Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Racing on Mexican Time


Mexico is a wonderful country. The people are warm, friendly, curious, and generous. They love our racecars, exhaust noise, and the celebration of La Carrera Panamericana.

Their countryside -- mountains and ravines, forest and deserts --- is beautiful. In fact, the first day we will race across some of the most beautiful mountain roads in the world--from Tuxtla Gutierrez to Oaxaca on the old Pan American Highway. It’s the longest original stretch of the highway left -- 326 miles.

Try to relax and enjoy the racing and the celebration. This is not just a serious car race, but a profound cultural experience. We are about to experience the heart and soul of Mexico, as reflected in the faces and eyes of the people, especially the children, who come to see our cars and tug at the sleeves of the brave “pilotos” and “co-pilotos.” Bring your pen, because they will want your autograph.

Never forget that this is their country and their race. We are their guests, and we should consider ourselves honored and lucky to be allowed to race across their country at top speed. Just because we paid a hefty entry fee gives us no other special privilege or expectation.

Never forget that the event operates on Mexican time and without the efficiency of the SCA or most vintage organizations. Meetings start late. Printed material, like the daily results, typically arrives late, and the medical exams during registration may or may not happen at the announced time. Instead of handing out important items like time cards at one pre-designated place, the young official will usually wander through the crowd looking for navigators.

There are values in Mexico that transcend punctuality and efficiency. Frankly, it will do you no good to show up for a meeting on time and sit there frustrated until it starts. Be fashionably late. Relax, and go with the flow!

Carrera veterans know that the race will start sometime shortly after 8 AM on October 22. They know we will race 325 miles through the mountains that day, and they expect to be timed with a fair degree of accuracy, especially now that the organizers use electronic timers. If you catch a mistake, however, it is perfectly OK to point it out -- politely. But do not expect an immediate or timely response.

We will stop for lunch each day, and after an hour later or so, we’ll continue racing in the afternoon. Normally, we arrive in the destination city around 4:30-5:30, depending on where you are in the pack. Later on that evening, at least 30 minutes later than the announced time, the drivers’ meeting will start. One person from each team should attend. Maybe the daily results and starting order will be announced and/or distributed. Maybe not. Let’s just hope that the site of the meeting is announced before we get to that city, and count ourselves doubly lucky if they give us decent directions to the place. It’s all part of the challenge of an endurance rally. In a day or two, you will get into the rhythm of the event. Picking up on the Mexican rhythm is important, while you are driving their roads and will you are dealing with the event organization.

Even on Mexican time, it’s always fun, but it will be more fun when you understand and accept the cultural situation, even before you get there.

Viva La Carrera Panamericana!