Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Gerie Bledsoe article in SM's Atencion

Entering the Pan Am
By Gerie Bledsoe

The same entry fee applies to the three unofficial levels of participation in the Pan Am. First, a crew may participate at the “tourist” level.

They buy an old car (1965 or older), add some required safety features and come down to cruise the route just to have fun. It’s the “no pressure” approach. Finishing this test of car and driver, even at this level, is a significant accomplishment. It is, of course, the best way to learn about the event.

The second level, “competition,” requires investing more in a car and running it hard. These competitors may not expect to finish first in class, but they intend to extract the most from the car—while being safe. Even at this level, an impressive finish is possible.

A significant minority of participants moves eventually to the third level, “champion” or full competition. They will spend inordinate amounts, up to US$175,000 on a thoroughly prepared vintage hot rod in an effort to finish first in class or high in the overall standings. The stress and expense involved in this approach to the Pan Am should be obvious. These cars will reach 200 mph and are built to last. Reliability is an important factor in this long endurance race.

No one will ask the specific level of participation a crew intends to pursue, but the “tourist” level teams seem to be smiling more often.

Few drivers have won their class or finished high in the overall standing during their first year. Some get hooked on the race and return for several years in an effort to win.

Rookies should come to this event the first time expecting to learn about the problems of endurance racing at high altitude in a vintage car. They should take the time to appreciate the magnitude of the overall experience, as the learning curve is as steep as the road up Mil Cumbres outside Morelia.

Pan Am expenses vary greatly from entrant to entrant. Preparing a vintage car, traveling to Mexico and back, and the entry fee are the basic expense categories. Some make it on US$10,000, while others spend a small fortune. The entry fee set by the organizers of the race covers the expense of staging the race over 2,000 miles. It also includes one room for eight nights in first-class hotels, plus a number of receptions, fiestas and souvenirs.

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