The smell of burning rubber, tires spinning on the tarmac, the purr of the car engine – all of these can turn into the biggest adrenaline push for the spectator. It continues. The sight of cars roaring past in a blur is heart-stopping. As the frantic mechanics desperately try to keep their machines working in top gear and the drivers race past to touch the checkered flag, we are forced to believe that there is no sport quite as exciting as motor racing.
Everyone who has prepared for a major world class race knows the sleepless nights that accompany the dreams. What can I do to better prepare? What can I expect? What can I not expect? What I do know is to not expect luck. Luck is only a bonus for winners and winners never count on luck, they orchestrate it. Not at all unlike a Conductor of a philharmonic orchestra, we must give command and direction to every single instrument so that the flow and energy of all that takes place with every single breath and movement will in the end find it's way into some special nerve we call gratification, fulfillment and achievement. Regarding command, Hemingway wrote, "There are people who love command and in their eagerness to assume it they are impatient at the formalities of taking over from someone else. I love command since it is the ideal welding of freedom and slavery. You can be happy with your freedom and when it becomes too dangerous you take refuge in your duty. I was bored with this since I knew myself and my defects and strengths too well and they permitted me little freedom and much duty." Any racer worth his salt understands damn good and well what Hemingway meant.
This is a real adventure, the kind of adventure young boys dream of... the kind of adventure men have that remind them of how to be a young boy again. Just realizing how many famous drivers have set off on the very same adventure before us is overwhelming and to even consider the thought of being amongst their names is trophy enough. The thought of actually winning is.... There are no words that can describe how a racer's mind and heart feels. Not even a romantic can describe what love feels like let alone the love affair between a driver, the pedals, and the steering wheel. Racing is our mistress.
From the time I sat behind the wheel of a performance race car at the age of 8 years I knew what it was I needed to do to make me happy and now it's a matter of feeling complete.
Like my navigator, Jon, said it best... "It’s got foreign travel, fast cars, racing, lots of rich boys and their outrageous toys, what’s not to like?" In reality it's so much more. You have to have the dream; a dream that takes years to understand and want. You have to have the desire to live life on the edge for this is what makes you alive. You have to have years of undying love and respect for all things automotive and mechanical before you can even consider building a machine that will even begin to take you on such an adventure. You have to be afraid because without fear, there is no satisfaction of any accomplishment. If there where, we would simply go to Safeway, purchase a cheap bottle of bubbly and stand in our back yard and spray each other while the wives took photos. I would rather sit on some park bench and feed dead pigeons. Possibly Shakespeare said it best;
There is a tide in the affairs of men,
which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
omitted, all the voyage of their life
is bound in shallows and in miseries;
or lose our ventures.
Preparing for this race is not like any other race. Most of the time when we think about competing in a race, all we really have to do is start preparing whatever car we intend to run. However, in this case there is no car to start off with. So I had to consider so many things... what kind of car, what kind of engine, and there are so many details to consider and the list of them is often overwhelming. Many types of racing make it much easier because you can simply look around for a good deal on a decent race car that is already set up and has most of the trick items required of that series. When building a car from the ground up you need every single component and in this case there is really no blue-print for the basics as the rules are very lax to say the least and often open to interpretation. And there can be no compromise for quality and safety.
Other considerations that need to be taken into account are the facts that this race is being run at much higher altitudes than most races with heights of anywhere from 4,000 feet to 10,000. The basic rule of thumb is that whatever engine you build at those altitudes will lose one third of it's horsepower. And if that's not enough to deal with the high altitude also creates other issues to deal with such as running hot, lack of acceleration and even some brake issues just to name a few. Speaking of lack of acceleration... the Historic class is only allowed to run a 500cfm two barrel carburetor. This means that regardless of how much horsepower I can squeeze out of the small-block engine we have to learn not only how to make the best uses of fuel management but also how to drive accordingly. Once again, this is an issue that is not the norm for most racers and just a few that makes the La Carrera Panamericana so difficult and demanding on mechanics and drivers alike.
In this race I have choen to build and drive a 1965 Shelby GT 350 clone. The reason I chose this car is simple... First of all the newest car that can be entered is 1965. The next reason is my love affair and life long personal involvement with both Carol Shelby and Shelbys. History itself has proven time and time again how agile and dominating one of them can be. Carol Shelby himself has raced in this race and even broke his arms doing it but still speaks of it as one of the most demanding and respected races in the world and racing history.
While I intend to maximize the horsepower from my engine I have raced in enough endurance races to know that horsepower is not the key but rather a well prepared and strong engine has far more benefits than raw high horsepower. That is not to say we will have both but some sacrifices will be made to ensure being there for the long haul.
Certain sections of this race will be won by high speed while others will be won by cars that rotate well on the windy, tight cornered roads that run along intimidating cliffs and one never knows what may be in the middle of the road around the next turn. For that same reason, an engine that would normally use a high RPM power band may be better off having a curve that kicks in at a lower range for better acceleration off corners. Now we need to do a lot of research to decide which carb jets to use and when will we change them... where will we test this before going to Mexico and so on. Other considerations to deal with are which rear-end gears will we use? Will we change them between different events along the way or do we get the much needed sleep at night that will be needed? Other tings to consider are every time you work on something there is the possibility that something might be missed, break or God knows what. Sometimes we learn to just keep it simple and "DRIVE THE DAMN CAR."
In the next couple weeks I hope to pick up the car. It is in a wrecking yard over in the Central Valley and to most it is a terrible site. But to me it is a jewel and if it was not love at first sight I don't know what is. It has holes in it, no motor, transmission... Hell what am I saying... it hasn't got ANYTHING! This little jewel is from my home state of Oregon and that makes it sentimental from the get-go. Besides, it sure makes it a lot easier to remove everything for the sand-blasting appointment already set up. Then the rusty body panels will be replaced and then to our good friend and master cage builder Anthony Vanni for a full on roll-cage complete with Nascar door bars on both doors since Jon will be navigating as well. From there the car will be taken to a body shop for a complete inside/outside/under paint job. After that it should be back at California's Best to begin preparation for a history making event.
The research for this race and car not to mention Jon and myself have found me living, eating and sleeping La Carrera Panamericana. And did I mention there is a good possibility this entire adventure may be documented for a major TV show from start to finish? More on that later.