Thursday, December 04, 2008

La Carrera Panamericana... No Race for Old Men

Hershel McGriff signs Ron Lee's 1955 Kurtis

To say Ron Lee and his beautiful wife are car buffs would be like saying there is sand on the beach. Without a doubt one of the most exciting private car collections I have seen was the day I spent at Ron Lee's home but as is the case with any collection, there is always one that stands out for one reason or another. In this case it was Ron's beautiful 55 Kurtis. Not only is this car beautiful but to know the historical significance and the players involved with it's involvement in La Carrera Panamericana is worth a read all by it's self. To learn more about Ron's Kurtis CLICK HERE.

Ron and his wife being serenaded during dinner at the Panamericana Gala in San Miguel de Allende.

In my opinion I must say I am so happy that Ron took this car to this years La Carrera Panamericana. Speaking from personal experience I can tell you I have met so many pussies (for lack of a better word) that unlike Ron and myself have unique cars but are afraid to get them dirty let alone push them to the limit. In the mean time in Ron's own words, here is his personal account of his recent adventure in the 2008 La Carrera Panamericana.

Photo courtesy of Go Fast Energy Drink

Well we did it -- it was less than successful, but a lot of fun. Very nice people both in the race, supporting it and particularly in Mexico. What a beautiful country!

We towed the Kurtis for eight days (two nights in San Miguel de Allende – my favorite city in Mexico). The worst night towing was the night we arrived in Laredo Texas. We had dinner; we were supposed to cross the border (walking) for permits at 9:00 PM and left about 10:00 PM. We stood in line for three and one half hours and got to bed at 1:45 AM. We then got up that morning at 4:45 for an early departure! The road south to Coatzacaolcos is really, really, bad. Potholes eighteen inches deep, two to three feet wide. Some even had candles around them to show the way to heaven! Tolls run about twenty dollars a pop and we must have hit at least ten. Gail does a yeoman’s job driving. Yikes, I am too old for this!

Photo courtesy of Coop

We arrive Wednesday in Tuxtla Gutierrez (abut sixty miles north of Guatemala) for our first day. Got our car checked for technical inspection, etc. No problems. We did our first day of driving the next day (qualifying and came in, I think, 57th out of 106 entries – no big deal as we were taking it easy). The next day we finished, again I think, in 27th place finishing in Oaxaca, my next favorite city. Not too bad for an old car with vintage suspension and a relatively small engine.

The next day was the worst and our last (the race is seven days long). We were driving to Mexico City. We were on sort of sketchy roads, like Angles Crest but much worse surfaces. A beautiful Sunbeam Tiger went off the road and tumbled down about 45 feet and totaled the car. A very nice 350 Mustang “pranged” a large rock and totaled it – shortened by about three feet! No one hurt at this time. I got the tail out way too far but recovered. In the process my left leg began to cramp, which caused me to coast about a half a mile down the road. Then my left hand cramped to the point I had to pry it off the wheel with my right hand. The car was not running too well. I thought we got a bad load of gas or the altitude was taking its toll. It turned out my alternator died (brand new Delco Remy 100 amps) and we were miss firing. We stumbled into Tehuacan at about noon, which had a fiesta going for our all our benefit.

Man! We couldn’t run the radiator fans so the heat was building – 220, 240, 250! We ended up guided by the police into the front of a very large concert stage, which had speakers larger than the Hollywood bowl! We were supposed to be there for sixty minutes but we were stuck “dead in the water”. It was the loudest music I ever heard and went on with eight young beautiful Mexican girls dancing for three and one half hours non-stop!!!!! There were at least five thousand Mexicans having a very nice and noisy fiesta in a very small zocollo (square). They treated us like “rock stars! Signing autographs, pictures with everyone, beers floating through the place like water.

Photo courtesy of Coop

At this time my co-pilot Jack is not looking too good. He threw up and then turned the color of grey concrete and started to fade. I took him to get some food but it wasn’t working. We found a doctor and pharmacy and got him some medicine for his diabetes that he left in the support truck that went ahead to Mexico City. Next, two very nice young men helped us out who were with a local car club. They telephoned an automotive electrical guy who took us to his shop and replaced the alternator, starter solenoid and brackets. Jack, my co-pilot went ahead with Gerie Bledsoe (North American Co-0rdinator) who was kind enough to stay with us. We headed for Mexico City.

Photo courtesy of Coop

At this time it is about 7:00 PM and getting dark. We violated the one rule everyone said to hold - - “don’t drive in Mexico at night ” and particularly in Mexico City. We were running north from Puebla, maybe a hundred miles, which takes you from about five thousand feet to over ten thousand before entering a city of 20 million. The Kurtis is running pretty good as it is cool and damp. Pretty soon it is more than damp - - it is raining fairly hard! I have no side windows, no windshield wipers, the RainX is taken over by bugs, my vents are open and the rain is filling my left shoe and coming in on my glasses! This is while we are exceeding sixty and trying to follow a truck and trailer not to get lost! It was brutal!

We arrive safe at about mid-night. I am exhausted, Jack is totally out of it and I just want to sleep. I make an executive decision. Let’s go home!

Photo courtesy of Coop

We did. Jack took about three days to recoup. We had a great time - - probably won’t do it again, but have no regrets.

Beautiful country, nice people, good camaraderie and a lot of fun!

No race for old men. (Even though a number were pretty old – my hat is off to those that finished!)

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