Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Old LCP Race Cars Never Really Forgotten

In Morelia the day Lucky won Mil Cumbres

Any car that competes in La Carrera Panamericana will always have it's place in racing history and rightfully so. Some will go on to race again while some will be traded, sold or crashed doing what was asked of them... go fast, handle well and make us proud. Some will quietly sit quietly under a car cover in a garage somewhere until someone learns about it and talks the owner into taking to some historic evernt for a weekend where a few people will remark, "I had a friend who told me about that race. And now here sits one of the actual cars that run in it....Wow."

Every once in a while we hear about a car that ends up on a pedistal of sorts representing all those who have gone before and inspiring many who will come afterthe fact. One such car is one I am proud to say I Jon and I competed against in the 2007 La Carrera Panamericana. It is car #368 the 57 Chevroet of Team Windigo piloted by Matt Hamilton and co-piloted by James Gubleman in the coveted Historic C Class. They stayed close behind during our 9th place overall finsh and 3rd in class as they finished in a respectable 15th overall and 4th in class. Nothing like a good battle between a Ford and a Chevy and they were nothing short of a class act of gentleman racers.

Crew Chief Will Faules with #368 in San Miguel de Allende 2007

Recently in the Providence Journal there was an article written by Journal Staff Writer Peter C.T. Elsworth in which he wrote about Team Windigo's #368 being inducted into the Antique Automobile Club of America Museum in Hershey, Pa. I acn't think of a more fitting way to retire such a wonderful old car with such a comendable race history.

MIDDLETOWN It’s the end of the road for the Yankee Bandito, a 1957 Chevrolet 210 that has competed in 10 grueling La Carrera Panamericana races across Mexico since 1997.

The customized race car — 383 cubic inches, 525 horsepower — is today being inducted into the Antique Automobile Club of America’s Museum in Hershey, Pa.

It will be a bittersweet moment for the team that has worked on the car and kept it racing for owner-drivers James Gubelmann and Matt Hamilton over the last 15 years or so.

“It’s sad, absolutely, it’s been a big part of my life,” said Mike Nunes, who has been chief mechanic and leading force since the beginning. “It’s been 15 years since we started working on it and it’s the only car that’s started 10 races and finished 10 races in the history of the race.”

He also noted that the car holds the road racing record for a 1957 Chevy 210 with 137 mph — despite its extreme lack of aerodynamics.

Such achievements earned it a place in the AACA’s prestigious auto museum. “It’s a big ceremony, a big to-do,” said Nunes, who is trailering the car down with his team and some of their wives. Gubelmann and Hamilton and other guests will also be driving in.

Nunes had the new backup engine sitting on a cradle next to the car and turned it on to give some idea of its power. At 6,000 rpms, the $13,000 stroker engine was rocking the cradle and you could feel the sound waves as the 575 horses ramped up. He said he expects to use the engine in another car as the team possibly gets involved in vintage racing locally.

La Carrera Panamericana was established in 1950 to celebrate the opening of the Mexican portion of the Panamerican Highway that runs from Alaska to Argentina. However, it proved very dangerous, particularly for bystanders, and the government shut it down in 1955.

It was resurrected in 1988 and is now considered a historic race for amateurs. The entry fee is $6,000 and the race is covered on ESPN.

About 100 cars now compete in the 2,000-plus-mile race, which runs in the first two weeks of October and includes crossing the Sierra Madres on gravelly mountain roads with no guard rails against precipitous drops.

Last LCP finish line in Nuevo Laredo 2007

The cars compete in 10 classes and the Banditos’ best year was 2000 when they finished first in their class — Historic, 1955-1964 — and seventh overall. Last year they finished fourth after coming back from a blown engine when they were in second place.

The team is officially known as the Windigo Architects Racing Team after Gubelmann’s firm in Newport, and unofficially as the Yankee Banditos. The car is black with a black-and-yellow checkerboard roof and the names of the sponsors — Bloomberg, Coastal Electric, J.A.M. Construction Co. and Windigo — on the sides, along with the names of the drivers and mechanics.

Coastal president Peter Reed said the team borrowed a truck to tow the trailer the first year and it became a tradition. “One month a year from then on,” he said.

“It’s part of our life even though we don’t go every year,” said J.A.M. founder and president John A. Marshall, who said he got involved through his friendship with Nunes.

“Mike’s hands are magic,” he said. “He made it all happen.”

He said he and Reed, who both traveled to Mexico with the team in 2004 (he went the following year as well), provide services to the team, tires, brakes, helping out where they can.

“If the generator dies, it’s nice you can call up the electric sponsor and get it fixed,” Nunes said.

“Yeah, and it’s always, ‘You got to fix it now, we leave in five minutes,’ ” added Reed, laughing.

In addition to the drivers and the car, Nunes leads a team of mechanics, a chase wagon plus truck and trailer. They include Joseph Fournier, Tim Friend and Joseph “Dr. Joe” Lanuez and driver Richie Discarfano. Volney Clark, now retired, was a major force in the detailing and buffing of the car, and the late Bob Ferris was a longtime mechanic and friend.

The Chevy, which Nunes and the team took two years to prepare, includes massive roll bars that extend the length of the car and wrap the car and cabin, as well as racing seat belts, and an enormous radiator to compensate for the Mexican heat.

In 2005, the team took two cars, the other being a Daytona Type 65 Coupe from Factory Five, a Wareham, Mass.-based company that produces replica kits. Nunes and his team spent two years preparing the car and estimates a total of $160,000 was spent on it.

The car, which was owned and driven by brothers Fred and Peter Grauer, who is chairman and president of Bloomberg LLP, was tragically burned on the second day of the race. Nunes said he believed it might have been saved and the disaster put a damper on the race that year.

Lanuez said Nunes wept at the sight of the car burning up. “It was two years of his life,” he said. “We spent 80 hours sanding and buffing that car.”

Nunes nodded, adding that the team had submersed themselves in the work to compensate for the recent death of their colleague Bob Ferris.

“It’s ending on a good note, no one got hurt,” said Patricia Nunes, whose husband credits her with all the paperwork behind the scenes of the race.

“She makes sure the bills are sent out and organizes the logistics of the race,” he said.

“Mike’s really talented,” Patricia Nunes said. “Jimmy [Gubelmann] says he wants this and Mike makes it. At night he dreams and then he gets up and starts drawing.”

Many of the parts of the car are fabricated by hand.

She said she never went to Mexico, but was happy to stay and help behind the scenes.

“I’m that person when things go wrong, and they do go wrong, he can call up and vent to,” she said. “It worked well that I stayed at home.”

She said she expects her husband will “miss the camaraderie,” adding that she expects he will get choked up at the ceremony today.

“He’s very emotional,” she said.

But she said it had been a good run.

“It was the opportunity of a lifetime,” she said. “How many men get to live their dreams?”

Retired at 52 years of age after 2007 LCP

For more information, go to: www.aacamuseum.org.

1 comment:

LosVikingos_Ralf said...

They are a great team and I am happy to have had the pleasure of racing with them. All the best to them and the great car.