Friday, November 9, 2007

Back To Reality...(Keri)

Time to say goodbye to our new friends and the beautiful country of Mexico.  Sad. 

Our flight was out of Laredo, Texas at 11am - but finding a taxi driver who had permission to go in and out of the US was a challenge.   We also knew there would be a huge wait at the border, so we felt pressed for time as it was.   Finally, after many phone calls were made on our behalf by the hotel staff, we had our taxi and were on our way.

The border wait was excruciating.  It always is.  During the 2 hours it took to crawl up to the border, we were able to see a few interesting sights from the car though:

A pretty church steeple against a blue sky...

Near Church near border in Nuevo Laredo

An invisible baseball bat...

Weird Baseball Hero on Sports Bar at border.

And a skull memorial for Dale Earnhardt...

Tackiest thing I've ever seen

We finally made it over the border, to the airport, to the American Airlines counter - only to find out that Mexico actually does have daylight savings before the United States, so we missed out flight.  The next flight was 24 hours later.   24 hours in Laredo?  I'm sure it's a lovely town...but we rented a car and drove to Dallas to stay overnight for a flight the next morning.   You'd think driving a 120hp rental car would be a nice way to unwind after a week of racing.  It wasn't.  We'd been bitten by the Mexican Road Race bug.

Epilogue: La Carrera Panamericana was an amazing experience that we talked about for months.  (We still talk about it!)  Several friends have mentioned wanting to do the race next year, but it is not something to be entered into lightly.  There is a lot of preparation, including track time.  Unlike some rallies we've participated in, this is a RACE for drivers and navigators who know how to drive well.   Drivers and navigators need to be able to work well together under pressure and they need to trust each other. 

As if to prove this point, we decided to do a little demonstration for friends who had expressed interest in the race.   With our in-car footage of one of the race sections playing on a big screen TV, I had my trusty route book out, calling turns.  When I finished and turned around, our friends were silent and slightly pale.  One potential navigator was shaking her head.    I guess the driving/navigating dynamic had become sort of second-nature to Emil and I - we forgot how scary it was in the beginning when it was still new and unknown to us.  It was also a reminder to us of how extraordinary this race is, how it isn't something everyone can or should do, and how special it is that we were able to experience it together. 


Day 7 - Zacatecas to Nuevo Laredo

One of us wasn't feeling that great when the day began.  I won't say which one of us that was.  But I will say that this person's shoes did NOT reek of tequila.  

After little breakfast, advil and plenty of water, we were ready to go.  This was the last day of the race!

La Bufa was our first race section of the day and the route book warned that the morning chill was going to make the pavement cold and slippery.  We took some extra time to warm up our tires in the short transit section, but we still had to take it easy. Several turns still had "gael" warnings and I started to think that Gael must have LOVED the tequila donkey walk in his La Carrera days.  

We were officially out of the mountainous regions of the race and into flat land.  Long straights, gradual crests - it was a welcomed change after 6 long days of difficult driving.   And guess what?  I found some donkeys.  You can never seem to find a donkey when you need one (last night) but when it's not the best time for them, there they are!  This donkey was wearing a backpack.  

Me and a backpack-wearing Donkey (Day 7 - Nuevo Laredo)

During one of the long transit sections, we came up to a military inspection post.  The car in front of us was stopped by an officer in camouflage who was holding a large firearm and had another large firearm strapped to his back.  Behind him were other men in camouflage who were also well armed.  The officer spoke to the driver for a moment, while Emil and I watched and worried.  Until now, we had been waved through intersections by the police, escorted through towns at high speeds, and waved at as we passed federal police in trucks.  This military officer did not look impressed by our race cars or interested in how the race was going - he looked stern and angry.  After their brief discussion, he stood next to the car and faced his fellow military officers.  One took out a camera and snapped his photo.  The the officer spoke to the driver again, and waved him through the inspection gate.  Whew!  We were also waved through but did not get to pose for a photo.  

The rest of the day was rather uneventful, which was fine with us.  When we got to the town of Nuevo Laredo, we were directed to line up near a park and then race into town past all the spectators lining the roads.  They hollered and cheered and waved flags as we all zoomed by them.   This was the last arrival of the race and it was just as exciting as all the others, but also sort of sad.  It was over!  


The awards ceremony that night was at the Cultural Center.  All of the Unlimited Class teams sat together at a big table and we talked about the previous 7 days.   We all agreed that it felt like we had known each other much longer than that - going through an experience like definitely forms some strong bonds!  We couldn't wait to see each other again at the next La Carrera Panamericana!


We came in 3rd in our class for the day and also 3rd overall for the Unlimited Class!

Later that night, we found the Sevens Only transporter in the parking lot of one of the hotels.  Everyone was loading up their cars for transport home. Tom asked me to move the GT3 into a parking spot to make more room - and I realized that 10 feet distance was the ONLY  driving I did all week.  

Day 6 - Where have all the donkeys gone? (Keri)

Cathedral at Night (Day 6 - Zacatecas)

Zacatecas was even more gorgeous at night.  Churches and other buildings were lit up. Participants and fans of La Carrera were rather lit themselves.  It was the night of the annual Donkey Tequila Walk!

This is a tradition in which the crowd walks through town, drinking tequila from casks that are carried by donkeys.  Since it seemed that most of the donkeys in Mexico were busy trying not to become topes along the race route, we did not have a donkey for our walk.  Instead, we had the owner of La Carrera, Eduardo Leon, filling the little clay cups that hung around our necks.   I haven't touched tequila since my unfortunate Summer Of Tequila a few years ago, but when Eduardo fills your cup, you have to at least pretend to drink it.    My shoes ended up getting pretty drunk.

There was a band following along on our walk.  As we made our way through town, we often stopped to dance and enjoy the music.   It was also a good opportunity to take in the beautiful architecture around us.  

It was also daylight savings night, so we gained an hour of partying.  Along the walk, I heard someone say "Is it true that Mexico has daylight savings a week before the United States?"  Oh that's just crazy talk!  Or is it?


We finally reached our destination for the evening's awards and dinner - the oldest bullring in North America, which has been transformed into the 5-star Quinta Real Hotel.  The graceful arches of a 16th century aqueduct encircle the hotel - we were in historic heaven.  It was gorgeous!  Our party was held in the center of the ring. 


This was, without a doubt, our favorite non-racing part of the week.  A party in an actual bullring...and placing 3rd in our class to boot!


Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Day 6: Aguascalientes to Zacatecas

(Today's pictures provided by the local roadside photographers on the route...)

La Bufa 2.jpg

We were so happy to be starting the day - considering that the day before there were many moments of "we're done."

Today's velocity sections would include the famed "La Bufa" - another stretch of dangerous mountain roads. We were assured that the GT3 would LOVE La Bufa. It did.

The landscape was amazing from up on that mountain. The route was a fun combination of long straights and slight turns to hard turns and crests. This route also went through a town or two - so "keep on main road" was interesting when you're driving fast and have a second to make a decision.

Also, in the route book today, the mysterious word "gael" appeared (in quotes) during velocity sections. As in "Right 4, 'gael' ". Assuming we would not be seeing random Scottish people along the route, the American co-pilotos took that word as a misspelling of "gravel". Just to be safe. There was no gravel, so the whole thing is still a mystery.

La Bufa.jpg

My other complaint about the route book on Day 6, was that the directions nearing the service stop were confusing. We did not see the red flag waving us in, so we passed it, happened to see the exact same signs as were in the route book, and got lost.

You really don't want to get lost in Mexico. Once off the route book, we were completely confused and very angry at each other, the road, the truck behind us, and Mexico in general. Somehow, we managed to find our way back to the service stop.

There were no roadside photogs at the service stop, so I hope you'll permit me another illustration of what happened next.

illustration 5

I'll narrate:

"Sweetie - you are an awesome driver and husband, and I love you very very much. None of our problems thus far have been your fault. When you drive very fast while I am working with a route book whose mileage doesn't match our odometer - you are being very smart and safe! Don't worry about the road signs being in Spanish, even though I can't read Spanish. At those speeds, I can't read ANY signs anyway. It's fun that you respond to my requests to slow down by only going faster. You just have fun and drive as fast as you possibly can! So far, that hasn't caused any problems like a blistered tire, bent wheel, flat tire, or us getting lost. It's an adventure and I am happy to be in the car with you!"

Many relationships are put to the test on this event. I am happy to say that we have been together for so long that we are really able to get over stuff like this quickly. Blowing off some steam isn't a big deal. Besides, other than the few hiccups, Emil's driving was impeccable.

zacatecas arrival.jpg

The arrival into Zacatecas was my favorite because the town is gorgeous. I want to go back sometime to explore it more.

Beautiful Cathedral (Day 6 - Zacatecas)

This was the night of October 31st. My favorite day of the whole year. I was excited to be in Mexico on the "Day of the Dead" - but it seems that the town was more interested in having a party for us than have the usual Day of the Dead festivities. (They celebrate for a few days anyway.) We did see a couple of kids in costumes.

Me and Vampire Child (Day 6 - Zacatecas)

Getting to our hotel was a challenge. The streets in Zacatecas are tiny and often one-way (it reminded us of Italy.) Finally, I took the luggage to walk to the hotel and Emil brought the car back to the square where the arrival arch was. A party was going to begin soon, so I only had time to change out of my suit and put on a headband. That seemed like plenty of time for Emil to imbibe a hefty serving of tequila...

Next post...Tequila Donkey Walk in Zacatecas.

Day 5: Morelia to Aguascalientes

Mil Cumbres wasn't as bad the second day. I guess 96 cars zooming through the day before swept away a lot of the gravel. The cow and horse victims had been removed, as had most of the fallen trees.

BUT...the rest of the day was not to be as easy.

To start with - the gravel knocked our rally computer's sensor off of our back wheel. So we couldn't track mileage that well. The car's computer can show kilometers, but unlike the rally computer, I couldn't calibrate the car to the route book. The route book wasn't very accurate, so we really had a poor idea of distance from then on.

During the transit section before the service stop, we were following some Studebakers, cooking along at about 200kph, when we came upon some slower traffic. We all started to pass the slow cars by moving into the empty oncoming lane. Suddenly, the Studebaker in front of us merged back into the correct lane - practically cutting off a truck. We saw why - a median of raised metal bumps had appeared with no warning. We tried to break and get back over, but it was too late. We merged through the metal bumps, which made a weird metallic clink somewhere underneath the car.

I have no photos for what happened next - so I hope illustrations will suffice.

illustration 1.jpg

illustration 2.jpg

illustration 3.jpg

illustration 4.jpg

Our wheel had bent and the tire popped about 50km from the service stop. We were able to drive slowly off the freeway and get to a gas station that was in the route book. Kevin and Bret located our original wheel (and blistered tire) and they got an employee from the service stop to drive it over to us.

In the meantime, I realized that due to the inconsistency between our odometer and the route book, we were at the wrong gas station. And there was no way to get in touch with the employee. Our lifeline wheel was in a stranger's car heading towards the wrong gas station!

We limped to the correct gas station - which was closed and on a road under construction. Some police officers spotted us and waited with us for our wheel.

Soon, a very excited man waved to us as he drove by - and then he turned around. Our wheel had arrived!

Manuel jumped out of the car, grabbed our wheel from his trunk, and proceeded to jack up the car and change the tire - out of breath from trying to be quick. I couldn't decide if he had to get back to work or if Kevin told him he was solely responsible for us finishing the race. Either way, I didn't care - we needed to get on the road! Emil gave him his Piloto badge and the bent wheel (which he was thrilled to keep), I gave him $140 and a signed postcard with "Thanks for getting us back into the race! Muchas Gracias!".

Right now, there is a gold 4-door sedan driving around Mexico with 1 white GT3 wheel.

We missed the afternoon's race sections, which we hear were incredible. We did manage to roll into town and make it to the arrival arch before the other cars in our class.

What were we going to do? A blistered tire was ok in an emergency, but we couldn't race on it! Emil and the very kind Filippe (another co-piloto) called around to all 3 Porsche dealers in the country, to see who had the right tire. No one did. (Lesson #21: don't bring obscure tires to La Carrera unless you have 3 full sets of spares.)

We noticed a black Porsche Boxter parked nearby. Hm...

Colin Herrick and I walked over to find the owner. A group of guys were standing near it and one proudly claimed ownership. "Say...where do you get tires for that thing?" I asked. We explained the situation and all of the guys started to brainstorm about where we could get tires. They made several phone calls, found suitable replacements (not exact - but 4 of the same kind at least), checked the store hours and gave us directions. It was about 1/2 km from where we were standing.

The most expensive tires we have ever purchased - but they know desperation when they see it.

Getting new tires (Day 5 - Aguascalientes)

Getting new tires (Day 5 - Aguascalientes)

Emil doing work on the car (Day 5 - Aguascalientes)

The awards ceremony that night was at the same place as the arrival arch, and there was a big parking area for all the service trucks. A lot of people missed the ceremony due to repairs they had to make - our flat tire was really nothing to moan about compared to cars that needed new clutches and transmissions.

We would like to thank EVERYONE who generously helped us through this situation - everyone from other drivers to complete strangers pitched in. When we were on the side of the road, many teams either pulled over or called us to check if there was anything they could do. Kevin and Mark lent us fix-a-flat, Eddie and Marshall pulled over to check on us and everyone from their support crew offered help at the arrival arch. While at the wrong Pemex, Che and Cairenn called their friend to find out how to say "tire and jack" in Spanish. Bret and Kevin found our tire. Colin and Eric called when they drove by on the freeway and later helped us talk to the Boxter owners. Filippe found a tire at a Porsche dealer and arranged delivery to our hotel that night. Bruce and Steve offered advice about tires. Dr. Sam - who had much worse mechanical problems than we did that day - offered up a "that sucks" to help us feel better. Tom, from 7s only, offered to drive hours to get back to us if we were still stuck on the freeway. Countless drivers, co-drivers, and support teams asked how we were doing, if we were able to get tires, offered help. And as we drove through the arrival arch, even Lalo asked what happened and if we were ok.

La Carrera is a race and people are competitive. But it seems that in this race, more than others we've been involved with, people remember that the true goal is to be safe and have fun. The support between teams is really remarkable.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Day 4: Queretaro to Morelia

Right 2 Long

This was a special day because we would be have two velocity sections in the famed "Mil Cumbres" (Thousand Peaks). We had been warned that it is a dangerous section, full of crazy turns, steep cliffs, and banked roads. Every year, cars go off cliffs or crash into the mountain.

This year, Mil Cumbres would be especially trecherous because it had just been repaved and so the road was covered with loose tarry gravel. I had been warning Emil about this for days.

When we arrived at the first Mil Cumbres section, I had to run up to the control to hand in our time card because there was a huge lineup of cars. They were delaying the start. I asked the control officer what was going on - he said that there had been a storm the night before so there was some debris on the road. Great. Gravel and debris.

Soon, the control officers put up a sign that said "Caution! Page 150, ref. 22-23. Tree." Fantastic.

The delay was so that they could remove the tree. Once we got to the starting line - the officer told us that the section would be cut short by 9 kms because it was too dangerous.

If gravel and a tree weren't enough to be "dangerous" - what were we in for?

Let's see...

The road surface was as slippery as ice. Emil had a very hard time gaining traction, so we really had to take it slow. (This was due to our tires being too wide and too soft. Other people had an easier time with the gravel.) Tree? There were several trees actually. And piles of rocks that had come down from the mountain. And a dead horse. Oh and we passed what I thought were two dead cows on opposite sides of the road - then I realized it was one cow on two sides of the road. A support vehicle had plowed through earlier and hit the cow so hard it had been cut in half. I had to ignore the cow and the horse until later when it really sunk in. Poor guys. What an awful way to die.

The second section was just as bad as the first. But this time all of the animals were alive. There was a herd of cows next to the road and a horse walked by us.

The worst part was - after we were all done with both sections and trying to regain our nerves at a beautiful waterfall, another co-pilot told me that we would be repeating those sections in reverse tomorrow. Great.

Waterfall near Mil Cumbres (Day 4 - Morelia)

The arrival into Morelia was beautiful as usual. That town square had a really beautiful cathedral and the surrounding buildings were awesome.

Two White 911s (Day 4 - Morelia)

Church at Arrival Arch (Day 4 - Morelia)

Applebee's was next to our hotel and we were starving and desperate. Every waiter/waitress attended to us at some point in the meal. They had sort of gathered near the bar, whispering and smiling and looking at us. Then more whispering and one would walk over to see if we needed anything. It was cute. Both of us felt sick the next day - I blame my 1 sip of iced tea that was probably made with tap water. Emil blamed his taco-stand lunch.

That night, the ceremony was held at at the Holiday Inn, which was 500 meters from our hotel - so we were pretty happy not to have to jump in a cab, like we usually had to do. There was a very enthusiastic mariachi band and a female singer who had found a spandex "race suit" for the occasion. Somehow, even with the Mil Cumbres fiasco, we managed to come in 3rd in our class.

Day 3: Peubla to Queretaro via Mexico City

As Emil will explain in great detail - we had a speed section on the major freeway of Mexico City. The police shut down the freeway, and we had at it. After this section, we had a high-speed police escort to the mid-day service stop. This was exactly Emil's sort of thing, so I won't attempt to describe it.

Arriving at velocity section in Mexico City (Day 3 - Queretaro)

The morning started out with heightened excitement. We were raring to go because we knew the Mexico City section would be a blast. One of us was more raring than the other though, and after all of my demands to "slow the F*** down" were ignored, we hit a small rise in the pavement and were momentarily airborne. (BTW - this is the second time that we have been airborne in a car in the past month.)

Once all four wheels came crashing down and we were again zooming along, Emil agreed that we would take things easy. The Mexico City velocity section had similar rises in the road, so actually, it's a good thing we had that little experience beforehand. Otherwise, we could have really launched the car into a wall or something, since we had reached speeds in excess of 300km/hr.

After the velocity section and during the police escort, we hit an invisible tope really really hard. It was not in the route book and I swear it disappeared immediately afterwards. Evil, I tell you!

Either the rise or the tope or both caused the front left tire to blister. We were able to change it with our spare front wheel and tire at the service stop - so it didn't slow us down really. Yet. (see day 5)


The last velocity section of the day was 6 laps at a race track. I have never been in a car with Emil on the track - and I have to say it was hot. He is really good! The track was fairly new with lots of run-off areas. I called the turns for the first lap only and then tried to remain silent the rest of the time. The sounds I made were biological only - in that you can't be yanked around in a 5-point harness without going "HUUUUUH!" at least once. Emil passed any car that was within 40 feet of us. Later, I met one of the drivers he passed. He told me he kept yelling to his co-driver "I'll be damned if I let that new car get past me!" He admitted to chuckling when we flew by. We found that most of the La Carrera "old-timers" were having fun with the new cars being around.

Crowd at Arrival Arch (Day 3 - Queretaro)

The Queretaro arrival was exciting. The arrivals usually took place at the town squares (Zocalos). They were pretty parks surrounded on 4 sides by cool old buildings with shops and restaurants. Beer was always plentiful at the arrivals. In Queretaro, some kids wanted to pose for pictures with me and I looked around for a place to put my beer. I ended up handing it to Bret and saying "I don't want to pose with kids holding a beer!" A girl, about 11 years old, looked up at me and said in perfect English "Don't worry about that - this is Mexico!" I'm not kidding. I also noticed that when the arrival parties had DJs, they were playing Hip-Hop songs that we would NEVER play in public in the U.S. Especially at an event with kids running around.

Crowd at Arrival Arch (Day 3 - Queretaro)

Our awards ceremony that night was in the Art Museum. It was quite lovely, but very chilly!

Day 2: Tehuacan to Puebla

Our badass car in a badass town

On Day 2 of the race, Emil made the following suggestion for my navigating. "Please only say 'caution' when it's really a caution. You keep saying 'careful!" and 'caution!' - I am always careful. Rather than telling me to be careful all the time, say something like 'SLOW DOWN NOW!' when it's really dangerous."

I showed him the route book and said "You see here - 'Left 3 with cliff', 'Right 3 with cliff', 'Left 4 with cliff'? When I see 'cliff', especially on a 3 or 4 turn, I'm gonna tell you to be cautious. I don't want to go off a cliff." Over the next few days, I did relax the "caution"s and "careful"s. You see enough cliffs go by and they start to become no big deal. Besides, I had to watch out for cows and donkeys.

In section 8 of the route to Puebla, the transit section had 76.5 topes within 50 km.

Topes are Mexican for "bye-bye undercarriage". They are speed bumps that usually quite steep but not all that wide. Even at the usual 45-degree angled approach, something is going to crunch. Some of the topes are wide and flat, so you can drive over them safely at a slow speed. Others are just evil.



In the towns, spectators usually gather at the steepest topes, hoping to see some damage. Unfortunately, we usually obliged.

Topes would become the bane of our existence for the entire race. Veterans of La Carrera were taking bets on how long our front splitter would remain on the car. Whenever another driver asked me what car I'm running and I told them, they said "Hey, how have the topes been for you?"

Our awards ceremony that night was at the main yard of the Secretaria de Turismo. I'm sad that I don't have a picture of it - it was quite beautiful.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Day 1: Oaxaca to Tehuacan

The morning that the race kicked off was a fury of chaos and confusion. I'd like to say that it got less so as the days progressed. Looking back, I think that the chaos created at atmosphere of excitement and "go-go-go!", so it wasn't so bad actually.

Green Flag

I was sad to say good-bye to Oaxaca, but excited for the day. The sections went well, a few cars crashed but none from our class. The first few kilometers of the first race section were the same as in qualifying, so we were at least prepared for that. We had also been told about how people line the route, waving and cheering. Families drove their trucks from their farms to the main road to get a glimpse of the race cars whizzing by. It was very cool! When we were in the transit sections, we'd wave back and they'd cheer all the more.

We were not prepared for the reception we'd receive in Zacatecas.

Band at Arch (Day 1 - Tehuacan)

Crowd at Arrival (Day 1 - Tehuacan)

After an exhausting day of driving, we pulled into town and were met by streets lined with spectators. They were all waving, cheering, clapping, waving flags, and taking pictures. Near the arrival arch, they had poured into the street. We had only our car's width of space to drive through the arch. I stuck my hand out to wave and people grabbed it to shake my hand, gave me high-fives, wish us luck, welcome us to their town. Little kids just wanted to touch my hand, even if was for a second. I was really touched by this. The excitement was so genuine and unabashed. We may be in this extraordinary race, driving an extraordinary car - but we are really ordinary people. I didn't feel worthy of such a welcome - but this event, The Mexican Road Race is HUGE to the people of Mexico. It's a uniting event for these towns and the country. In a strange way, all this fuss made me feel very humble. The event is much more exciting than I am - but to the fans, we are one and the same.

The La Carrera arrival in Tehuacan is an annual reason for the town to party. There was a band, beer tents, vendors, food, dancing, and tons of people. A man asked me to talk to his English students - a group of young women who were anxious to converse in English with actual Americans. I asked if any of them had their driver's license - hoping to initiate a conversation about the opportunities for women in racing. None of them had one. None of them wanted one. Everyone takes the bus or rides a bike. So much for me being inspirational. :) I did tell them about the donkey in the race section - which made them furrow their brow but laugh politely. Then I remembered that 1 of the 4 Spanish words I know is "burro" and that made the story much funnier to them.

Outside of our Driver's Meeting  (Day 1 - Tehuacan)

Our driver's meeting/awards ceremony was in the Historic Section of Tehuacan. There was a big party of some kind going on outside with a band and dancers. There was a band for our ceremony too, a very formal and well drummed flag ceremony, some local beauty queen, and the mayor. Every time the winners of a particular class were announced, the band played a few bars of some congratulatory song that sounded a lot like "The bear came over the mountain." After 5 or 6 groups of winners were announced, the song had permanently embedded itself into our brains, and Emil and I hummed it for the rest of the night.

Band at Driver's Meeting (Day 1 - Tehuacan)

The Gist

Figuring out this race took some time. There was a learning curve for sure. Not only do you have to learn what the different control stops mean (they are called T, Z, A, B, C, and D and each is for a different purpose), how to calculate when you need to be at which control stop, and how the heck to understand the route book, you are contending with what everyone refers to as "Mexican Time". As far as I can tell, "Mexican Time" means that people who wear race suits can't be 1 millisecond late to anything but people wearing straw hats and badges that say "official" can start meetings whenever the hell they please. It's its own way.

There are two types of "sections" to drive. Transit sections are your route from one race section to another and then to the final arch at the end of the day. Most turns, signs, markers, and topes are noted in the route book. They are timed in a way - you have an exact amount of time you should take to drive them and you cannot be later than 59 seconds from your calculated arrival time. Also, you cannot be early by any seconds at all. They can be of any distance - we had some 5 kms and some 300+ kms. You have to haul-ass to make it on time. They are not leisurely breaks between race sections - they are basically race sections through towns and with civilian traffic. Wherever possible, the police has intersections blocked off and they waved us past. From time to time, we had police escorts.

Here is a typical transit section in the route book (many pages were nothing but "bumps"):

Route book transit section

Velocity sections are the race sections. You get timed, which determines your rank for your class, which determines your starting position for the following day. They are trecherous, fast, but well plotted out in the route book. Every bump, turn, crest, dip, and patch of rough pavement is noted with its distance. Turns are graded from 0-4 - but the grade has to do with difficulty, not radius. A Right 0 might actually have the same radius as a Right 4 - but you have lots of distance to prepare for it, so it's not as difficult. A Right 4 might be a relatively shallow turn, but it comes in quick succession with other turns and therefore is difficult. The route book was written by 2 people, so the grading system was rather subjective. That made things interesting.

Here is a typical velocity section in the route book:

Route book velocity section

NOT included in the route book are the various obstacles you might come across at 100+ mph in a turn in a velocity section. These obstacles range from the meandering donkey to the fallen tree. Gravel is usually known of ahead of time, so we might get some warning about that. Sometimes you might come upon a disabled race car too - so you had to be very careful.

At the end of one of our race sections on day 1, we were heading towards a left 1 and the checkered flag when we saw a thick plume of black smoke. As we neared the turn, we realized that the smoke was close to the road we were on. Then we saw people waving their arms wildly for us to slow down. As we made the left, we saw that a car was about 50 feet from the road and it was completely engulfed in flames. There are rules about coming across accidents during the race. The rule is to keep going unless the car is on fire and you can see the drivers are still inside. Luckily, the drivers were not inside and medics were already on the scene. It still makes me sick to think about it. The driver and co-driver are ok - a few burns but otherwise ok.

Ugh - burned Corvette from Day 1

During the week, we saw several cars that had crashed during velocity and transit sections. Every one was a reminder to me that calling out a wrong turn or missing one could have terrible results.

First few days...Oaxaca

View from Co-Driver's Meeting (Oaxaca)

After an annoying experience with Mexicana Airlines that resulted in us having NO connecting flight from Mexico City to Oaxaca...we were able to hitch a ride with Bret and Kevin. They arrived in Mexico City a few hours after us and had already planned to drive down to Oaxaca. It was a really fun drive and it gave us a good idea of what the roads would be like on the race. or so we thought.

Oaxaca (Wa-ha-ka) is a beautiful old town in southern Mexico, known for its history, as well as its cheese. (Oaxacan cheese is SOOO good.) It is also home to the tree with the stoutest trunk in the world. The Tule Tree. We didn't have time to see it.

We spent our time in Oaxaca schlepping back and forth between our hotel, the baseball stadium (where the cars and registration were), and Bret & Kevin's hotel (where most of the other Unlimited Class drivers were staying as well.)

Emil and GT3 after sticker party (Oaxaca)

We had decided to upgrade our hotel for Oaxaca, since we would be there for a few days. The hotel was beautiful - it used to be a convent. One day at breakfast, Emil was quietly checking email and I was enjoying my "pancakes" (which I learned is Mexican for "French Toast"), soothing monk-chants were wafting through the courtyard - when we simultaneously stopped and looked at each other. We recognized the chant. It was "Losing my Religion" by REM. In monk-chant. It was followed by the chanting of "Save a prayer" by Duran Duran. I need to find that CD!

Camino Real Hotel (Oaxaca)

The night before qualifying, there was a meeting held for the co-pilotos only. It became clear that our jobs were THE jobs of the race. We were to be in charge of everything and we had every right to get out of a car and refuse to navigate if our pilotos weren't doing what we said. (nice!) After meeting some of my fellow co-pilotos, I knew that this would be a fun race!

Qualifying was fun and scary. We qualified 3rd of our class. I got motion sickness - which didn't set in until after the run was over and I could look up for more than 2 seconds. I realized that motion sickness was not an option at all, since I would be useless. Mind over matter. I never had it again.

I loved Oaxaca. Can't wait to go back! Next time I have to hug the Tule Tree.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Finally - a moment to blog

Some of you expressed concern about our sudden halt in posts since the Donkey Episode (which, for the record, was Donkey Episode 1 of about 4 - which soon spun off into Cow Episodes, Horse Episodes, Chicken Episodes, and 1 Dog-Chasing-Our-Car Episode. Oh and we can't forget Front Left Tire Episodes 1 & 2)

We are ok. We didn't crash. We made it out of Mexico and live to tell the tale. We simply got too busy to blog.

The job of the co-piloto/navigator was difficult and constant. It was arguably more difficult than the driver's job, even without the threat of motion sickness. There were very few moments when I was not checking my watch to make sure we were within 30 seconds of some timed event. My day was basically like this:

    5-6am: Wake up, put on suit, get breakfast if possible, find transporter and exchange old clothing for new clothing for that night and next morning, find car and pack daily supplies and luggage.

    7-8am: Get to starting arch, locate person giving out time sheets for the day, confirm correct starting time, make sure watch is synchronized with Official Time, confirm starting time of 5 cars in front and 5 cars behind us, make sure our car was in correct position in line-up, go over notes for the different sections that day and confirm with other navigators, assure Emil that we were not late.

    8am-5pm: Control every aspect of our day except for the physical driving. This included but was not limited to: Navigating us through transit sections, figuring out the correct arrival times to each control and making sure we arrived at the exact right second, calculating when and where we would make fuel stops, making sure I did not miss calling out any speed bump (since they could potentially cause immense damage to the car), finding something to eat at the service stops while comparing notes and times with other navigators, calculating velocity section times and noting any discrepancies between official stopwatch and my stopwatch, making sure Emil knew how much he rocked. Oh and calling out every turn in velocity sections so we would not crash into a mountain or fall off a cliff.

    5pm-7pm: Arrive at arch on time, greet spectators, sign autographs, pose for photos, try to find something to eat and coffee, get us to the hotel. This was the least busy time of the day.

    7pm-8pm: Take shower and change for driver's meeting

    8:30pm-way too late: Attend driver's meeting/awards ceremony which always started 2 hours late, get time sheets for following day and any bulletins relating to route book changes.

    Way too late - even later: Go through route book for following day, highlight, make notes, do calculations if necessary, try to sleep.

As you can see - no time for blogging or checking email. In my following posts, I will attempt to describe exactly how amazing this race is.

In the meantime, you can check out my photos on Flickr.

Time Sheet

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Donkey Video

Found it!

When I saw this thing booking across the road, I laughed out loud, then got really scared...

Play Video


At the end of day 2, we finished 2nd in class. So that brings the tally to:
  • 2nd in class, qualifying
  • 3rd in class, day 1
  • 2nd in class, day 2

Day 5: What's a Traffic Light?

It's been 5 days since we've been driving in Mexico. I have not stopped at a traffic light since we've been here. Like, not one. Every intersection has a very helpful police officer whose job it is to ensure that I'm not delayed. Well, not just me, but all of us La Carrera "correadors". Today, though, it just got silly. When we rolled in to Puebla (we hit nearly 300kph on the Autopista) we got pulled over and got a Police escort to the finishe line, thanks to my main man, General Julio.

Check it: (The cop giving the escort is having more fun than us. Watch as he gets airborne on the railroad tracks and almost plows in to a car 4:00 in...)

Sadly, the Chase Cam seems to have given up the ghost. But, I've got something up my sleeve for tomorrow if I cannot get it fixed.

In other news, do you know what a "tope" is? It's a Mexican speed bump and they are all up in this piece! Most of the small towns we roll through use them to control traffic because cops are not really around much, and who obeys traffic lights in the boonies?

Well, unfortunately for us, 1 of the 57 topes we traversed today snuck up on us so we hit it at about 20 mph. It knocked a small protective piece of plastic loose that we dragged with us for many, many, many, miles. It sounded much worse than it was. Thankfully "other Tom" was around to help us pull that piece out and put another piece back in place. We also did a full inspection of the suspension linkages and brakes.

Everything checked out A-ok.

Jacking up the GT3
Jacking up the GT3

That's a stiff chassis!

Left Side
Left Side: Proper Cover

Right Side
Right Side: Missing Cover

This Piece Fell Out
This Piece Fell Out

So We Put It Back In
So We Put It Back In
And by "We", I mean "Other Tom"

Header Scrape
Tom noticed this, too. Time for some Fabspeed upgrades!