23 March 2010

2010 Chihuahua Express: Day 1 (w/speed stage video clips)

RACE DAY 1 - Thierry and Eric finished 8th overall and 5th in the Pan Am Class (all vintage cars) in the Bag O'Nails on Day 1.

Up early, Todd and the team made final tweaks to the cars and got the guys ready to go. Dave and Brian got on the road with truck and trailer very early to get a jump start on the racers and get out to the noon service stop before everyone else. The Bag O'Nails was off with waves and smiles to the formal start in downtown Chihuahua and we thought Team Danger was not too far behind but they had a small overheating problem of the electrical type. Some wires got hot under the hood and luckily they quickly shut the engine off before more damage was done. Todd, Dave and Brian made some quick repairs, and decided it was okay to go.

The 2010 Chihuahua Express participant photo from the official start downtown, and a shot of the Renault Clio that suffered a fatal crash today.

Ahhh, the Testarossa, shortly before crunching the side against a non-racecar in a roundabout just after leaving the hotel. Boo.

A short day for the Ferrari.

So Geezer, Rene, Todd and I hopped in the Big Mama with trailer and got on the highway and headed for the first speed stage in the mountains northwest of Chihuahua. We were able to get ahead of the racers and park about halfway through the first speed stage on a sweet vantage point in the canyon. After about a 45 minute wait in the gorgeous and cool weather, the race had begun! The late model Maserati ripped by us, followed by Mockett and Devis, all about a minute apart. We could see several curves below us and we stood on the trailer for a better vantage point. I was loving it, having a blast as the cars ripped by and we waved and cheered.

Rene and Geezer, with Todd and K in the back, heading for the hills on Day 1.

Tres hombres waiting for speed stage #1 to begin. Nice view. The scenery was good too.

Jake Shuttlesworth and Tony Bogovich haul the Galaxie up the big hill.

The Bag O'Nails was looking good, likely holding back a bit, but that was good. We just want them to finish, first Day 1, then Day 2, then Day 3. Atrition takes its toll in these races and you can move up just with a solid performance and no mishaps.

After the first speed stage we were relegated to the back of the pack again, sweeping as we usually do. The downside is that you don't get to see much of the race, and sometimes you don't see the front runners all day. But sweeping means you see anyone that goes off the road and there are usually plenty of opportunities to lend a helping hand, offer water or food, and sometimes a tow. As we swept the second speed stage, a long one at 40 km, we came upon a beautiful Cobra that had bumpity bumped off the road but it was clear the pilot and copilot were okay.
A Cobra with a little offroad mishap in the second speed stage of the morning.

Unfortunately what we saw next was not what anyone wants to see - a crash scene. On a mountain downhill section of the next speed stage (40km long) we came around a corner to three smashed cars, a crowd of people, vehicles, ambulances, and car parts in the road. The scene always strikes terror in my heart. My closest racing loved ones were in the car with me as we were all just support crew for this year's ChiX, but we have dear friends racing and no one wants to see anyone have a terrible crash like this.

I stood and leaned out the back window of the truck to get a better view and eventually Rene pulled over and we all got out. We were about 30 minutes behind the crash and from the skid marks, the loose rocks and rubble on the road, and the condition of the smashed cars, it did not look good. But we saw one racer in his red suit standing next to the car - usually a good sign. Cars go off the road frequently but seeing two people in race suits standing on the road usually means they are okay.

I walked down the right side to the dirt turnout to look at the two crashed spectator cars. My Spanish is a bit rough but I get along and I asked the crowd if anyone was hurt. Yes, people were hurt and the responses were quiet. I ended up chatting with the couple whose VW Jetta had been totalled; they described to me how the out of control Renault Clio came barrelling towards them and the spectators ran. It looked to be a very close call for the spectators and also appeared that had the Clio not glanced off the first spectator car and t-boned the Jetta they would have likely launched off the cliff which sported large boulders at the bottom of maybe a 50 foot drop.

Approaching the crash scene - an awful feeling.

The two smashed spectator cars on the right. The Jetta likely saved the Renault Clio race car from going over the cliff.

The Jetta owners - thankful they were able to run out of the path of the careening Clio.

I inched towards the crumpled race car and shot a few photos of it. Both red-suited pilot and copilot were now strapped to stretchers and were being loaded into the two ambulances. The crowd was quiet and subdued. I walked around the car, noting the passenger side door lying 15 feet away, the small diameter of the rollbar, and the lack of additional bar support on the doors.
In the road there were unidentifiable parts, more rubble, a coiled spring and a screwdriver. I don't know why but I picked up the screwdriver and tossed it lightly into the open passenger door opening. Then we loaded back up and headed down the road, totally quiet inside the truck, murmuring about the roll bar and Geezer saying he overheard the paramedics saying one of the racers was unconscious.

The spectator's totalled Jetta. They say that the cost of our FMAD licenses covers damage to property like this. Hard to imagine it paying for anything more than physical property though.

The Renault Clio aftermath. Note that the driver's side door looks intact; we did not think the car had rolled.

We descended out of the mountains and into flat farm/ranch country populated by Mennonites. It was strange to see the sterile homes, barns and acreage with nary a person to be seen and not a thing out of place, in fact, not much of anything in sight except for the buildings. There were at least a dozen of these settlements in between the mountain ranges where we ran the speed stages. And it was interesting to see men in tractors going down the road looking very German or at least Midwestern US in their "overhauls" and non-disclosing expressions.

One of many Mennonite homesteads on the way to Cuidad Madera. Not a scrap of anthing in the yards or fields.

We headed into the hills again and this time we had more evergreen trees than scrubby trees, with cool, round rock outcroppings and it reminded me fondly of the Black Hills of South Dakota. Instead of heading to the end of the road for noon service, then turning right back around, we stopped short and enjoyed a 45 minute break to wait for the next speed stage on the racers' return to Chihuahua. The sun was bright but the wind was chilly but lying on the trailer provided a nice break from the wind and we napped a bit and watched the clouds go by.

Soon the big guns came down the road, first the late model Maserati, and then Mockett and Devis. When Mockett came over the rise, we saw and heard him but then we all thought we heard a jet engine as well but as Mockett approached we realized it was him! What a cool sound and boy did he fly by us!

Catching a quick catnap in the sunshine and out of the cold wind while waiting for the first speed stage after the noon service.

Geezer waves as Gerie and Fernando rip by at about 120mph (I need to confirm the speed with Gerie).

About halfway through watching the pack speed by, Rene was chatting with the guy who was guarding the driveway/intersection right in front of us. When a speed stage is closed, guards are stationed along the course anywhere there is a road or entryway to the highway. Rene walked back to the trailer and said, "You know the copiloto of the Clio? He passed away." The guard had gotten a phone call with the news. I believed it, it felt plausible, but I still hoped it was an unverified rumor.

We were very quiet then and each made small sounds of disbelief and looked at the ground or the sky. It is hard for me to comprehend a sport that I enjoy watching and supporting (and in previous years, driving and navigating), to know in our heads that the final price we may pay for racing is death, and then be faced with the death of a fellow racer on this very day, not someone I knew or even met, but someone who prepped his car this morning a few cars down from ours and loved this sport and is now dead.

The afternoon was long and quiet as we loaded back into the truck to follow the race cars to the next speed stage.

Another Mennonite homestead, with mom and son in the yard.

Todd and Rene tweak on the Bag O'Nails Friday evening.

Dave, the electrical wizard, addressess some wiring issues in the Team Danger Mustang.

Gerie and his beautiful and witty wife, Diane at the Soberano.
I attended the first 10 minutes of the race meeting that night and stood in the back with Fernando. Chaco Medina, the race director, expressed his sadness and condolences for the family and friends of the late Carlos Garcia. He explained that according to the police report, and spectator accounts, excessive speed was the cause. He talked about considering cancelling the race, but felt that Carlos would want us to continue. It was a very quiet room full of pilots, copilots, crew and ChiX staff.
Outside of the meeting room was a phototgrapher's table set up with photos from today's action.....and the one photo that immediately drew my eye on the corner of the table was Carlos Garcia's Clio, before the accident.


Anonymous said...

wow, how sad , thanks for all the updates, take care, Hi to Todd.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure it's difficult to recount these events, but I'm grateful for the updates. See you next year! Wiley