Thursday, August 27, 2009

Carrera Driver -- End of Summer Edition


August 27, 2009



The Coyote Convoy will gather at the Residence Inn del Mar in Laredo, Texas, at 9:00 PM, Friday, October 16. After an orientation, a group will wander across the border to obtain visas and car importation permits.

Walking across the border at night is always an adventure. Last year heavily armed Mexican army troops were guarding the Mexican Customs house in their armored personnel carriers, .50 cals at the ready, while young men—stripped to their shorts and carrying their clothes (?) in black plastic bags—jumped in the Rio Bravo to swim to the U.S. side.

On Saturday, October 17 the convoy will line up in the parking lot of the Residence Inn to drive across the border at 6:00 AM and around downtown Nuevo Laredo. The convoy will pause to re-group before going through the final Mexican Customs checkpoint about 18 miles outside of town.

From that checkpoint it should be smooth sailing down to San Miguel de Allende. Participants in the convoy may run ahead of the lead truck and set their own pace. There are now plenty of PEMEX gas stations and rest stops along this highway (#57).

The city of San Miguel de Allende--named a top-ten location to visit by Condé Nast magazine--is located only 20 miles off the main highway to Mexico City.

Those signing up from the convoy will receive a complete set of maps and instructions about the trip and what to expect. Anyone may join the convoy with prior approval, but the convoy is not responsible for anyone’s safety while traveling in Mexico.


As those who have towed their race cars to the start of the Pan Am know, the categorical imperative has been – STAY OUT OF MEXICO CITY!

There were several good reasons to find a way around this sprawling megapolis:
--22 million people, plus that many cars, trucks, motos, and wagons
--restrictions on when one may drive into the city (never in the AM)
--a highway system from the 18th century
--voracious, underpaid traffic police (who devour their young)

For several years the Coyote Convoy has followed the old truck route around Mexico City, a long tedious road. This route, a combination of two-lane highways and small cities, was literally a pain in the butt.

But our prayers and virtuous living have been rewarded: the Mexican government has just opened a new toll road (cuota) around Mexico City called the “Archo Norte.”

The new toll road starts near Tula (just north of Mexico City) and curves around Mexico City to the east and southeast to join the toll road to Puebla. Instead of four hours on the old truck route, it should take the Convoy about 1.5 hours to cover this distance.

Thus the convoy should arrive in Oaxaca City in time to see the famous sites in this beautiful colonial city, including the glorious Indian ruins of Monte Albán, just five miles outside of town.


Detailed information about the 2009 Pan Am route--hotels and such--remains difficult to obtain. If we are lucky the Carrera Office will send out a list of our hotel assignments before we leave home for the border. A little more information was recently posted in the official rules. Here are a few gleanings:

1. Huatulco – the navigators’ meeting is in the Hotel Barcelo. The parc fermé or paddock will be at the “Kiosko Parque Hundido Chahué,” which we believe is the old municipal parking lot near the marina and where the cruise ships dock at Hautulco-Chahué-Santa Cruz.

2. Oaxaca City – on the first night of the race, the driver’s meeting will be at the famous Hotel Camino Real in the old part of town. It’s a spectacular old convent, restored as a luxury hotel.

3. Mexico City – the race will end Saturday at the Santa Fe shopping center away from downtown in the chic ‘burbs. The driver’s meeting will be at the nearby Camino Real Santa Fe Hotel.

4. Queretaro – the usual hotels will probably be used, such as the two downtown Holiday and Fiesta Inns.

5. San Luís de Potosí – the driver’s meeting is at the Westin Hotel. Most of the hotels will be outside of the Centro Historico.

6. Guadalajara – the driver’s meeting will be at the Tequila Center (Cool! Bring your glass.)

7. Zacatecas – the drivers’ meeting will be back at the fabulous Quinta Real or bull ring hotel. (See story below. Keep your tequila cup handy.) Some of us will stay at the classic Emperio, as well.

8. Nuevo Laredo – the driver’s meeting will be at the Civic/Cultural Center outside of town. Last year we had a small SWAT team in the parking lot.

The route book should be posted on the official web site soon. Some sharp navigators print it out, and then divide it by days into separate binders that are easier to handle at high speed. (Thanks, Dy.)


For the past two years the Pan Am cars have been invited by the mayor of Mexico City to race on the main freeway in his city, the Períferíco. Although they only closed 3.5 miles of this major highway for us, some Carrera cars reached speeds over 170 MPH. It was scary, but sorta cool. It also gave the race significant exposure on Mexican television.

Closing down this road at 9:00 AM on a Sunday morning was the moral equivalent of closing down I-10 in Los Angeles during Friday rush hour. Sunday morning is when half of the folks in Mexico City leave town to find clean air, picnic, or visit their little mama in “el campo.”

This year the Pan Am will not race on the Periferico. But do not despair; you will be provided an adequate substitute. The Carrera cars have been invited back to race on the famous track – “Dos Hermanos Rodriquez” – the same track used by the NASCAR Nationwide series and NASCAR Mexico. In fact, the Carrera cars will be an early morning warm up for a Mexican NASCAR race that Sunday.

Bring your Garmin GPS armed with up the most up-to-date Mexican maps from Mark Walker, Mexico Maps at Navigating through both Mexico City and Guadalajara are two big reasons to put a Garmin in your racecar this year. Finding the right entrance to the track will be a special challenge.

This is only the second time in my eleven years that the Carrera has been to Dos Hermanos. In 2006 we got onto the track right just after it rained and the results were “entertaining.” Beware: you will not get even one warm up lap.

In 2006 the Pan Am cars were sliding all over the wet track, as few drivers had any idea about how many laps they were to run or how to enter and exit the track. Pierre de Thoisy, the great Pan Am champion, won a big trophy for the fastest time at the track. Of course, “Lucky” Pierre had been at the track the weekend before getting in several dozen practice laps. Most of us amateurs had no idea what to expect or where to turn, especially when we were unable to see anything but water spray. Let’s hope it does not rain this year, so we can enjoy this impressive track in the heart of Mexico City.


Eduardo Leon, the President of La Carrera Panamericana, has reminded all competitors that head and neck restraints will be required in all classes this year. The two approved devices are the HANS and Leatt brace. Mr. Leon also mentioned that any device approved by the FIA would be acceptable. He also mentioned a HANS-clone, the “DefNder,” that might be acceptable since it is SFI rated, but he did not know about others sold in the U.S., including the Safety Solutions R-3.

The Leatt brace will be for sale in Huatulco.


If you are driving a car or tow truck into Mexico, you need to purchase Mexican auto insurance. It’s easy:

All you need is a VIN and credit card. Go to, an insurance broker in San Diego, will offer you several insurance companies and various levels of coverage from which to choose. In some cases, you will decide how much your car and tow rig are worth for coverage purposes, if you buy comprehensive and collision.

Your Mexican coverage should start the day you cross the border, like October 16 or 17, and end on October 30, when most of us will cross the border back into the U.S.

In Huatulco, during registration, you must show proof of Mexican liability insurance in order to obtain the official decals for your service vehicle. This rule was firmly enforced for the past couple of years.

Although liability insurance is not required on your race car, if you plan on testing your car in Huatulco before the race starts, you might obtain Mexican insurance for it for those days. (I purchase liability insurance on my race car for the whole period, just in case.)
Mexican car insurance, like U.S. insurance, does not cover the car or driver when engaged in racing.


Of all the beautiful colonial cities along the route, Zacatecas remains the favorite of the great majority of Carrera drivers and their crew members. It is a pristine, world-class city in ever respect.

Underneath Zacatecas is the largest silver mine in the Western Hemisphere. It pumped tons of the precious metal into the coffers of the kings of Spain and the government in Mexico City. Today the mine is closed, except for tours and maybe a disco, but the city remains a beautiful monument to the accumulation of capital, not unlike Salamanca and Pienza.

Located on the side of a mountain at 8,000+ feet, Zacatecas can make you heart pump more rapidly after the slightest exertion. On the night of Oct. 28, the Carreraistas will follow a burro and small band through the city’s narrow streets, drinking cheap tequila until they crawl into the bullring patio of the famous Quinta Real Hotel, one of the top ten romantic places in the world, where dinner and trophies will be served. Bring your fur-lined banana hammocks boys, ‘cause it will be chilly. It is always a night to remember, regardless how the evening ends.

During the Pan Am races of 1999-2005, the Carrera stopped for two nights in Zacatecas, but under current management, our stay has been reduced, alas, to only one night.


Chris Cooper, Los Angeles hot rod artist, illustrator, and photographer—navigator in car #395—has recently posted several hundred more photos of the 2008 race, including the Carrera Car Show in San Miguel de Allende. To check out Coop’s pics go to Coop will be back in car #395 this year in Hautulco, with his cameras. One of his photos of the car show in the main square in San Miguel is above.

This email has been sent to those registered as competitors in the 2009 Pan Am race, crew members, and support services. Please do not post it on blogs or web sites, as it will be posted on

Only 57 days before the race starts! Are you ready?

© Gerie Bledsoe 2009