17 January 2011

2010 LCP: Day 6: Guadalajara to Aguascalientes

Last night was a pretty late night in Guadalajara - couldn't go to bed early on the first night my Australian friend was here!  Sarah was indoctrinated quickly into what a Carrera hotel room can look like .... a car battery charging in the bathroom, dirt and sand and streaks in the shower from doing laundry in there, sandals dripping in the corner, still dirty jean shorts soaking in the sink, other wet clothes hanging from the ceiling in hopes of drying by morning.  She laughed. 

Todd was up at the crack of dawn as usual while Sarah and I got to sleep in a bit.  When we opened our hotel door, directly across from us Dorata and Helmut were loading luggage on the cart.  We all laughed at the chance of having rooms this close, having spent most of La Carrera not being able to get a hold of them and only meeting them by chance in the restaurant hotel 2 nights ago in Morelia. 


Since we had heard the hysterical stories of their adventures trying to follow the race, we laughed extra hard to see with our own eyes their giant pile of luggage.  Now, it WAS a lot of luggage, but not when you consider they were spending over a month touring Mexico.  But the person they hired to take them along on La Carrera neglected to advise them that they would be traveling in a small car, and that they would need to drive the car themselves. 


Ian Swan, who wanted to follow Carrera this year to see if he would want to race it in 2011, had envisioned that their tour guide would drive and they would be passengers.  He wasn't adverse to driving on the "wrong" side of the road in the madness-inducing style of trying to keep up with the race; it was just not what they had envisioned, or signed up for. 


Of anyone I've ever met on La Carrera, this group of four (Ian & Val, Helmut & Dorata) have what it takes to survive racing La Carrera:  humor, flexibility, smarts, great personalities, and the ability to go with the flow as nearly nothing at LCP goes as planned.  For others, this last week would have equated to a horrible time. 


At the end of Day 1, outside of the beautiful Hotel Victoria in Oaxaca, I overheard a rookie driver who had spent the day in a passenger vehicle following the race while another team member drove the race car, say, "This is the worst day ever!  I'm never coming back here!"  He seemed furious and frustrated.


I have a different view on life.  I also knew:
  • That his car had successfully finished Day 1.
  • That historically about 50% of all crashes happen on Day 1.
  • On Day 1, Todd and I counted 27 cars crashed, disabled, or on trailers.
  • That he was pretty darned lucky to have finished Day 1!
So I asked him if he knew how many cars DIDN'T finish the day.....and he shook his head no, and I gave him the stats but I'm quite positive he still didn't get it.  Me?  I'd rather take the grateful route.  Yes, it was a grueling first day, as always, 15 hours chasing the race through more mountain passes than you can imagine, stuck behind double semi-trailers and unable to pass, with stomachs dropping each time we came around a corner and saw a disabled car or a crash, especially seeing Brad's Lincoln completely munched and Brad with a bloody face and Derek being taking away in the ambulance.  Grateful.  A horrible time or an adventure - it's all in how you look at it.


"Adventure is not outside us, it is within." - George Eliot

Val from Australia and the giant pile of luggage.

Dorata & Helmut Goetz and the unexpectedly small rental car.  RIP, Helmut.


Dave and Brian ready the Falcon for Day 6 as Steve watches.
Cool aerial view of the wicked Canadian paint job of the Gregory's Original PanAm Studebaker.


Leaving the fancy party of Guadalajara - the "Hugo" Detallado in honor of our TBZ Hugo.

I spent a summer in Guadalara when I was 12 and never got Montezuma's revenge, and in all the subsequent trips to Mexican beaches, to visit the Geezer in Zacatecas, to border towns, and now in my 5th year at Carrera, I have never been sick.  I have rules for myself about eating in Mexico - I don't eat no cow dairy, fruit or lettuce, I don't drink the tap water but I also don't wig out about ice in my cocktail or brushing my teeth with it.  That worked for almost 30 years.  So to my surprise, I woke up that morning with a grumbly and painful stomach.  Sarah and I had eaten the same dinner the previous evening - steak and fries with some sort of dipping chili sauce, and red wine - and she was fine. 


We walked the 6 blocks to our truck and trailer and learned Todd was having stomach troubles as well.  He'd already used the toilet in the trailer (a plastic bag-lined 5-gallon bucket - eeew, I know) so we laughed at bit when he said, "DON'T TOUCH THAT PLASTIC BAG."  But soon my stomach was speaking loudly to me and it was saying emphatically, "You're not going to make it back to the hotel and there aren't any public bathrooms around here."  Ugh.  Todd closed the doors of the trailer and set me up on the trailer throne.  Sarah was quiet but I think she was smiling or smirking on the inside.  She's a trooper but I was also wondering if she was worried the entire trip would be like this.  I laughed at the thought - it was too late now!
Sarah's first real Mexican breakfast - roadside treats!

Waiting for the cars on the first transit outside of Guadalajara.

Shanahan and Murray speed by in the Pepsi Falcon.

Even though my stomach was rough, when we stopped about 30 minutes down the road on the outskirts of Guadalajara to watch the cars transit by, we ate little tacos from the back of a pickup.  There were good!  And thankfully there was a nice clean bathroom with toilet paper in the Pemex. 


This was Sarah's first glimpse of the race cars in action and even though they were transiting to their first speed stage, they were going pretty fast on the highway and she loved it!  We stood on the side of the road and waved and cheered as they came by.  With her sassy red hair and matching long tube socks she got plenty of honks from passing trucks.  We laughed - it was  nice for me, the blonde, to not be noticed in lieu of the fiery redhead!


After most of the cars had passed we got on the road and not too long afterwards we received a crackly call from Ben Greenwood in the Gypsy Wind.  It is never a comfortable feeling to see one of your clients calling during the race.  I tensed up and tried to hear what Ben was saying....."The car's crapping out....it won't go..."  Todd face turned tenser as he asked some basic question of Ben and then handed the phone to me.  As we were trying to figure out from the mile markers where they were located and how far behind we were, the call dropped.  It looked like we were only about 15km behind them so Todd stepped it up and we hurried to them.


Todd stopped and we ran to the Gypsy Wind and within a minute Todd had it diagnosed - out of gas.  It might make you want to groan but this is the best possible case scenario during the race, when there are so many other things that could go wrong.  They were embarrassed for sure, but we were happy as Todd had just this morning filled up a tiny gas tank for the generator.  You are not allowed to carry extra gas tanks for the race cars, I guess to prevent supplying them with special gas.  But the car was still starving for gas to Todd had to tinker a bit to get it going.  All in all we were there about 10 minutes with them and if they hurried, got gas at the next exit, they'd be able to catch up with the first race stage.  Whew.
Uh oh....the Gypsy Wind on the side of the road.


Gas....give it some gas!

Sassy girl!

The Corvettes rarely survive.  Makes me sad.


Ahhhhh, Mexico!

This tiny town was so beautiful!  Maybe the most beautiful ever!
Mid-morning we found a Pemex at the crossroads where the service truck and race car routes intersected.  We parked and watched as the cars came off a race stage and headed to the noon service.  Thierry saw us and made a quick stop - they are running very well this morning and reported that Jochen Mass went off the road in the last speed stage.


I met "Kevin," a local kid who looked to be about 11 years old.  His dad was selling cowboy hats and it looked like Kevin was at the gas station to fill up plastic jug of water on a dolly.  I tried to chat with Kevin, and I know my Spanish isn't the greatest, but I can usually get along pretty easily.  I was trying to tell him that if he walked 50 yards over to our truck, the redheaded lady would give him a few race cards. 


He looked at me and said, "Here's the thing, I don't understand you because I don't speak English and you don't speak Spanish."  It cracked me up and I kept speaking Spanish to him and I knew he was understanding part of it, but in his head he was sure I didn't speak any Spanish.  This was definitely a case of Kevin deciding from my gringa looks that there was no way I could speak his language.  And when I did speak some Spanish, his ears couldn't hear it.


So even though he said I couldn't speak Spanish, he understood enough to walk over to Sarah, who handed him race cards from the Bag O'Nails and the Gypsy Wind and then Todd gave him a brand new Matchbox Shelby Mustang.  Kevin's eyes lit up! 
Mid-morning quick stop, all is well.


Not sure what Thierry did this time......

I didn't know you could drive a Gullwing with the doors open.  These guys were motoring pretty good on a transit.

The Bobs!

The Gregorys went off....and back on!

Kevin's dad selling hats at a gas station.
My new friend Kevin and his new Matchbox Shelby.

Kevin finishing his chores.

And the fans go wild.

A town excited to see us.

The lineup for an afternoon speed stage - we were able to catch up with the start of it.





They grow the chapulinas big here.


Stewart & Linda Robertson speed stage start.

One of the Lawrences with Dave Fuss navigating.

The Suntags.


El Jefe looking good - Rene and Geezer.

Geezer race face.

Carson Scheller '54 Ford - it don't get no purdier than that!





The brothers of the Presidente of Mexico in their little white cloned Volvos.


The Greenwood Brothers - always looking good and ready to go in the Gypsy Wind.

The Gypsy Wind.

Ralf - Los Vikingos.

Yep, Russ got the semi to honk.  Haven't seen that in a few decades.  Must have been his giant sombrero.


What?  Halfway through her first day and she's conked out already?  Had to give her a hard time.  :)

Corvette coming out of the NASCAR racetrack outside of Aguascalientes.

Hanging out in the center of the Aguascalientes NASCAR track.

The ever smiling Chrislana Gregory (even though her man smashed up the car again).  :)

It seems I've seen this FAST MOOSTANG on the trailer quite a few times.  I swear this is the same FAST MOOSTANG that this navigator told me was FAST while he waved his trophy in my face in Pueblo. 

The story of the guy in the above picture goes back to the very end of Day 2 in Puebla when Todd was changing the transmission on the street outside of the hotel until 1:30 am.   About 11:30 pm a car parked near the BON and our worksite. Some LCP guys got out so I said good evening and when they stopped in front of the BON I asked which race car they were with.


"The Mooostang" one man replied with an air of superiority. There are 16-17 Mustangs this year so I giggled to myself on the inside and asked, "Which Mustang?"


And he replied, "The FAST one" with a sneer and waved their trophy in my face. I extended my sincere congratulations and he walked away.  We don't often run into competitors like this but this year keeps proving to be an exception.  I had no idea who he was at the time but looked him up the next day to see where his bragging rights came from.  Hey, for all I knew, he was Jochen Mass or one of the other big famous guys.  He was copilot Andre Shoonenwolf in #354 Mustang, and they won Historic C that day, with Thierry 26 seconds behind him in 3rd place.  When the race was over I looked him up again and found him at 16th in Historic C, behind Thierry/Eric at 4th place, and the Greenwoods at 7th.  You can be extremely fast, and you can be on the trailer, and you can be off the road in the weeds, and you can be all three - this is La Carrera - anything goes and anything can happen.  So if you wave your trophy in my face I will probably giggle and take pictures when I see your car on the trailer several times in the next few days.  Sorry, but I am competitive too and cannot help it sometimes.

I love the Fastback parked on top.



Jake!


One of our rigs - El Toro Rojo.

Check out the little girl in front - she was seriously asleep.  Guess dad is the only one who gets a helmet.

Wangeheim's burnup - wonder what the cause was? 


More tears for the cracked up Vette.



We arrived at the hotel in Aguascalientes in DAYLIGHT!  Yay!  This really lifted our spirits AND the hotel was adjacent to a large shopping mall so there was parking abbonndanza!  We spotted Hubertus von Wangeheim's burned out Opal Diplomat and got our first close up look of the meltdown - scary.  In the lobby a crew guy was wheeling through a cruiser bike - you just wouldn't see something like that in the U.S. - love it.  Todd had the look of day 6 - beyond weary - as he tried to check in and they once again could not find our reservation.


Hubertus's son, Max, was sitting in the lobby playing the video clip of Beilharz's rollover.  Max was copiloting his dad when they caught fire on day 3.  Beilharz's copilot had left the race but Bill resolved the mechanical troubles from day 1 and got back in the race and asked Max to copilot.  That first morning is when their brakes went out and they had the terrible rollover that was all caught on the in-car cam.   I had never spoken with Max before and I told him how grateful I was that both he and Bill were okay.  He played the video clip and I was once again haunted by what a close call it was.  Max narrated while we watched, telling us how Bill was knocked out by hitting his head repeatedly on the rocks through his window net, and when the dust settled and they were hanging upside down, Max yelled, "BILL! BILL! WAKE UP, BILL!" not knowing if Bill was okay.  Spooky!


 In the lobby we also bumped into Linda Robertson and Chrislana Gregory and after hugs and introducing them to Sarah, we decided tonight was the night for them to host my bridal shower.  They'd been talking about it all week, telling me they had gifts for me and wanted to gather some ladies and celebrate.  So we met in the lobby bar, ordered drinks, caught up on how they were doing in the race, and Linda ordered a bottle of Veuve Cliquot champagne, which we also enjoyed at our wedding.  We started drinking Veuve Cliquot after Todd's client, Marc Devis, specified the unique shade of orange from the Cliquot label for the Falcon Todd built for him for the 2008 LCP.

Todd attempting to check in - beyond weary.


It was a wonderful shower and I loved the beauty and grace and wisdom of the three women with me, two of them in race suits! 

My one and only bridal shower, thrown by Chrislana Gregory and Linda Robertson.  I was so honored!!!  And so happy that my dear girl, Sarah MacKenzie came all the way to Mexico from Australia to attend. 

The bridal shower:  Chrislana, Kristin, Sarah, Linda.

A beautiful silver serving set with Pacific Northwest carvings - my favorite Native American art, plus heavy silver napkin rings that I was instructed not to let Todd get a hold of as he might use them for car parts.

A beautiful Dia de los Muertos display in the hotel lobby.

El Jefe going to bed, shiny like a new penny and ready for the final day.

Later that evening Sarah and I crossed the street to the other hotel to catch up with Geezer and Rene and the crew.  I found the TBZ boys spit polishing El Jefe in preparation for the final day of the 2010 LCP.  Geezer was nowhere to be found - I later learned he was exhausted and went to bed early without even eating dinner.  The boys were excited for their grand entrance into Zacatecas - their hometown - and the finish of the race.