Monday, September 29, 2008

Gerie Bledsoe's Carrera Driver, Last Edition

CARRERA DRIVER September 30, 2008

(Some added notes from Gary Faules at the bottom)














In two weeks many of us will be starting the long drive to Tuxtla Gutierrez and the start of the Pan Am. Most of us are scrambling to finish our car and make all the necessary arrangements for the adventure. Good luck in getting it all done. Don’t get to tired and frustrated. OK?

This will be the last regular CARRERA DRIVER. I hope that you have found this email newsletter useful. Please do not hesitate to call or write if you have questions. I will leave home on October 15 for LA and Phoenix, before going on to El Paso and Laredo.


Coyote Convoy participants will meet in the lobby of the Residence Inn de Mar (Marriott) in Laredo, Texas at 9 PM, Oct. 17 to discuss crossing the border and the 540 mile trip down to San Miguel de Allende.

Each convoy crew member who has paid the $30 fee for the reception, breakfast, and related activities will be given an admission ticket for these events at the meeting.

After the meeting, the hotel’s shuttle will take us down to the border to obtain visas and car/truck tourist permits. If you arrive earlier in the day, the shuttle will take you down there. The building is right down on the river, between and under Bridges #1 and #2. You may walk across Bridge #1 (the old one) and then follow the road down to the building.

Have you ordered your Coyote Convoy T-shirts yet? Only $11 for all but huge sizes.


At 6 AM the Coyote Convoy will roll down I-35 to the border, across the bridge into Nuevo Laredo, Mexico where it will hang a left, and go around the eastern side of town. It will then turn left onto Highway 85 to Monterrey. (Detailed instructions will be emailed.)

About 18 miles outside of Nuevo Laredo, all traffic must stop at the Mexican Customs checkpoint. No foreign car or truck may go beyond this point without a tourist permit and windshield sticker.

Cover up stacks of new tires, equipment, and other items that may be subject to import duty (fees). There is no reason to tempt fate at this important checkpoint. Normally, after a brief pause, we are waved through.

If you are crossing the border later on Saturday or Sunday, make sure you quickly identify yourself as being with La Carrera Panamericana. Show the Mexican officials papers, signs, T-shirts, or anything that will help make the connection. They should let you through.

If for some reason they want you to pay customs duty on something, there is an expedited process when you can bring in $2500 of stuff for a set fee. Consider it as a way to speed up the process of getting your stuff into the country.


When you fly into Mexico, you will fill out a visa form on the airplane. After you land, you will first clear Immigration, where the officer will check your visa application, stamp it, and then stamp your passport. Then you will get your luggage and clear Customs. I believe your visa is good for thirty days and can be renewed. If you are flying into Tuxtla Gutierrez, you will probably change planes and clear Customs in Mexico City.

On the visa form, where it asks for your destination, write in Camino Real Hotel, Tuxtla Gutierrez (city), Chiapas (state).


Thirty-four members of the Coyote Convoy have purchased tickets to the Panamerican Gala on Saturday night at 7:00 after we arrive in San Miguel de Allende. Thank you very much for supporting CASA and Casita Linda. Tickets are still available ($150). (We also need a couple of tickets for locals who cannot afford to attend, if anyone is feeling especially generous.)

For those who want to visit the historic downtown area instead, there will be a group leaving the hotel at 6:30. Later in the evening those young in spirit will gather at Mama Mia’s for some music and libations. It’s a local hot spot. Another hot spot is Nuesta Tierra, which is next door and up the stairs. It’s a nice open-air restaurant that specializes in Spanish tapas and very popular with the chic people from Mexico City.

On Sunday morning, those who wish to display their cars in the main square should drive their cars downtown at 10 AM. It’s about 10 blocks down the hill. You will have a map.

Plan to stay until 4 PM on Sunday.

During the day, there will be a VIP lounge in a mansion about three blocks from the main square, where free buffet lunch will be served. It will be OK to lock your car up, visit the VIP lounge, or walk around during the day. Admission to the VIP lounge is by Coyote Convoy ticket only. The VIP lounge is being provides by a sponsor of the Concurso de Motors Sports that is building an upscale development Artesana in the center of town. Houses start at one million.

There will be a brief check-in meeting at the VIP lounge at 3:30, if anyone has questions.

Lunch and snacks are also available around the main square, including a Starbucks (!).

About 140 Americans, Canadians, and Europeans will be in San Miguel because of the Convoy and the Concurso. 250 are expected for the gala banquet. Get ready to be a celeb and carry a couple of pens to sign autographs.


There are two or three seats available for the Pam Am tour being conducted by the former public relations officer of the Carrera Panamericana, Rosa Maria Mandragón. She has been a co-piloto in four Carreras, too, so she knows her way around.

She will start the tour in San Miguel on Oct. 19 for the trip down to Tuxtla Gutierrez with the Coyote Convoy. Then she will accompany the race back to Nuevo Lardeo in her eight-passenger Ford Expedition SUV.

You may join her for the whole trip or just part of the trip. If you want to save some money on hotels, she will have some suggestions, too.

Contact Rosa Maria at


We have only five rooms available at the Hotel Refugio.

So far, the Carrera Office in Mexico City has not released the names of the official hotels during the race. I am assuming that the HQ hotel in Tuxtla Gutierrez will be the Camino Real Hotel.


Do you have your unofficial Carrera Check List handy to review before you leave home? If not, I will e-mail it again.

A few important items to do:

1. notify your credit card companies that you will be traveling in Mexico.
2. enable your phone to work in Mexico (at a reduced rate, if possible).
3. check the age of your tires
4. get your personal papers in order
5. check your medical insurance, need air ambulance service
6. bring sufficient quantities of your meds (bring the prescriptions, too)
but do not take aspirin unless your doctor advises it for your heart.
7. have a plan to extract your car from the ditch on Day 1
8. get a Garmin GPS or software


The weather in Tuxtla Gutierrez should be hot and humid, so pack walking shorts, T-shirts, and hat. Bring bug spray and sunscreen, too. It should be hot on the first day of the race, too. (Ice to cool your hands or head would be good.) Drink lots of water. Do not drink booze or try to limit your consumption, especially at higher altitudes.

Once we reach Oaxaca (5000 feet) the weather should be mild until the last day, when we lose altitude before entering Nuevo Laredo. Typical dress will be jeans and T-shirts, with a light jacket or sweat shirt at night. Cold fronts sometimes come through Central Mexico during the event, and it can get chilly, especially at higher altitudes like Zacatecas (8000 feet). It takes about three days for your body to adjust to the altitude.

While driving during the day from Oaxaca to Zacatecas, the temperatures should be in the high 70s to low 80s. You will be comfortable in the shade and transits stages, but during competition, your core temperature will rise considerably. Drink water. Keep your head and hands cool. Bring a baseball hat to wear when you are out of the car, because the sun is hotter at high altitudes. Stuff it in your driving suit when you are in the car. Normally, the air will be dry, but we have had rain at least part of one day—from showers in Oaxaca to downpours in Nuevo Laredo. If it rains, slow down!

Dress occasions? About the only time anyone dresses up is for the final driver’s meeting. For most of us a pair of slacks and Carrera jacket will suffice. Women, of course, are expected to wear something silky. J

Some hotels will clean your driving suit or do laundry overnight. Ask at the desk.


The exchange rate right now is about 10.4 new pesos for one US dollar. The best exchange rate is at the border, Mexican airports, and banks. The hotels will exchange a small amount of money, but charge a high commission.

Do not confused when you see prices written like $101.50. The Mexicans also use the dollar sign.

On the trip to Tuxtla, a tow vehicle and trailer will need around $600 USD in pesos for gas and tolls. Coming back, the tow vehicle will need around $800 USD in pesos, and the racecar around $600. Of course, cars will turbo chargers will burn more gas. More and more PEMEX stations are now accepting credit cards, so there is no so much pressure to carry large amounts of pesos.

For typical crews (SUV and race car), around $2000 in pesos is sufficient to make the trip: gas, tolls, and “tips” for the “policia” for the entire race.

The buffet breakfast at the hotels is fast, but expensive. You can get a continental breakfast for a fraction of the cost. Take a couple of rolls for later, too. Bananas are especially good for snacks while driving. Do not leave town without a couple of bottles of water.


Speaking of the cops, the best way to avoid problems with the local cops (not our friends, the Federales) is to obey the traffic laws. This is especially true of the service vehicles pulling trailers. When local cops see you break the law, they see a big payday, because it is customary in Mexico for cops to collect and keep traffic “fines.”

Being good capitalists they will charge what the traffic will bear (pun intended)--200 pesos for a Mexican and 4000 pesos for a gringo. The “fine” is negotiable for a gringo, however. But time is against you, because you are in a timed race. You can offer $50 and settle for $100 or go down to the police station to pay the real $20 fine. Your choice.

If stopped, the cop will ask for your driver’s license. He will not return the license until you pay the “fine” to him or at the police station. It is up to you to fork it over or not. Maybe it would be good to take an international license down for this occasion?

The Mexican government has been working to eliminate this, the “mordida,” system, but it is so engrained in the society, progress is slow.

When entering and leaving cities, the racecars will be frequently escorted by motorcycle cops at unbelievable speeds. Be careful. There have been local fatalities during these scary events.

Please understand the Federales – the guys in the black and white cars – are our friends and have only been helpful. Several Federales will travel with us and will try to be helpful. However, they do not have jurisdiction in the cities. Still, if you have a problem with a local cop or have a fender bender, check to see if a Federale is around to help out.


Please do not show up at the border with two vehicles registered in your name and expect the Mexicans to give you tourist stickers for both. There is still time to get stickers from At the border you may sign the title of one vehicle over to another person who is with you. As a last resort, use a Mexican customs broker, but allow extra time for this option. (If you have company vehicles, bring the necessary documents.)

The Mexican consulate in San Francisco is no longer issuing car stickers. Those in Northern California must use the consulate in Sacramento. There are consulates in Los Angeles and San Bernardino that sell stickers.

Mexican car insurance? It is available on-line from You can also buy insurance on either the US or Mexican side of the border in Laredo, including the customs office on the Nuevo Laredo side. Best to get it before you cross. The insurance agencies in the customs house may not be open all night. It is unlikely that any insurance company will sell insurance on a car that will be raced, however. The insurance only covers the car when it is not being raced. You are covered during the raced by the event’s liability policy. However, the policy may not cover you if you have been drinking or are willfully negligent.


As I have explained over the past year, my role as North American Coordinator is to help you sign up for the race, prepare for the event, and assist your trip to Mexico. Once we arrive in Tuxtla Gutierrez, I have no official role. As I have said, I do not make the rules, interpret the rules, nor enforce the rules. In fact, sometimes I can’t even figure out what the rules are! I can only offer my unofficial, personal opinion, based on 10 years of experience.

As you know, I will be a competitor in Historic C (car #395), and there is a inherent conflict of interest therein. Like you, I will be driving hard all day and working on my car until late at night. (I will try to attend the nightly driver’s meetings, however, if you have a problem.)

I will continue to answer questions and provide solicited and unsolicited advice as needed and necessary. We will try to make sure that the rookies get a good orientation into the timing system before the race, as we’ve never had an adequate explanation yet by race officials, especially for visual learners.


Here’s the basic concept again:

Each day’s route, as described in the route book, is divided into six to eight Sections. The first Section in the book starts when we leave Tuxtla Gutierrez or the starting city each morning. Timing for the rest of the Sections during the day starts when you actually are launched into a speed stage, except for the Section after lunch. To begin the timing process, you must first be able to where to find your Start Time – in the morning and after each speed stage. Then you add your Start Time to the Section Time to calculate when you should check-in at the next speed sage (Z Control).

Therefore, 6-8 times a day you will make this calculation:

Start Time + Section Time = Z Time

Memorize this formula. Understand it.


Here is the formula explained in more detail:

Start time + section time = when to report for next speed stage (Z).

1. “Start Time.” This is your “A” time that the timing officials will write in the “A” box on your time card, right before you start every speed stage. It is a time of day, like 10:45 (AM) or 14:20:30 (PM). Typically they will write down only the minutes and seconds.

2. “Section Time.” This is the amount of time you have to complete the Section or route in the book, which begins with the speed stage (A). The Section Time is printed in the route book and on the time card. Know where to find it.

3. “Z Time.” This is the “correct” or perfect time for you to report to the next speed stage (Z Control). By adding the “Section Time” to the “Start Time” you calculate when you are supposed to check in at the next “Z” control. Remember you can be 59 seconds late to check-in without penalty. The pros try to be around 15 seconds late.


1. Mornings. Each morning, the officials will give your car a Start Time based on your performance the previous day. Add the amount of time for the first Section in the book to your Start Time determine when you are supposed to check-in at the first Control Z of the day. (You always want to arrive a Control Z a few minutes early and wait until your “correct’ Z time--plus about 15 seconds--to roll up to the control marshal.)

2. Service Stops. At the service stop (normally for lunch), your calculation will be more complicated. You will add four times together:

1. A Time

2. +Section Time

3. +Service (lunch) Time

4. +Section Tim

= Z Time

Last A time + section time + time for service + section time (after lunch) = next Z time.

So you have four times to add up. Start Time is your last “A” time. Then add the Section Time allotted to drive to the service stop, plus the time allocated for lunch, and finally the Section Time allocated to drive to the next speed stage (Z control).

3. End of the day. After the last speed stage of the day, you will add the last Section Time to your last Start Time (“A” Time) to determine when you are supposed to roll through the arch at the finish line in Oaxaca or the next city along the route. But you will not be timed when you arrive in the next city and you should have 15 minutes of grace.

Terms to memorize:

Start Time – the time of day that you start a section in the route book.
Section Time – the amount of time allocated to travel that section in the route book
A Time – the Start Time for a Section or when you are launched into a speed stage
Z Time – the “correct time” when you are supposed to check-in for the next speed stage at Control Z

PLEASE! PLEASE! Be safe. This is a dangerous race, especially the first day. Please join me in the Tortuga Society – those whose primarily objective is to finish the race.

CARRERA DRIVER is a special publication just for those who have registered for the race and a few others, like car fabricators. Please do not post it on the internet or circulate it beyond your race team. I want to be able to continue giving you the information you need to have fun, be safe, and contend with the uncertainties of racing in Mexico.

Hasta pronto, y'all.


Gerie Bledsoe
North American Coordinator
La Carrera Panamericana
677 Highland Ave.
Half Moon Bay, CA 94019
650-726-9890 (home office)
650-726-9599 (fax)
650-867-9488 (mobile)

Please note: my cell phone works in Mexico, but please only call with real emergencies. After four rings hang up. Do not leave message, because I usually have no way to check them.

Finally, here's what happens when the "red mist" overwhelms common sense!

Notes from Gary Faules:

Like many of you I am very well traveled and feel confident that I know how to get around without someone holding my hand but if there is a single best piece of advice I could offer anyone joining the Coyote Convoy it would be this... THE SECOND YOU GET TO Nuevo Laredo TEXAS (if you need to cross the border the night bfore), AND ONCE YOU LEAVE THE FOLLOWING MORNING, GET ON GERIE BLEDSOE'S TAILGATE AND STAY THERE! Also be sure to invest in a CB radio for the drive. There cheap to get and worth every penny. Remember, there is saftey in numbers so DO NOT lolly gag. This is NOT a sight seeing adventure on the way down. It's more like the law of the jungle where only the strong survive and it's eat or be eaten. I remember the night we took a cab ride with Gerie Bledsoe across the border to get everything taken care of and I heard everyone talking about how they "knew what they were doing." But had it not been for Gerie some of them would have really regretted ever hearing of La Carrera Panamericana. Not only did he know what to do but in fact at least twice I heard some of the Mexican Officials say to Gerie, "Oh it's you! Hola Senoir. Now what can I do to help you?" While with the convoy, there are some places you could take a rong turn and regret it so keeping up with the convoy is a MUST! And as you will find out, some of the streaches of road you will be on are MILES FROM NOWHERE and you DO NOT want to be alone out there. Ever heard of the Frito Bandito? Well, trust me, he lives there.

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