31 October 2008

2008 PanAm: The Big Finish - El Jefe is 36th Overall!

La Carrera Panamericana 2008 had a spectacular finish. Geezer, Stewie and Rene finished 36th overall in El Jefe and 6th in the Production Class. The linkage to the clutch busted with just 60 miles left to go to Nuevo Laredo so we had to trailer El Jefe, but we officially finished all the speed stages and turned in our race card so we can still call it a finish. In a starting field of 105 cars, about half of those finished - a very high atrition rate so we are very happy to have finished, and finished well.

Final results are here: http://www.lacarrerapanamericana.com.mx/resultados_08.asp (download the pdf called Resultos Absulotos Finales).

Todd's 3 cars all finished and the big news is that Richard and Simon got 1st place in Historic C with Marc and Rupert close behind with 3rd place in Historic C! And they were 6th and 9th overall, which is incredible! Martin and Jon in the Gypsy Wind finished 6th in their class and 34th overall which is a good showing for missing 1+ days of racing due to a ripped open oil pan.

It is 10am and I am sitting with my laptop in the Texas sunlight on a curb in front of a Comfort Inn in Ft. Worth. A local cop just stopped at my toes to ask if I was okay. I motioned to the Falcon a few feet away and told him I was simply waiting for my ride. My plane flies back to Colorado tonight and it is really hard to believe that we are done....that this is over. I am not good at saying goodbye and I have already said it to Geezer, Stewie, Rene, Bimbo, Rupert, Marc, Simon and Richard. I am here in Texas with Todd, Fernando, Shawn, Dave, Jon and Martin and we will soon have to part ways as well which brings mixed emotions - sadness that it is over, and joy for the amazing adventure we experienced. There is only ever the now.......

Stewie, Kristin, Geezer and Rene.

Rupert, Simon and Richard celebrate their wins.

Fernando, our crew man with a heart of gold.

Martin and Geezer making their moves.

Todd with big arms.

Rupert, Simon and Richard.

30 October 2008

2008 PanAm: Disturbing Crashes - Mustang launches over heads of spectators; Studebaker rolls and is hit by a 2nd Mustang

The aftermath of the Robertson's Studebaker and the Mustang.

The video of the Studebaker/Mustang crash is here: http://www.sporcar.com/sporcartv/sporcarplayer07.asp?formato=4&seccion=MEX&video=PANA-SLP-AGS.FLV
You may need to cut and paste the link into your browser to get it to work.

It is simply incredible that everyone is okay. The first crash is Stewart and Linda Robertson of Canada smashing into a wall and rolling in their Studebaker. I heard they were running 12th overall that day. After a few seconds a Mustang came around the corner, missed the turn and smashed into the Studebaker, landing on top of it.

Linda walked away with compressed discs in her back and Stewart was unharmed except for the Studebaker rolling over his foot since he was out of the car when the Mustang hit. Stewart built that car to be very strong and as safe as possible. I have had several discussions with Linda in the last two years about her navigator's seat and even teased her about her "throne" because it is a very tall seat with huge wraparounds for her head. She told me in Tuxtla that Stewart is very focused on safety for them and the car. Thank God.....because after watching this video you will wonder how they survived. Oh, and all of this happened just seconds after another Mustang missed the same corner and launched over the heads of the spectators. All 3 cars were totalled.

Linda and Stewart before the start in Tuxtla.

The first Mustang to crash on this corner.

28 October 2008

2008 PanAm: Day 5 Already.....

Hello, sorry, internet has been non-existent for quite a while. El Jefe is running very well, maybe in the 30 somthing place overall and no mechanical troubles. Todd,s boys are running quite well, typically either first, second or third in their class, or some combination thereof. On Day 2 both the Gypsy Wind and the Bag ONails hit a dip in the road during a speed stage and split their sump (that,s British for ripped open their oil pan) but Richard was able to get theirs fixed quickly by a local mechanic and finish the day, missing only 1 speed stage. Martin and Jon had dumped all their oil on the road so we had to put them on the trailer and they didn,t run the next day while the car was being fixed.

There has been quite a bit of carnage but as far as we,ve heard, no one is seriously heard. A gorgeous Sunbeam was totalled on the first day, my friends Jorge and Tomas in the white Volvo went off road but they are okay. We ended up giving them a ride back to Oaxaca because they were riding inside the crashed car on top of a semi car carrier and had about 6 hours to go. We counted 8 cars out of the race the first day, though some cars were able to get back to the race after repairs. A white Mustang fastback smashed their front end on Day 2 and is out of the race.

There have been lots of cars dropping out due to mechanical failures, as always. Yesterday a black Mustang with bright orange stripes went off the road in a curvy downhill section and the car looks pretty trashed, having run over a pile of boulders and them dumping off the side of the road into the small trees. Luckily everyone is okay. Yesterday afternoon the two young men from Canada in the black matte Studebaker missed a turn and went off the road. The car looks pretty bad but we heard that they are okay. Their parents race another Studebaker from Canada and the boys are rookies this year having built the car from scratch recently. We saw them on the road before the crash, they were having mechanical troubles and were stalled out 4 different times.

All in all it has been a blast, very long and incredibly tiring. We,ve had amazing weather and only yesterday did we hit rain during the speed stages. We are in San Luis Potosi today and leave in a few minutes for Aquascalientes. I have mostly been riding in the sweeper truck with Todd and Fernando which means we are at the very back of the pack and we look for any of our 4 cars in case they need assistance or a tow.

As of Day 3 of racing Richard and Simon were 8th overall and 1st in their class (I think) and Mark and Rupert were 9th overall and 2nd in their class with Martin and Jon in the Gypsy Wind close behind.

This is a beautiful country with beautiful people and we have seen so much of it, much of it at high speed. I promise to post pictures and stories later!

27 October 2008

2008 PanAm: Day 4 Results

This just in from race car builder Todd Landon:

As of the end of Day 4 of racing:

Richard and Simon 1st in class and 6th overall (Bag O,Nails).

Mark and Rupert are 2nd in class and 7th overall (orange Falcon).

El Jefe is running strong about 41st overall and no mechanical troubles!

Thanks everyone for your support and your patience in waiting for me to update the blog.

25 October 2008

2008 PanAm: Day 1 in Pictures - A Very Long Day

The Volvo/John Deere lawnmower driven by Tom and navigated by George.

The car hauler where Tom and George were riding in their crashed car.

Tom, a few hours after the crash.

The totalled Sunbeam.

The Cadillac went off road but was able to join the race again after repairs.

Gerie Bledsoe helping out the cars that went off road on Day 1.

Fernando with our local crew support, Pepe y Paco de Oaxaca.

Tom and his oil-soaked shirt at the end of Day 1.

The end of a very long day of racing - Tom's navigator, Jim and mechanic Corky.

24 October 2008

2008 PanAm: Day 1 of Racing! Tuxtla Gutierrez to Oaxaca

!Saludos Amigos! We raced the prequalification course yesterday - a 6km course just outside of town. Stewie drove and Geezer navigated for the first time in the PanAm. They did really well, drove conservatively and placed towards the bottom of the pack. Day 0 of racing doesn't count for anything, it just establishes the official race day lineup, so it is best to take it easy, check out the car and not get too crazy. Rene, Bimbo and I went out to the speed course to watch and enjoyed seeing 90 some cars whiz by about a minute apart. Some were very fast, some were very slow, but everyone looked pretty good. I stood on an inside corner near a city policeman who was guarding the gate to an estate so I practiced my Spanish by talking at him and showing him a few pictures on my camera of the cars on my team.

VIDEO of Stewie driving and Geezer navigating on the prequalification speed stage yesterday. Also uploaded quick videos of Richard in the Bag O'Nails and Mark in the Falcon on the same speed stage on youtube (user=binkystewart):http://www.youtube.com/user/binkystewart.

Video of Stewie driving on the speed stage on prequalification day, 10/23/08.

Afterwards we returned to the fairgrounds where the film crew for the Europeans was finishing installing cameras inside of Todd's 3 race cars. The producer is Alexander Davidis from Germany and he has brought a film crew of 12 men to produce a 50-minute Discovery Channel documentary on La Carrera, focusing on the pilots/navigators of Todd's cars.

Jorge Arroyo, a long time veteran of the race, is escorting them through Mexico to ensure they get to the good filming spots. Jorge isn't racing this year so he was nice enough to help them out. Jorge was the first person I met on the PanAm in 2005 because Geezer bought the 1952 Ford from him. He told Geezer that he ran that car in the race 6 times, which means this is the 9th run of our motor - only in Mexico! There will be a camera and microphones in each of Todd's cars, and the film crew will also be on the race course to catch the action. Jorge said Alexander is going to make a film more about the pilots, copilots and crew - a human story - rather than just typical racing footage.

Today is the official first day of racing and it is a very long day. The racers will go about 550km total, with a whopping 7 speed stages. Two of those speed stages are over 20km long, which is long for La Carrera. Close to 50% of all crashes happen on the first day. Shawn Hayes, our last crew person, arrived Wednesday night from Minneapolis. The combined crews of TBZ and Mustangs To Go now number 15.

Stewie and Geezer leaving the fairgrounds with mi amigo, Tonio, in the foreground.

Dave and Shawn hard at work.

Kristin labeling Rupert's helmet with his name and blood type.

Rupert AKA "Shag" and his helmet.

The speed stage outside of Tuxtla.

Geezer and Stewie just before the prequalification run on Day 0.

Huge guns!

Todd and Kristin, cleaned up for once!

Simon and Richard - always laughing!

Richard going fast on 2 wheels.

23 October 2008

2008 PanAm: Prequalification Day

Hello, this will be a short posting until I can fatten it up later. Today is Day 0 of racing. We have been in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas now for several days (I have lost count) in preparation for the official start of the race tomorrow. Today we run a prequalification to decide the starting order for tomorrow. We run at 3pm and rumor has it that we will race on a track.

The cars all passed inspection and have been test driven. Mark from Belgium and Rupert from the UK are both very pleased with the Falcon Todd built for them. Can you imagine ordering a race car, sight unseen, and arriving in the south of Mexico to race it?

The Gypsy Wind was struggling on the journey down, running on 6 cylinders and eating up to 2 quarts of oil each time we filled up with gas. It seems that oil was sneaking passed the valve stems but yesterday the guys fixed it and also put on the race wheels and tires and Martin and Jon said she was a new car and are very pleased.

There is a film crew from NYC here to make a 50 minute documentary on our driving teams and cars. Alexander from Germany is the producer and we met him last night upon their arrival at the hotel.

The journey from Puebla to Tuxtla was another long day. Todd and I rode in the Falcon and the road was wicked rough but we had a great time.

More later.......!

PS Richard, our fast racer in the blue Bag O'Nails who did really well last year is going to blog here on Todd's blog.

20 October 2008

2008 PanAm: Hello from Puebla

We are currently in Puebla headed today for the start at Tuxtla Gutierrez. All has gone well on the trip which is fantastic since we now number 10 people, 3 trucks, 3 trailers and 3 race cars. Jon, Martin, Fernando and I all flew into Dallas on Thursday evening and we left the Honeycomb Hideout on Friday morning, after waiting for UPS to deliver a driveshaft for the Falcon. The plan was to get some work done in the morning, receive the shipment at 10am and hit the road. But we had a lot of work to do and the UPS man didn't arrive until 12:30pm so our planned lunch at my parents' house turned into an early happy hour.

We cruised about 150 miles to my parents' house in Georgetown where we regretted we could not stay longer for the fabulous party they put on for us! A grand feast was laid out and their friends Kathy Scott, Frank and Jane, as well as my aunt and uncle Kathy and Jack were there. We celebrated my stepdad's birthday the following day, and mechanic Dave Fuss's birthday the day prior. Dave had given Todd a hard time because he didn't get him a birthday present so my mom served homemade pumpkin pie with "69" and "54" in whipped cream for the two birthday boys. Dave got a kiss on the cheek from Kathy Scott and said later it was his first race picture with a hottie. We gave Spinoli (my stepdad) and Currie Racing Rear Ends tshirt to go with the La Carrera hat I gave him a few weeks ago. We were trying to convince them to drive the 5 hours down to the border at Laredo, TX to watch us finish. Frank seemed to think it was a fabulous idea so we will see if they show up! Todd's parents like to come to the finish and they stay at a hotel on the Mexico side literally on the border. They say they like to watch the action - people illegally crossing the border right before their eyes!

It was fantastic to make the stop in Georgetown, TX and have my parents and their friends be a part of this journey, but it was really sad to have to leave so soon! A heartfelt thanks to all my Georgetown homies - you are fabulous!!!! And Jane - the homemade chocolate chip cookies have been the highlight of the trip - all the boys thank you!

In San Antonio Todd was on the phone to David Kee, maker of the legendary 4-speed toploaders. Todd desperately needed some parts and David, understanding our time crunch, sent his man out to the highway to meet us with the parts! That's what I call service. Thank you David and crew! http://www.4speedtoploaders.com/

We made the border at Laredo around midnight and after a mere 2-1/2 hours of standing in line, the paperwork and titles for all of the vehicles were cleared. Our clerk, Rolando was extra smiley but also extra slow. He seemed to have several jobs in addition to his title duties. His cute chica coworkers would come by and stand really close and ask him for change, which was fine but 15 minutes of paperwork ended up taking him over an hour. But I am now the proud owner of a 1964 Ford Falcon race car. You are only allowed to bring 1 vehicle across the border so Todd has to sign over the rest of the vehicles to people in the crew. I begged for the title to Richard's '65 Fastback but that went to Martin. Booo. I wanted to hold the title so I could tease Richard about owning it during the race.

When we were just about done processing titles for 3 trucks, 3 trailers and 3 racecars we were all standing in a circle, exhausted and our brains in neutral. And then Martin broke the silence by saying very somberly, "Remember this moment. Caja 11."
We all burst into laughter. We had been standing at "Caja 11" (window 11) for over an hour......and Martin wanted us to remember it. Martin and Jon are rookies so it is nice to see that they are already embracing the adventure and all the craziness that goes along with this race.

Once past the border with papers and window stickers in hand we drove west about 3 miles to find a hotel. The Hilton Garden Inn had 3 rooms for us at 3am but unfortunately a tour bus had come in earlier and taken all the rooms with two beds. Todd and I checked in but the Silverado and the Gypsy Wind were nowhere to be found. Moments earlier they were right behind us - it is amazing how quickly you can lose each other when traveling in a caravan. We waited about 10 minutes, tried Dave on his cell phone but now that we were in Mexico it wasn't working. Todd decided to walk down the street to look for them and left me in the truck in the parking lot.

There was a hotel security guard in the parking lot keeping an eye on me and the neighborhood wasn't too bad as far as Nuevo Laredo goes.......but I was a little worried bout Todd......a gringo walking down the street at 330am. He was gone about 10 minutes and thankfully I heard the Gypsy Wind pull up. They had hit their first vibradores (those multiple little speed bumps) and jostled the bowl on the carb or something like that and stalled. Dave got it going again, it just took them a few minutes.

Our heads hit the pillow at our hotel in Nuevo Laredo at 4am which made for a short night. Sunday was a long next day to Zacatecas, around 400 miles which is similiar to doing about 600 miles in the US, plus the fact that we were a caravan of trucks and trailers. Just outside of Monterrey we saw up ahead that the Gypsy Wind and Dave and Fernando in the truck were pulled over. So we pulled ahead of them and waited in the car. A truck was parked next to Dave and he had a loose front bumper so we wondered if Dave had nicked the guy's bumper.

Soon a guy came up to Todd's window and spoke rapidly and not very friendly in Spanish. Todd said he didn't speak Spanish and I offered to show him our vehicle paperwork but he shook his head. He had 5 flip cell phones in his hand and every so often he would jabber into one of them. Todd walked with him back to his truck - Todd said he wanted to see if the guy was really law enforcement. It is really hard to tell sometimes in Mexico. Todd said there was computer equipment in the truck. We opened the trailer for him and he looked in at the Falcon and said "Refrescos" in a stern voice and I said, "Cerveza?" We had no idea what he wanted......I thought he wanted something to drink and then he made a gesture with his hand and said in an exasperated voice, "DINERO." Todd and I both shook our heads and said, "No entiendo" which means, "I don't understand."

Just then a uniformed policeman walked up and he did want to see the papers and he wanted to look in the trailer and in the toolbox in the back of the truck and then he was satisfied. It is good to play dumb sometimes but also kind of scary. We got back on the road and later when we asked the other guys, they had not been harassed like we had. Fernando said the first guys were looking for big money and we were lucky to get away like we did.

After about 11 hours of driving we arrived at the outskirts of Zacatecas where Geezer was waiting on the side of the road. It was starting to get dark so we got there just in time to see him. He led us into town and in the parking lot of the Don Miguel hotel we had a happy reunion with Geezer and Rene. Later Todd, Geezer, Rene and I picked up Geezer's friend Heloisa and her 6 year old son, Uriel and we all went to dinner. It was late and we were starving and not even the tequila could cure my exhaustion. Uriel flipped a peso coin as a game about a hundred times before our food arrived and I am sure I will never forget that aguila is the eagle side and cello is heads. Todd and I bunked at Geezer's with the dogs, Malva and Cinder, and the rest of the crew spent the night at the Don Miguel. Even though we are only on night 3 of the trip, it sure is nice to stay at Geezer's house, a home away from home.

Uriel and Kristin
Heloisa and her son, Uriel
Geezer showing off his Halloween wig to Todd in Zacatecas

Monday morning the entire crew got on the road about 1030am. We are now:

Todd & Kristin
Jon & Martin - rookies from the UK in the Gypsy Wind
Dave & Fernando - mechanics for Todd
Geezer & Stewie
Rene & Bimbo - driver/mechanic and mechanic for Geezer

Bimbo is a new addition to the TBZ Team. He is a mechanic friend of Rene's and usually helps us out during the race when we are in Zacatecas. I don't know Bimbo's real name but they call him Bimbo because he used to drive the Bimbo Bread truck. I guess in the US he'd be the Wonder Bread Man. He doesn't speak English so I am counting on him to help improve my Spanish.

It was another long haul from Zacatecas to Puebla which included getting through Mexico City but even though we may have made a few wrong turns, we got to Puebla without any mishaps, mechanical troubles or run-ins with the policia! That is a miracle especially because much of the roadways are horrible. I think Jon and Martin were amazed at how brutal the roads were and said they wanted to nut and bolt the entire car when we got to the start. That's a given - we do it every night - because everything loosens on this race!

Rene's dad

The rig ready to go in Geezer's Zacatecas shop

Last year Rene, Geezer and I got lost in Texcoco in the dark and rain and had a police escort for about an hour to get us out of there. I think no matter how many times you try to drive the around the outskirts of Mexico City, it is always a challenge.
Martin in the Gypsy Wind - already in the spirit of things!

Todd at Pemex, where we will be living the next 2 weeks

We arrived in Puebla and just as we were walking up to the hotel lobby, a taxi pulled up and my brother got out. He had flown in from DC - great timing! This is one of my favorite hotels, the Holiday Inn - we stayed here last year on the way down and it is euro-modern and brand new. I got a gigantic room with a view of the two volcanos and it was fabulous. Across the street is the largest VW plant in the world and the campus is miles long.

The 11 of us had a fabulous and rowdy dinner in the hotel restaurant and shared stories and laughs. The journey to the start has been a very long one for the folks like Todd, Geezer and Rene who spend all year building their cars and planning for the race. Just arriving safely at the start is a big deal and a sign of an incredible amount of work - my hats off to them for making it happen for all of us!

We had a room with a view again this year but went to bed in the dark and woke up in the dark so just as we were leaving town the next morning I ran back to the room to take a picture of the amazing volcanos.
The volcanos of Puebla

15 October 2008

2008 PanAm: And the Adventure Begins.......

The adventure has officially begun! Todd Landon and Dave Fuss left today from Mound, Minnesota, where the fall colors are in full bloom. The next stop is 1,000 miles down I-35 to overnight at the Honeycomb Hideout in Roanoke, Texas where they will pick up the Gypsy Wind and the Bag O'Nails.....and me.

Friday, Oct 17, the entire Mustangs To Go caravan (Mule Team) will make a lunchtime stop at my mom and stepfather's house in Georgetown, Texas. Mom's gonna feed us some home cookin' and take one of the racecars out for a test spin in the Texas Hill Country. She's ridden in the Gypsy Wind before but she'll probably like the Bobcat (Falcon) best this time because she doesn't like it when the beautiful paint jobs get all cluttered with race and sponsor stickers and right now the Bobcat is still unstickered and clean. ;)

Then we're gonna make a run for the border! The plan is to meet up with Geezer and the TBZ Team (Rene and Bimbo) in Zacatecas Saturday night, then continue the journey to Tuxtla Gutierrez, picking my brother up on the way in Puebla.

Todd's house in Mound, Minnesota, on fire with fall colors.

09 October 2008

2008 PanAm: The Coundown Begins

It is hard to believe but in just one week I will be boarding a plane to Dallas/Ft. Worth where I will meet up with Todd Landon and crew for the long road trip to Tuxtla Gutierrez in the southernmost region of Mexico to begin our La Carrera Panamericana adventure!

The 2008 La Carrera Panamericana runs from October 24 - 30 and races 2,000 miles along the following route:

Day 0: Prerace Qualifications in Tuxtla Gutierrez
Day 1: To Oaxaca
Day 2: To Mexico City
Day 3: To Queretaro
Day 4: To San Luis Potosi
Day 5: To Aguascalientes
Day 6: To Zacatecas
Day 7: To Nuevo Laredo

The combined teams of Geezer's TumbaBurros de Zacatecas (TBZ) and Todd Landon's Mustangs To Go include:

#11 "El Jefe" (Stewart)
1952 Ford Victoria
Vance Stewart Jr., Rene Rodriguez, Vance Stewart III, Kristin Stewart
Turismo de Produccion

#372 "Bag O'Nails" (Landon)
1965 Mustang Fastback R-Model
Richard Tyzack and Simon Jefferies
Historica C

#358 "Gypsy Wind" (Landon)
1965 Mustang Fastback R-Model
Jon Gross and Martin McGlone
Historica C

#370 "Bobcat" (Landon)
1964 Ford Falcon
Marc Devis and Rupert Clevely
Historica C

The full roster can be found at http://www.lacarrerapanamericana.com.mx/participantes.asp

Two weeks ago Todd and I were kayaking in the far northern reaches of Minnesota near the Boundary Waters where the water was still, the silence was deafening and there were very few two-legged beings around .......and we reflected on how our upcoming time in Mexico would be the polar opposite - loud, raucous, full of adrenaline, raw, fast, crowded, dangerous. And I realized that I love both extremes - they both bring me joy. And I cannot wait to have the intense time with my loved ones - family, friends and my dear see-you-once-a-year PanAm homies. See you all very soon!