on timing, speed stages, time cards and all the rules that can make or break your time. At times it was very confusing and they had changed some rules, but overall it was a good meeting and the organizers do an amazing job putting all of this together each year. Imagine writing a turn-by-turn guidebook to travel almost 2,000 miles through Mexico, where street signs are a scarcity and often even the locals can’t describe how to get across their own town. And I’m not talking about a Mapquest turn-by-turn, but rather, every speed bump in the road noted, many kilometer signs and landmarks, every turn in the speed stages rated….the route book is simply amazing.

Some highlights of the copilots’ meeting included an announcement where a race organizer said, “Attention! Race car #393 is rolling down the hill in front of the hotel, we need someone to put stones in front of the wheels.” The crowd burst into laughter, but maybe a bit of nervous laughter as we all knew that the road in front of the hotel was incredibly steep and cobblestone and no one would want their car rolling down it, or to have their car in the path of it.

After the official meeting there was a party tent set up on the gorgeous lawn by the pool and we enjoyed drinks and mingled with our fellow racers. There was a ceremony where beautiful Oaxacan women paraded around the pool wearing local Indian clothing. Eduardo Leon, the race organizer, gave his speech, introduced his staff and brought out Julio, the main federal policeman who would be with us the entire race. Julio spoke and said that he and his crew were there to protect us and that if anything happened he had our back and we were to call him. How crazy to be not only allowed to break speed limit laws in old race cars, but to have federale support the entire time! Welcome to the PanAm! They say there is no other race like it in the world.

1 comment:

Gary Faules said...


By the way, I forgot to tell you, I am a Swedish woman with large hands. LOL.