Tuesday, October 6, 2009


October 1, 2009



A few weeks ago I sent out the first paragraph of my Handicapper’s Edition of CARRERA NEWS as juicy bait. In that snippet, I opined that Gabriel Pérez Torres had to be considered the early favorite. Several competitors rose to the occasion to disagree politely with my initial assessment.

The purpose herein is to survey the field more comprehensively.

In addition to Mr. Perez, contenders to the title this year include everyone’s favorites Doug Mockett and Angelica Fuentes. They will return in their wind-tunnel tested ’54 Oldsmobile (“in name only”). But not even testing in a wind tunnel can do much to mitigate A '54 Studebaker’s drag coeficeint advantage. However, Doug has assured me that Phil Denny has changed the oil and spark plugs in his car for this year’s attempt to repeat his prior triumphs.

At one point it was rumored that Mockett was buying a yellow Studebaker from coffee king Juan Valdez to replace his Olds, but Doug denied the rumor emphatically, denouncing it as “vicious hearsay.”

Looking down the list, Jorge Roberto Pedrero must also be considered a viable contender for the title. Of course, with the race starting in Huatulco this year, Jorge – who hails from from Tuxtla Gutiérrez – loses his advantage the first day in the mountains of Chiapas. Look to Jorge to squeeze as much power as possible form his Ford’s Boss 302 cubic inch Turismo Production engine.


Another pre-race favorite is the venerable leader of the Swedish contingent -- “the Stig.” Mr. Stig Blomquist is a former WRC champion, Swedish champion many times over, and now a veteran of Mexican road racing, with one Carrera and one Chihuahua Express under his belt. Mr Blomquist and his generous co-pilota must be considered heavy favorites, too.

Reportedly, MH Racing in San Miguel de Allende, the Stig’s shop, has changed engine builders in an effort to avoid the gremlins that have fustrated this team over the past couple of years. In the Chihuahua, Stig’s car suffered from serious overheating problems, but his car builder, Mats Hammarlund, has done everything humanly possible to ensure that Stig has a dependable car this year.

Following Stig closely will be the dashing Lars Stugemo in another Studebaker built by MH Racing. Lars is another Carrera vet, who has the requisite skill and experience skill to win this event. But does he have the patience? He certainly has the looks and charm to send the ladies into a swoon.

Last, but certainly not least, on my list of contenders is another car from the MH Racing stable--a Volvo Amazon driven by Karl Schieble. Karl lives in Texas, not Sweden, and he has placed as high as fourth overall in this Hammarlund Volvo in two prior years. While the Volvo runs in Turismo Mayor, the top class, it has 100 horsepower less horepower than TM Studebakers and Mockett’s Olds.

On the other hand, Karl was the U.S. and Canadian SCCA rally champion for several years and knows his way around a mountain corner or racetrack. Rumor has it that the Amazon sports a new engine fresh from Sweden with a little extra horsepower. Carl has teamed up with co-piloto Dyana Marlett, a seasoned navigator, who certainly has enough experience and competitiveness to make the trip a success, regardless of the ultimate prize.


Who among this group of highly talented drivers and their trusty companions will win the event overall this year? That answer is easy. The crew and car with the least mechanical misfortune and the most luck will win. All of the leading cars, like the rest of us, are destined have at least one non-trival mechanical problem. That’s the nature of endurance racing.

This race will be decided by exactly when those mechanical failures occur: during a speed stage, a transit stage, or driving into the hotel’s parking lot at night. If one of the leaders misses a speed stage or loses significant power during a speed stage, it is pretty much out of the running for the top prize. After all, this is a long, arduous race, and the top drivers push their cars at 10/10s much of the time. Even a certain percentage of new, expensive racing parts will fail under these conditions. The question is – when and where the failure will occur? Being lucky, thus, will probably decide the outcome.


Last year, Bill Beilharz, who won the 21st La Carrera in his black “Batmobile” Studebaker, missed a corner, went off the road, and skidded down into a shallow ravine. Instead of stopping to assess the damage and find a safe way out, Bill just kept on going. He spotted a footpath going up the other side of the gully and followed it full bore to get back on the road.

Others would have never been able to exit the gully because of a tire or suspension problem, or having their belly pan ripped off, but Bill was lucky. He knew that to remain in contention he could not stop in that gully.

Sadly, Bill is not able to return to defend his title this year, but he promises that he will be close by in Huatulco, basking on his sailboat, sporting a bevy of bikini-clad hotties on the bow.


As most of you know, the Carrera was started by the Mexican government in 1950 to promote the use of the Pan-American Highway, a paved (mostly) two-laned highway that went from Ciudad Juarez, MX (El Paso, TX) down through the middle of the country to the border with Guatemala.

After 59 years there is not much of the original highway left. Much of the original road has been replaced by four-lane super highways and toll roads. But one lengthy stretch of the two-lane road remains suitable for racing down in the state of Oaxaca, and it very special to those with the Carrera spirit. For a while, we though we might miss it this year.

On the first afternoon of competition, we will run the old Pan Am highway from Tehuantepec to Oaxaca. This is one of the last stretches of the original Pan Am highway that to be completed. They raced on it in 1950 and we have returned many times since them. It's around 250 KM long and it’s exciting, especially when the afternoon sun makes it hot and slick.

This highway cuts through the mountains, starting near sea level and climbing to over 6000 feet in places, before it gets to Oaxaca -- at a little over 5,000 feet. We'll pass through some spectacular river valleys and quaint villages. It’s a poor, sparely populated area, but the people are friendly and wave when we pass through their lives annually.

This road is being replaced by a new toll road to the east, so we expect the old Pan Am highway to stay pretty much the same, even with its Hotel California (!), for racing in future years. Amen!


Yesterday I was talking about the Pan Am with a good friend who has been a little under the weather. He looked at me with a glint in his eyes, and said, “Gerie, I enjoy the racing but I really want to go back to Mexico to see all my friends.” He went on to explain that they are (mostly) guys and “rachetheads” like him, who love the old cars and the adventure.

For me, too, our circle of Pan Am friends is the most important thing now. If I did not go, I would really miss seeing them. Many I will see only this one week out of the year, when we are together, catching up on our lives, suffering together, while we share our passion for this great event.

Sadly, we won’t be able to share this passion this year or ever again with a special Carrera friend, Bobby Johnson. Like many of my Pan Am buddies, I did not much about Bobby, but I knew he was a good guy. We spent a lot of time back in 2002-2004 discussing how to revive the Original Pan Am class. In those years, only two or three OPA cars started the event, and about none finished it. In particular, we agreed that OPA should be a featured, competitive class, and not just a bunch of rusty relics. So I starting promoting it, and Bobby rebuilt his Hudson.

Bobby would compete in his Hudson several times and would remain a true purist. He did not like the fact that the organizers were allowing disc brakes and many other concessions to the modern world, like electronic ignition. Now, he said, there is not much difference between OPA and Historic C, but the OPA cars look good!

Sadly, Bobby, a young man, died last month of a head injury sustained I was told --believe it or not—in a bicycle race. His beautiful wife, Zoya, is devestated, of course. We wish her well.

I last saw Bobby at the Chihuahua Express in 2007. He was quietly there, with a smile on his face, helping Todd Landon’s crew work on Mustangs. I regret only never having a chance to say goodbye after than race. I miss his smiling face and his purist passion for La Carrera! But I look forward to seeing those who will keep the passion alive this year. (His photo is above.)


The Discovery Channel has been showing a series called “GT Racer” that is focused on some of the great historic auto races. The fourth in the series this year was the Panamericana, which aired last weekend (Sept. 25-27).

The four-DVD Box Set—the first two seasons--is available on Amazon.com:
and through the Discovery Channel Store:

At the Discovery Channel Store the DVD Box Set can also be phone ordered by calling 1.800.627.9399
Trailers: www.GTRacerTV.com
LeMans: www.youtube.com/watch?v=NeBqcwldxxY
Nordschleife: www.youtube.com/watch?v=CGGyekPdjaQ
Magny Cours: www.youtube.com/watch?v=L4swAYX_Edw
Carerra Panamericana: www.youtube.com/watch?v=vuEH9f7XdLM

John Galt Films, Inc. is the New York City based boutique production company behind the program. Owner Alexander Davidis writes, directs and produces the GT RACER TV-series. He can be reached at info@johngaltfilms.com or by phone: +1 (212) 744.7441.

The Pan Am show focused on the two Mustangs and a Falcon fabricated and prepped by Todd Landon up in Minnesota. Contact him to rent a 'Stang or Falcon at aoldb://mail/write/TALandon@landolakes.com.


Next year – 2010 – is the “reunion” year for La Carrera. It is time to get that old Carrera car out of the garage, update the rollcage and engine, and get it ready for the race. And if you are thinking about entering a new car, get it ready and tested early in the year.

Do not hesitate. The time available to complete your buckwet list is not increasing.

With the economy improving, now is the time for all good men (and women) to rekindle the passion of the Pan Am before it is too late.

Let’s fill the grid from North American next year and revive old friendships. Who knows, we may never have another chance.


Can’t get it together for the Pan Am this year? Need to sample a little of Mexico before taking the Carrera plunge? Try the Chihuahua Express.

As the name suggests, this is the quick and easy way to test your car and learn how to stage rally without devoting three weeks of your life and mucho dinero to an expediton into the Mexican jungle and hopefully back.

The Express packs 1000 miles of racing and around 325 miles of top speed stages into three days—only 145 miles west of Texas. On top of that, the racers return to the same bunk each night. How cool is that!

Contact organizer Chacho Medina if interested at chachomedina@sporcar.com or gbledso@aol.com. The Express is also affiliated with the Silver State Classic. The entry fee is only $2000, which does not include hotels.


Todd Landon, up in Minnesota, has a couple of really nice Mustangs for sale or lease for the race. Todd’s cars have finished in the top five overall on a regular basis.

Mats Hammarlund, down in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, is opening a huge shop, and plans to build more Studebakers for the Pan Am and the Chihuahua Express. Mats is looking for qualified driver-partners for these cars.

Will Kendall, in L.A., has a great ’64 Ford Falcon with Carrera history for sale. Will says it is ready to race this year. Ring him at 310.740.2100 or email him at info@paix.com. Will’s summary follows:

• Professionally built, RACE-READY Ford Falcon -- one of the most beautiful, best prepared, and seriously fast (475+ bhp) Historic C-class Falcons in existence.
• 20th Anniversary La Carrera Panamericana competitor. Passed tech that year. Ready to take the podium this year!
• Historic U.S. open-track racer (home track: Laguna Seca).
• Recently completed extensive professional rebuild by MAECO Motorsport -- the premier U.S. specialist in performance modifications and vintage race preparation for V8 powered American Pony Cars.
• Less than 100 miles on NEW Ford Racing, Maeco built 302 c.i. engine and mechanicals.
• Street legal: set-up for high-test pump OR race gas to enable multiple race/rally event entries.
• Full spec sheet, documentation, professional build records, and race history available to serious buyers.
• Over $75K invested. Selling for close to half of car's replacement cost, not including significant build-time and multiple Carrera experts' knowledge and input guiding build.
• Privately for sale and viewable in Los Angeles area @ $45K/BO. (For the 2009 Pan Am only, Will is offering a one-time 10% discount to Carrera race veterans.)


Guadalupe “Lupita” Hernandez Ramirez, a Mexican Red Cross nurse, lost both legs at the hip in 2003 when a Pan Am car hit a puddle of oil and spun off the road, pinning Lupita to an ambulance. Since then North American and Canadian competitors have vowed to support her. Right now, her trust fund, monitored by Doug Mockett and Oscar Carillo, only produces about $50 in interest every eight weeks. We need to increase the balance. Please send your contributions to:

Friends of Guadalupe Hernandez Ramirez
c/o Ms. Fanny Davila
South Bay Bank
2200 Sepulveda Blvd.
Torrance, CA 90501

Be generous!


Auto racing in any form is dangerous, the Pan Am is no exception. Make sure your car and your body are well prepared, and use them carefully.

Anyone who enters the race is obligated to read and agree to abide by the official rules of the race. Go to http://www.lacarrerapanamericana.com.mx/ and click on English and Rules.

Also, all competitors are solely responsible for getting their cars into the county and down the starting line.


If you change email addresses, please let CARRERA NEWS know. Once you register for the race, you will also receive CARRERA DRIVER, which contain much more detailed information about the race and how to prepare your car.

Feel free to send CARRERA NEWS to your friends and racing buddies. This newsletter is posted on the web site http://www.panamrace.com/.

At this point, I have no firm information about the event in 2009, but I will start accepting applications and deposits of $500 on January 1. No, I do not know what the entry fee will be next year.


Gerie Bledsoe

North American Coordinator