Become Part of the Legend

We have few opportunities in our lives to become part of a legend.  But the Chihuahua Express and La Carrera Panamericana give us a rare opportunity to experience racing on closed, public highways though the mountains, and become part of a legend.  These are the last open-road races of their kind in the world.  No one can predict how long they will survive in this modern age.

Every April a colorful collection of vintage and modern cars line up in Chihuahua, Mexico for the Chi-X, a three-day open-road race (stage rally) and T/S/D Rally Tour that covers nearly 1,000 miles, including over 300 miles at unlimited speed for the race cars.  Now in its fourteenth year, the Chi-X uses basically the same rules and format as the Pan-Am, except it is only 145 miles from the Texas border and modern cars are invited to compete in their own classes..

In the Pan-Am up to 60 vintage race cars, plus some modern BMW Mini’s, usually start in southern Mexico in early October to race nearly 1500 miles back up north to Durango.  It’s seven days of racing, around 350 miles of speed stages, over closed, public highways, through some of the most beautiful country north of the Equator. Seven days of automotive freedom. The event stops for the night in colonial cities along the route, including Mexico City.  In the Express, the cars return to the same luxury hotel each night in the city of Chihuahua.  

The original Pan-Am race was sponsored in 1950 by the Mexican government to inform the world that Mexico had a new system of roads, the Pan-American Highway, stretching across the country--from north to south--for commerce and tourism.  When the five-day race was canceled in 1955, its purpose had been accomplished.   In 1988 a group of Mexican and North American auto enthusiasts revived the Pan Am as a “pro-rally” or “stage rally.” 

In the Chi-X and the Pan-Am each car must have a crew of driver and a navigator.  The navigator is given a route book with maps and detailed instructions to follow for the entire race.  Every turn along the entire race route is listed and rated by degree of difficulty.  Warnings are given about dangerous conditions.  Speed bumps and gas stations are even noted, but there can always be a surprise lurking around each blind corner.

Each day’s route is divided into “transit” and “speed” stages. The transit stages are run from town to town on regular highways, in regular traffic.  But several times a day, normally on a mountain road, the race cars line up at their target time for the “speed” stages .   Time penalty points are imposed if the car checks in too early or too late for a speed stage or commits an infraction of the rules.  After the cars are launched one by one in the speed stage, running against the clock, they follow a closed stretch of highway cleared by the Mexican Highway Patrol.  At the end, they are timed electronically.

There is now a limit of 144 MPH for the Pan-Am, but no limit for the Chi-X.  The car may travel as fast as the driver’s skill and road conditions warrant.   Cars are started in 30 second (Pan-Am) and one-minute (Chi-X) intervals to run a time trial, in effect, but passing a slower car occurs from time to time in longer stages.

Speed stages normally stretch from three to sixteen miles in length, mostly over good, paved secondary highways.  At the end of each day, medals or plaques are awarded to the cars in each class with the lowest ET, and at the end of the event, trophies or plaques are given for the overall winners.  In both races there are many classes based on the age of the car, engine size, and modifications. 

Because of its length, high number of speed stage per day, and closeness to the U.S., some drivers like to come to the Chi-X first, to learn the rally rules, and to test themselves and their car.

Few drivers have won their class or finished high in the overall standing during their first year.  Come to these events the first time expecting to learn about the problems of endurance racing for a week at high altitude.  Take the time to appreciate the magnitude of the overall experience.  Your learning curve will be as steep as the road up Mil Cumbres, the mountain outside of Morelia, or the climb to the famous Copper Canyon in Chihuahua.

Regardless of your commitment and goals, all levels of competitors are welcome. The race cars are subject to certain limitations, and full roll cages and other safety gear are required. All cars are subject to the approval of the organizers and technical inspectors before the event. Before you start building a car for these events read the rules carefully.  And please remember, there is no substitute for good, reliable brakes.

The expenses involved in the Pan-Am will vary greatly from entrant to entrant.  Preparing a car, traveling to Mexico and back, and the entry fee are the basic categories of expense. A few can make to the Pan-Am on $25,000, while others spend a small fortune.  The overall cost of the Chi-X is considerably less, given its location closer to the U.S. and its three-day length.

The entry fee or the Pan-Am, around $9,500, covers the race and one double hotel room for eight nights.  In the Chi-X the entry fee, around $3,300 is separate from the hotel expense, so racers may select the HQ hotel or any other. Rooms at the luxury Sheraton Soberano Hotel overlooking the city of Chihuahua are $150 a night.

For an additional fee, all participants, regardless of experience, will be issued the mandatory Mexican rally license for the event.   The license also provides medical, life, and dismemberment insurance.  Teams of doctors and rescue personnel travel with the events.  All drivers should have a racing license, sufficient experience, or training before attempting open-road racing in Mexico.

These two events are a combination of serious racing and adventure.  Both are a true test of driving and mechanical skills, stamina, and patience.  Most importantly, perhaps, it is an opportunity to see a beautiful country and meet its gracious people.  You will be their hero!   These memories and the friends you will make will endure forever.  

Like all forms of auto racing, velocity rallies are dangerous. Make sure that your car is prepared adequately and is safe.   Drive it prudently.

You should review the rules of each race carefully before buying and preparing a car, especially before installing the roll cage. All newly fabricated cars, vintage or modern, must be pre-approved before the event.  The roll cage and other safety requirements in Mexico are generally higher than SCCA regional or NASA requirements in the U.S.

If you have questions, email Gerie Bledsoe, North American Coordinator (Canada and the U.S.) for the Chi-X at gbledso@aol.com, or call him at one of the phone numbers listed on the Contact page.   For info about the Pan-Am, email info@lacarrerapanamericana.com.mx. Gerie has lived in Mexico and has raced down there for twenty years. He was the Pan-Am rep for twelve-years.

Join in the fun.  There is nothing like it!

(Mr.) Gerie Bledsoe, Chicago, Illinois, and Santa Rosa Beach, Florida

gbledso@aol.com