Monday, November 05, 2007
Home away from home
One of the best parts about La Carrera Panamericana is the friendships made. It's important to remember everyone is there to do his or her best and there are no friends to be made while in a racing stage. But as soon as you pass thru that checkered flag and remove your gloves and helmet everyone becomes family. One such competitor is Francisco Ortiz. I actually had the pleasure of meeting Francisco via the Internet prior to going to Mexico and he was the first to invite me to all that waited ahead for us.
I was excited about seeing Francisco's car a beautiful Datsun 510 and I was not disappointed either. What a beautiful race car exactly like many I had watched in the early 70s at some of the fastest tracks in the United States and driven by some of the top drivers as well.
I met Francisco on the first day of registration and tech at the staging area in Oaxaca but as was the case with many others we had little time to talk. As the days and weeks unfolded we had a few short times to talk and enjoy each other's companionship. One of my favorite evenings was the night that we spent in Zacatecas. The city with it's cobblestone streets, ornate buildings, breathtaking church set amongst one of the most beautiful places on earth it seems was also where the Bull Ring was. There is absolutely no way to describe the Bull Ring without seeing it first hand. Zacateca's silver mines brought riches to the city and left behind fine mansions and magnificent churches. In a city of such splendor. The Bull Ring is the oldest bull ring in North America and lies alongside a 16th century aqueduct and was built right into the old Plaza de Toros de San Pedro next to a majestic aqueduct that frames the unique beauty of this colonial city of limestone and silver. One of my favorite hideouts was the cellar bar, formerly the bull corrals.
As I walked amongst hundreds of competitors and team members in awe of this magnificent surroundings I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder. When I turned around it was Francisco who was holding his beautiful daughter swaddled in a blanket and with him was his charming wife and it was easy to see where their daughter got her beauty from. In a warm and gentle way he said, "Gary, I would like you to meet my wife and family." It made for such a nice evening and he and his wife made me feel as if I somehow belonged there even though I was alone and thousands of miles from home. Isn't this the way friends are supposed to feel? We didn't talk much as we enjoyed one of the best dinners of the entire adventure but there was a bond, one that made us know why we had been brought together, one that made us feel alive and have a respect for racing, adventure and what it was really about... family.
That evening was another very special evening because it was that night when I got to take the podium again and doing it in such breathtaking surroundings before such wonderful people and fellow competitors was very rewarding. It was equally rewarding for me when I got to watch Francisco take the podium as well and when he did he really showed what kind of a man he was when he stood on the podium with his baby in his arms. Watching that sort of pride got me a bit choked up and I began thinking of my 16 month grandson who was waiting for me on my return home. Francisco and his family are fine examples of some I will never forget and there will surly be times when I will be alone that I will remember that special friendship as well.
Earlier that same day in Zacatecas one of the young Ferdealys came to where Lucky was parked in front of the Emporio Hotel amongst hundreds of fans and he too had brought his family with him. "Gary, I wanted you to meet my wife and daughters. I have told them all about how well you are doing and they wanted to personally welcome you to Zacatecas which is where we live." After the usual hugs and kisses of respect they stayed and talked for at least 20 minutes before saying good bye. Once again, it was only minutes but they were minutes that will stay in my heart for a lifetime. These are what the people of Zacatecas are made up of. There may be gold in the Sierra Madras but I much prefer the treasures that the people of Zacatecas have to offer.