A Typical Day in La Carrera Panamericana
It is difficult to explain the Pan Am experience. Short of poetry, words fail to capture the range of emotions experienced during this race. Photographs and video tape help to portray this event, occasionally recording some of the emotion. But even the best film cannot capture the deep and abiding impact on soul and psyche. There is really nothing like it in the world! It can be the most exciting, beautiful, and humbling experience in your life.
With these ideas in mind, here one account of a typical day in the race. All times are approximate and the schedule is always subject to change.
6:00 AM - the alarm clock goes off! It's time to grab some breakfast, check out of the hotel, check the car, get gas, and find the starting line ("arch") by 7:00 or 7:30. Of course, everyone else is trying to do the same. Some hotels will be a block from the arch, others will be several miles away. Sometimes the directions to the arch are vague and you get lost. Allow extra time for everything. Make sure you know how to find the arch before you go to bed. Check the official Carrera time at the white van at the arch, too, and pick up your time card there.
Expect the weather to be clear, dry, and a little cool. Cool enough at night for a light jacket or sweatshirt. Great for racing! Rain from tropical storms does happen. Treaded tires are helpful.
8:00 AM - Leaving town. At 8:00 AM most mornings, the first car leaves the starting arch (Control T). The other cars follow at thirty-second intervals. The starting times for every car is usually distributed at the drivers' meeting the night before the race. Because the exit from town each morning is largely ceremonial, it is not critical that a car leaves at exactly its time. It is better to leave town a little early than a little late. The drive from the starting arch to the first speed section is the first section in the route book for the day. Directions for the entire day are in the Route Book. Review them the night before.
8:30 AM - The First Speed Section. The lead car arrives at the first control point. The other cars line up in the order of their times. Determining the car's proper place in line is the navigator's job all day. The navigator must write down the numbers of the five cars ahead of you and the five cars behind you. Some cars will arrive late, so leave some space for them to park. Park on the right, not on the left. Make sure than you are in a position to move up and check in at the control point at (or just after) the proper time. Never check in early at the control point, as the penalty is more severe than being late. Your co-driver can also walk up to the control officials and check in if other cars are blocking your way.
8:31 AM - the first car moves up to the control point "CH" with helmets and belts on. The control officials mark this time on the car's time card. The car then moves up to the starting line, control "A," for the first speed run of the day. The start time for the speed run is then recorded on the time sheet. (Timing will be explained elsewhere.) The starter will give each car a 10 second count-down before the start -- in Spanish, of course!
8:32 AM - the first car starts the speed run. You will hear the sound of burning rubber and the V8s roar. The rest of the cars follow in thirty-second intervals. Occasionally, faster cars will pass slower cars during the speed run. Most speed runs are in the three- to nine-mile range. After passing the finish line (a checkered flag - Control B), the driver must slow down quickly. He will stop at the next control point (Control C) to have your car's time for that speed run recorded on the time card. (A total of three times of the day are written on your time sheet for each special stage at controls CH, A, and C.)
8:30-12:00 - this pattern is repeated three or four times during the course of the morning: line up properly, wait 5-10 minutes, put helmets and belts on, pass through the first check point (CH) on time, and then move up to the starting line for the speed run. Easy, right?
12:00-1:30 - Service and Lunch. At some point during the middle of the day, the cars are directed to stop at a large PEMEX gas station that has been designated for lunch and service. Many of the tow trucks and service crews will meet their race cars at this time, if they left town early. It's time for food, bottled water, and auto maintenance. Unleaded high-test gasoline is available about every 100 miles or less each day. Cars must arrive and leave the service stops on their correct time, calculated by the navigator.
1:40 PM - Afternoon Speed Sections. After lunch, the first car arrives at the next speed section around 1:40. The other cars line up in the same order as in the morning. Some cars will be MIA - broken down or confused. But the rest of the cars must pass through the controls at their designated times. This time must be calculated by the navigator after each speed stage. During the morning and afternoon, as the cars wait their turn for the next speed section, there is time for water, snacks, and relaxation. Many crews socialize during this period, and in most cases, they find a big cactus to water. (Some women find this to be the most difficult and/or interesting aspect of the day's activities!) The Pan Am is not a place for modest people or weak bladders!
Speed runs continue during the afternoon - in the same pattern as the morning.
Some speed sections are separated by only 30 yards, while others are separated by a long, tough drive at high speeds. All of this information is in the official route book that will be given to each crew before the race begins. Last year, the route was posted on the official web site www.lacarrerapanamericana.com.mx a few weeks before the event.
Spectators welcome the Carreraistas
4:00 PM - Welcoming Celebration. The fastest cars arrived in the main square of the next destination city around this time. There will be bands and droves of spectators, especially families and young children. The cars are lined up for exhibition, and most drivers stay by their cars to answer questions, take photos, kiss babies, and give out autographs. It's your fifteen minutes of fame, gringo! In some cities the celebration is huge, while in others, it tends to be low-keyed.
6:00 PM - Evening Activities. After the celebration downtown, the race cars find their hotel or the appropriate parking lot. Sometimes it takes a while. Traffic congestion in these old colonial towns can be serious, and good directions are hard to come by. Occasionally there is not enough space at the hotel to park the cars and tow rigs, so you park where you can. In the old days, all cars parked in the same place each night. In the modern Pan Am, they are often scattered among several hotels and even along the streets near the hotels. Most hotels have guards that watch over the parking lot at night. Normally, there will be local auto repair shops, including dealers, open at night to work on the cars. It's time to check the car and find a shop if needed. The next order of business is to find your room, clean up, and sample the local cuisine. Hotels are first class.
9:00 PM?? - The Drivers' Meeting. Each night a Drivers' Meeting is scheduled. At least one member of the crew must attend. After greetings from the local mayor and auto club president, the race organizers will review the day's events. The crews of service vehicles are often reminded that they are not to race their trucks. Trophies are given to the top three finishers in each class and overall. The results of the day and the overall results should be handed out. (Sometimes the results are not available until the next morning.) Any changes in the schedule or advisories about the next day's route will be made. Sometimes, a traditional Mexican meal or snacks is usually served.
In some cities, the Driver's Meeting is accompanied by a Mexican fiesta or banquet with traditional singing, dancing, and other forms of entertainment. After the race is over, a formal awards banquet is held, usually starting around 9 PM.
10:30 PM - Socializing. Bench racing, story telling, and other social activities start in the hotel bars or other watering spots in town. Large groups, led by the younger set, will head off to the local hot spots, usually a disco of some sort. The more serious racers and especially the geezers (like the author) tend to be in bed by 12. After two or three days of racing, rest becomes a luxury.
The Pan Am's organizers schedule the speed runs over good two-lane highways. No dirt, no gravel roads. Most of the road surfaces are good to excellent, but road surface will vary because of water damage, rock slides, and other natural changes. If the road becomes unsafe that speed section may be canceled. Heavy rain usually results in the cancellation of a speed stage. Safety is more important than racing in these conditions. Track cars, slick tires, and tight suspensions are not recommended.
Please note that the above is not an official announcement by the organizers of La Carrera Panamericana. It is intended as a rough guide to those interested in participating. The Organizing committee retains the right to make any changes in the schedule for each day of the event. Be sure that you check the official web site (www.lacarrerapanamericana.com.mx) and attend all of the Driver's Meetings to obtain the latest information. Those who enter the race will also receive a copy of CARRERA DRIVER, my monthly attempt to keep everyone informed.
North American Coordinator