Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Another LCP Video From 1990

A Very Good LCP Story

This story is the simply marvelous personal account written by the owner of an old GT330 Ferrari that competed in the 2001 La Carrera Panamericana. Anyone who has been or who is planning on going to LCP will most certainly enjoy this rather "as it is" adventure.

Do You Remember how you felt standing on the high dive when you were about nine years old, peering out over the great unknown? Well, that’s pretty much the way I felt the day I decided to run La Carrera Panamericana, the modern-day version of the great Mexican road race of the 1950s. Urged on by fellow Ferrari owner, Tim Gallagher, a.k.a. “G-man” I was in the deal. Getting the 330 out of the barn and prepared for the race was one thing — negotiating our registration through the race’s American promoter, one Loyal Truesdale, was quite another. Truesdale, a part-time resident of Mucho Mescale, Mexico and La La, California is a certifiable free spirit — a man with a long history of racing really big motorcycles without a helmet. When I learned that he could be reached best either by e-mail or by Palm reader, it dawned on me that this might not be exactly like registering for the FCA’s annual salute to Enzo’s birthday over at the yacht club.

Having been chronicled in Road & Track, Motto Guzzi Quarterly, and, very likely, Abnormal Psychology, Loyal comes to the table with a decidedly unique persona: a phantom shrouded in mystery who somehow co-ordinates, facilitates and manages to get the word to the 25 or so American teams that go to Mexico each Fall for the event. “Is this Loyal,” I asked, having finally tracked him down. The guy laughs a great laugh! “Well, it was until a minute ago when some dude called from Las Vegas to tell me that his 1954 Dessoto is really a damn Dodge Dart. But, hell, it’s a Hemi so I guess that’ll be cool” That’s registration — things got worked out and stuff like “how much does it cost” “when exactly is the thing” and “where are we supposed to meet” just got taken care of “Loyally” and in good order. It was a little like the rules for Cricket, I decided — you suit up, keep your wicket from getting sticky and somehow everything makes sense when the game is over! Cricket’s a big game in McRae, Georgia where I live, so it was easy to get in sync with my man Loyal once we got tuned in just right.

There is an actual requirement that the participating cars have some celestial connection with the cars and the era of the original La Carrera. This formula, not surprisingly, has some decidedly “Loyalistic” characteristics. By virtue of being an old Ferrari in the first place, the 330 (built from 1964 to 1967) stands a good chance of being accepted — the mid-sixties is the cut off as far as age is concerned, and the Type 209 engine connects the car to the early days in some magical way (most probably lack of oil pressure). Anyway, we finally got approval for the car and sent out check out to La La. And eventually we got an e-mail from old Loyal with a picture of him “sleeping” in a barber’s chair somewhere in Mexico with a sign around his neck that said, “Come on down, amigos.” Hey, we were on our way!

While the registration process worked its way along, Ned Gallagher, sole proprietor of what we lovingly call “Unlikely Restorations” up in Landrum, South Carolina, began to assess the condition of 8779. My long held suspicions were confirmed — we had indeed been enjoying the thrills of a strong VII Ferrari! Alas, one piston was toast and things like valves, camshafts and the head were in no shape to take Ned to the TastyFreez much less haul 700 pounds of aging tifosi all over Mexico. Ned was a real gentleman, kind and respectful, as he gave me his verdict. “The SOB’s dead as a hammer, boss.”

Reflecting on this news, I did the only thing I knew to do — I called Ted Rutland in Atlanta, the king of old parts for old farts. Maybe he had a box of old 330 parts lying around that he wanted to give away or maybe he knew somebody in Idaho who had a good engine they didn’t need any more. Maybe it wouldn’t be too bad... yeah, right! Ted smoked quietly over the phone, inhaled deeply as he listened to the situation. He put me on hold, used the other phone line to register both the little Rutlands in private school, then got back to me saying, “You bet I can help you, Fabio. No problemo.” That, I learned later, was not a little linguistic salute to our big Mexican adventure — “No problemo” is actually Ted’s special way of saying, “Bend over.”

So, seasons changed, markets crashed, and flowers which had bloomed and died once again turned their little faces to the east in anticipation of another Spring. Up in Landrum, 8779 wore its winter coat of dust on body parts spread all over the stockyard of “Unlikely Restorations.” Every once in awhile a box of tiny springs would arrive and Ned would call to ask that I send funds approximately equivalent in price to a pair of Tiffany earrings. I was grateful that the car required only 12 sets of these things.

Finally, after about a year, Ned called and asked me to hold the phone. “Listen to this, Fabio” he shouted from across the room, and I heard something running on its own steam, bubbling and gurgling and cracking and sounding as if it may have 12 cylinders. “Is that what I hope it is, or has your ex-wife brought her mini-van in for a tune up?” I asked tearfully. “No, boss, that’s your car. You’ll be off to Mexico in another year or so, just as soon as I get all this suspension stuff figured out.” As more tears fell, I thought, it’s nice to be called “boss.”

Now to put things in medical terms for all you doctors out there: our patient had the equivalent of a heart lung replacement, liver transplant, hip implants and its tubes tied to prevent any chance of it reproducing. Oh yes... and a damn fine nose job (be still my foolish heart)! Then on October 16, 2001, 8779 showed up in McRae all painted up with red and green stripes, bumpers removed, red racing seats and a roll cage. It was beautiful perched on its trailer pulled by my pal Sonny Enloe who had graciously agreed to make the little drive down to Mexico with me. Wistfully, I felt all was well — Ned had truly succeeded in making a tired old prancing horse into a cool new pony.

Kissing my wife goodbye and pulling out onto the highway with 8779 in tow, I embarked with Mr. Enloe on what was to become the ultimate road trip. We headed west on I-0, driving G-Man’s wife’s new Ford Expedition, listening to James Brown and making tracks for the border at Laredo, Texas. Only 1,500 miles lay between us and a planned rendezvous with Loyal Truesdale, who had allegedly arranged a convoy at the border for those seeking company for the crossing and the trip south. Sadly, we learned upon our arrival, Loyal had been “tied up” and might be delayed for some time. No matter. Sonny and I, both men of action and experience, would just do this little crossing on our own and be on our way. It was 4:00 a.m. on Saturday morning so traffic wasn’t real bad at the border in Nuevo Laredo. There we learned the true value of Ferrari hats and Sonny’s NYPD T-shirt. These things seemed to have more currency as documentation than stuff like titles and registrations. (Hey, we’re in Mexico.) All went like clockwork until we ran into a little rule that says a tow car, trailer, and towed vehicle must all be owned by the same person. So as the blood red sun crept over the Rio Grande, I signed a couple of titles (goodbye, 8779, it’s been real) gaining permission to proceed. Smiling broadly, my shirtless companion and I waved farewell — “Muchos gracias, amigos,” we yelled out the windows. “No problemo,” came back to us from the the staff all neatly attired in Ferrari Club of America hats as the chief inspector, a real big guy, squeezed himself into Sonny’s shirt.

We found that our original route, though much discussed with more experience people (like the girl at the Gas’nGo in Laredo) wasn’t too swift an idea. Rather than going down the east coast as we first planned, it’s apparently much better to head straight down the center of the country, taking advantage of the new toll roads and thus avoiding much of the stray burro and free-ranging cattle population. This we elected to do. So on Saturday morning, October 19, we were making good time over pretty nice roads and starting to think that we just might live. Along the way we began to see other stalwarts pulling old cars and figured that we were in the company of other Carrera guys — either that or there was one hell of a demolition derby somewhere ahead and we were headed toward that too. At lunch we met a bunch of guys from Austin, Texas pulling a nice little 1965 Alfa. They offered to guide us to San Miguel Allende, a beautiful little mountain town where they were to meet with friends. Our new compadres delivered us to a very nice hotel in the town (with the requisite guarded parking) and invited us to join them for drinks and dinner. I was thinking it was great that we had run into these nice guys ... we would be mighty lucky to have the benefit of the local knowledge and all that. But that feeling quickly faded when I asked Alfa owner, Peter, if he knew a good way to get through Mexico City with getting killed. The sum total of his response was this — he took a big swig of his Corona and said, “You bet I do, Fabio. No problemo.” I whispered to Sonny, “Get out the ole Texaco map, there partner, we’re on our own.”

The next morning about 10:00 a.m., the “boss” and Sonny were up to their ears in Mexico City, the world’s second largest metropolitan area and one which had devoured better men than we. It seemed a satanic blend of California’s 405, Times Square, Calcutta — all designed to make grown men cry. There was nothing to do but close one eye, deny how badly I had to “go” and press on. Sonny was feverishly locked in on the map and I was wondering if Mexican funeral homes give AARP discounts. Finally, after what seemed like about a week (but was really only an hour or so), we broke into the daylight on the far side of the city. We had done it. Thank you, Jesus!

We secured lodging late that afternoon in a nice town called Oaxaca. Because neither one of us could pronounce it, we just called it “the town of many As?’ That worked fine. We were both too tired to care if the car was guarded or not — our room was clean, the beer was cold, and pulling a car 1,000 miles through Mexico in two days had given us a new perspective on what was important and what was not. If somebody was messing with the car, we decided, we would just go down stairs, kill them, and go back to bed. Done deal. No problemo!

So far, so good, we thought. We were more than half the way to our final destination of Tuxtula Gutierrez with time to spare. We decided to slip on over to the coast by taking just a little detour, situate ourselves beside the Pacific, and enjoy the water. Spotting a town on the map called something like “Olio di Aqua,” I confidently told Sonny, based on my extensive knowledge of Florida, “That will be a beach resort.” After a pretty good haul, we arrived — in what sure ain’t Florida but rather more like Bayonne, New Jersey — to be greeted by smoke stacks and oil refineries instead of the beach. It was rather like we’d driven all that distance out of our way and stumbled onto the set where they were filming, “American Jerks Get What They Deserve.” Seasoned travelers by then, we bought a quart of transmission fluid for the Ford, ate a couple of lobsters which had been frozen about the time 8779 rolled out of Maranello, and retired for the night.

The next day we arrived in Tuxtula, some 100 miles shy of the Guatemalan border and exactly 1,598 miles south of Laredo, Texas. Our hotel, the headquarters for the race, was fabulous. There, we sank into the pool, happy and proud to have arrived and thrilled that the rest of our courageous crew would join us on the morrow. Tim Gallagher, Stuart Hall and mechanic Ned, having missed the last 3,000 miles of driving, might be very tired, we worried, after a tough six-hour flight from Atlanta. We amused ourselves by pondering what we could do to help them get up to speed and really become part of the adventure. Sonny suggested, “Why don’t we have them drive back to Laredo right quick?”

On the way down, we’d taken the car off the trailer for a couple of “test runs.” It really seemed like I hadn’t driven it in a couple of years, and we were anxious to see how it would perform out on those long, lonesome Texas highways. With the new paint job, all 12 cylinders in operation and the open exhaust, we made quite an impression in San Antonio the night we went downtown to dinner. We also dropped by the local Ferrari dealership where they were surprisingly nice to us given that all their customers and a few of their salesmen hit the deck when they heard us coming! This thing sounds bad! Just outside of Sandspur, Texas, Sonny showed some Corvette Cowboy what an angry Italian car could do when fully aroused. While it scared the hell out of both of them, it gave us a pretty good feeling that 8779 was real ready to rumble for the race. So, at the staging area in Tuxtula on Wednesday, we concerned ourselves mainly with checking out the competition... and some competition it is, baby!

The 85 teams from seven countries comprised an amazing collection of automotive craziness: Chrysler 300s, a half dozen really awesome ‘55 Studebakers obviously prepared by guys with roots in NASCAR, hopped up VWs all painted to look like ladybugs, Alfas, 356s, an Austin Healey from Monaco, and not one, but two silver 300 SLs from the fatherland complete with matching drivers and mechanics. We slid in quietly, found garage space between a chopped Facel Vega and a 1958 Borgward (don’t laugh until you’ve tried to pass the Von Snitzelstein brothers, my friend) and started looking around in earnest.

We saw original hot rod Lincolns like those everyone talked about when I was a young pup. Those were joined by some other wonderful Dee-troit iron: 54 Chevys, Fords, Buicks, Dodges and Plymouths of the time, and the famous “Studelac” in stunning black. The same bunch of crazies who brought the Studelac down had in their possession a bright yellow Henry J powered by Hudson! Speaking of Hudsons, there were several good looking Hornets in the neighborhood, one of which is owned by a guy in Alaska (no kidding) who comes down every year to put his baby on the road. Somehow, this guy had obviously gotten a list of who’s coming down because we observed that he had written across his trunk in red script, “Adios, Ferrari.” “Does that mean us,” I asked Stuart. “I don’t know, Fabio, but we’re the only one here.” Indeed, we were — we had the only prancing horse in the race. It was a fact that was happily recognized and much appreciated by all concerned.

About that time we really started to get the rhythm of the deal, to catch the spirit, so to speak. So, responding to a question regarding our team’s official name, it seemed obvious to introduce ourselves as the Ferrari Users Club. North American or South American chapter? We looked at each other, smiled, then said all in unison (just like we were in church), “Yeah buddy, Ferrari Users Club North America — FUCN’A!” It was a great ice breaker. When asked, “Excuse me, are you here with the Ferrari?” “FUCN’A!”

We had two days before the race started which was really good. First of all, we were all tired, especially the guys who had flown down, and it took a little time to “get our ducks in a row.” We were required to undergo a brief physical exam — in about 30 seconds I was pronounced fit, but balding, and sent on my way — my blood pressure was lower than it had been in two years. Then we checked out the Corona girls, a gaggle of lovely young ladies made available by the race’s big sponsor, Corona, to assist the racers. They were very very nice and several of them seemed unusually attracted to me. “What do you think, G-man? Don’t you sorta’ feel they’re paying a lot of attention to me for some reason?” “Yeah, they’re interested in you, Fabio. The sun shining off your bald head is helping them with their tans.” “Are you serious, man?” I implored him. “FUCN’A,” came his reply.

There seemed to be two distinct types emerging. One group was there on a mission — they were serious, well sponsored, well prepared and very experienced. That was not us. We fell into the other category which covered the waterfront from knowledgeable to clueless. (I’ll trust you to decide where the FUCN’A belonged on that scale.) We were, in any case, well prepared mentally. Our goals, so important to articulate in a situation like this so that everyone “gets it,” were to come home alive, not destroy the car, and have a good time. This motto was repeated often, usually in Latin (thanks to G-man’s Catholic school training), and almost always accompanied by some of Corona’s fine product.

At the drivers’ meeting, we were given a quick overview of the rules and provided with a route book. It was a two inch thick volume including detailed maps of each section showing all the curves with accompanying numbers indicating their severity. “What does ‘curva peligroso’ mean” I ask G-man. He thought for a minute and replied, “I think it has something to do with the Corona girls, there Fabio. But I’m not real sure.” We were soon to learn a lot more about dangerous curves, no guard rails, free roaming cattle and mountainous Mexican roads!

The big day arrived on Friday and we headed to downtown Tuxtula where we were greeted by an enormous crowd of wildly cheering, very excited citizens. This race is a big deal, we were discovering, and there we were ready to strike out up the country some 1,800 miles with little or no clue about what lies in store. Tuxtula is at sea level, surrounded by jungle, and it’s hot! G-man had gotten us both a set of Stirling Moss one layer Nomex at a yard sale somewhere, and we were still burning up. We struggled to get the last buttons in place (it’s the heat, not the tacos) and crossed our fingers as the line moved toward the official Corona starting gate, an inflatable beer bottle the size of Apollo 13. We were hot, scared and itching. Putting old 8779 in gear, revving up everything we had, we crossed the podium to the announcement, “From McRae, Georgia, United States of America, car number 351, Ferrari!” “Did Stirling Moss actually wear one of these damn suits in Mexico,” I shouted at G-man. “Don’t talk, Fabio. We have some dangerous curves ahead!” Was he ever right!

The race is made up of two stages. One is based on your time through speed sections, which vary in length from eight to ten miles. These are started at a certain point on the regular highway. According to the drivers meeting, the road will be closed to other traffic, so one shouldn’t meet an oil tanker coming in the opposite lane. We weren’t entirely sure about this, being new and all, so it took a little time to really accept the fact that the coast was clear. Other, more experienced guys took advantage of our shyness and, uhm... well, passed us. That was perfectly o.k. with the FUCN’A team (remember the mantra). But when the Hudson Hornet blew by us we had to bite our lips. Suddenly, up ahead, the Hudson was spinning wildly in the road and I reminded G-man that the race doesn’t always go to the swift. The words were barely out of my mouth when the Hudson, gathered in, passed us again. This was the first Hudson I’d ever seen out on the road, and he’d gone by me twice in 30 seconds. We had a lot to learn.

Many words of caution had been used in the last day or two to remind all the drivers to be especially cautious on the first stages. Get to know the roads a little, get your car and yourself acclimated, try to avoid dying on the opening day. Unfortunately, Dott. Testosteroni was out in force. When I saw puffs of smoke down in a valley thousands of feet below us, I asked my navigator if there was a factory out there. “Nope” he said, “but I don’t think that red 54 Ford is going to make it to the awards banquet on time.” This was scary: it was a long way off of those mountains. But we were doing just fine, thank you, keeping our Nomex clean and staying on the road. That’s how the first day and the rest of the week turned out — driving fast but safe and repeating the old mantra.

The entrants you would have expected to be the leaders did indeed lead the pack. The order was announced every night at the drivers’ meeting and tequila festival. The finishing order of each day set the departure time for the next, so the FUCN’A was always free to tarry a bit over breakfast each day. Our rooms were all arranged every night when we arrived in a city. And, without fail, they were easy to find., once we got a good cab driver to lead the way.

Every morning around 10:00 or so, there was a scheduled stop for everyone. That gave the people in the support vehicle (Mrs. Gallagher’s nice Expedition, in our case) a chance to catch up and hang around the real men. Having an empty trailer soon endeared us to a guy with a dead 356 and it was good fun watching Ned load the little baby on our prancing horse “Porsche hearse.” Later on, the Porsche got back on the road and we carried the Henry J which had mysteriously expired when its mechanic misjudged the revs and got it just a little over 10,000 for just a second.

Among this group of serious car nuts from all over the world was a bunch of really good guys. Everyone was always more than happy to help someone else. I’m sure, in fact, that you could have gotten your frame straightened, a rear end rebuilt or CPR performed if you had needed it. Naturally, as the heat, the mountains and the pace began to take their toll on the contestants, “How’s that Ferrari running” was a frequently asked question. But by day four, the line had changed to, “Boy, that Ferrari sounds good.” Indeed, it did. It was an absolute pleasure to drive the old car fast but safely every day under all kinds of conditions over some very, very challenging roads, up over 10,000 feet and never have anything Ferrari misbehave. Our only excitement came one afternoon when the Delco (read, GM) alternator that I’d put on the car in 1991 (and was too cheap to change) started going a little weak in the knees. That was taken care of almost immediately when Ned found a guy who operated a combination taco stand and alternator repair shop in Zacatecas. Seeing to this repair gave Ned, our chief (and only) mechanic, a new sense of importance since he’d previously only been called upon to load up stricken cars. And he got to sample the tacos while he waited.

The other part of the race was the part I actually enjoyed the most. The high-speed “transit” stages took you from one timed section to the other. These were sometimes long, often very open stretches of highway where the local police, while not completely closing the road, guarded the intersections so you could put the pedal where it belongs. The police would also step out into the road and give you a big wave, especially if your Ferrari was running over 100 mph.

Like probably nowhere else in the world today, here, in this race, we were driving the car in a way which Enzo himself would have appreciated. Nobody was claiming to be Phil Hill, but we gave an old road car all it wanted, and it was more than up to the task. Serendipitously, the oil temperature gauge, which hadn’t worked in ten years, came to life and read “Normale” after an afternoon run where we exceeded 135 mph for ten or fifteen miles. I also felt myself coming to life, feeling the wind in my scalp, enjoying the fine company of Stuart, Ned, G-man, and having a blast.

Our Mexican hosts were all just exceptional people — friendly, happy to have us there, and the kind of people you’d make a special effort to see again. Our race was safe, well organized, just crazy enough to be thrilling, and complete fun! All of this was only amplified by the fact that we were driving a Ferrari. Oh sure, a 330 isn’t the coolest car in the world, there are lots of more expensive and exclusive Ferraris rides (o.k., all of them), but for us, actually down there in Mexico, doing it, running the Carrera... well, I don’t think any other prancing horse anywhere was having as much fun!

The week flew by and we woke one day to face the 350-mile final run from Zacatecas to Nuevo Laredo. The weather had been perfect, the car was running flawlessly, and we had only to reach the finish line to cap off a fantastic week. With just a bit of apprehension (remember the thrill of victory/agony of defeat guy), we suited up and hit the road. Just like every day before, 8779 ate up the road, and really seemed to just get better the more we added the miles. Suddenly, up ahead, G-man spied the race leader, a Corona sponsored ‘55 Studebaker, slowing down as we approached the mountains near Monterrey. What a moment! We shot by waiving furiously only to notice that the driver, a three time world rally champ, was using this moment to change into his dress clothes for the award ceremony and the cameras. No matter — we had passed his ass! Of course, as gentlemen, we allowed them to retake their rightful position just before the checkered flag fell in front of thousands of cheering fans.

It was 4:30 p.m. on Friday, a long week since we had started, and we had made it all the way! We were swarmed over by the crowd, autograph seekers and the Corona girls seeking one more shot of the old bald guy. We high fived like we’d just won the Super Bowl, and to us, in a way we had. What a feeling!

Later that night, saying so long to a room full of friends at the awards dinner, I called our little team together to do the mantra thing one more time. In a soft voice I asked them to repeat after me: “Let’s finish the race, don’t wreck the car, have fun, and... by God, let’s do it again” “FuCN’A” came their cheer!

We had covered 2,933 miles in seven days, gone really fast, driven an old Ferrari through Mexico, finished 28th overall in the race, lived to tell the tale, and won a fire extinguisher!

Prancing Horse #142
Copyright © 2002, Ferrari Club of America Inc.
Reprinted with permission of Ferrari Club of America

Say It Aint So... I Worshiped Him.

Having grown up smack dab in the middle of Muscle Car Era one of my idols was Mickey Thompson. How could I have not idolized him? Now, all of you out there should know who Mickey Thompson is... right? After all he was involved in almost every aspect of racing known to man. He was a hot rodder, speed parts designer builder and salesman, off road racer, tire manufacturer, drag racer, multiple land speed record holder and builder and racer of very innovative Indy cars and his picture was on the cover of anything auto related. If I had a nickle for every thumb tack that held up all the Mickey Thompson pictures on my bedroom wall when I was 15 years old I could have retired a long time ago.

Here's a very cool photo of Mickey Thompson (left) and Carroll Shelby (right) competing against each other in a 1953 road race.

He even founded SCORE, (Which became The Baja 1000) brought motocross into stadiums, and even two of his cars were involved in the worst crash of the 60s at The Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
I remember the first time I met him in person like it was yesterday. I was pitted in the gravel parking lot at Fremont Drag Strip right between him and Don Garlits of all people. Like Garlits, Mickey wore a t-shirt had a flat top haircut and was all about the racing. Mickey Thompson was the quintessential guy down at the machine shop who also raced on the weekends and made it big. I remember him giving me an old worn out slick off his sling shot exactly like the one in the photo below which I kept for many years. I loved that old tire and for me it was as if he had given me a brand new car.

Every once in a while when surfing the Internet looking for LCP articles I run across a photo of Mickey Thompson's 1954 LCP Ford. Anyone who has read much about the history of famous LCP drivers has seen Mickey Thompson's name as one of the greats who took part. But when I began researching how he did and what years he ran and so on I found it difficult to find accurate information all of which seemed to be non-existent for the most part. I couldn't help but wonder since Mickey was such a bigger than life racing icon why his involvement in LCP seemed to be swept under the rug. But after a lot of digging I was able to piece it all together.

Like so many other famous racers of that era, Mickey Thompson's involvement in the 1953 running of the La Carrera Panamericana in Mexico gained him lots of notoriety in fact helping set off his career. Unfortunately, according to International Motorsports Hall of Fame it was this first attempt that got him a lot of bad publicity. According to Johnny Tipler's "La Carerra Panamericana, The Worlds Greatest Road Race", "Another hammer blow to the race's long term future was what happened on the bridge over the Tehuantepec river, where a sudden curve followed an hour-long passage of full throttle straights. Christie's Ford botched a turn and plunged ov er the bank, landing on the muddy shore. Spectators and officials rushed to see how they could help as moments later Mickey Thompson, in another Ford, approached the spot. In a terrible moment of coincidence a little girl ran across the road. Thompson swerved, braked and deliberately aimed at the bank to avoid her and his car rolled and landed in the midst of the gathering around Christie below, killing a soldier, a policeman, a town official and three local residents." For obvious reasons a friend who worked for Ford Motor Company whisked him away from the scene.

Mickey Thompson and Rodger Flores ran the 1953 LCP in this 1953 Ford with a 6-banger.

In 1954 Mickey once again built a car to run La Carrera Panamericana. Here is Mickey Thompson posing in front of his 1954 Ford that he drove during his second LCP attempt. This car was running Ford's new OHV V8 but Mickey's luck once again left him when a tie rod end broke and he crashed into a stone wall.

Mickey's involvement in La Carrera Panamericana was short lived even though he was accredited with so many patents and designs of safety equipment including water barriers. I was saddened to learn that Mickey Thompson's crashes were credited with being partially responsible for the cancellation of the La Carrera Panamericana.... Thus the reason so little is written about his LCP involvement.

Due to safety concerns La Carrera Panamericana was cancelled after the 1955 Le Mans disaster that took place during the 24 Hours of Le Mans when a car involved in an accident flew into the crowd, killing the driver and 80 spectators. Adolfo Ruiz Cortines then President of Mexico announced that the race's original task of publicizing the highway was complete and the cancellation was unavoidable given that cars of the period were of a high-speed, low-safety design, and drivers of a win-at-all-costs mentality. Only a third of entrants typically finished the race, and unlike more compact circuits, the long stage sections were impossible to secure entirely, making it possible for crashes to linger for several hours before being noticed. 27 people had died during the five years of the Panamericana, giving it one of the highest mortality rates per race in the history of motorsport, primarily because during the years the race was held, automobile racing had undergone an amazing technical transformation to emerge as an advanced science. The speeds had almost doubled as a result, but safety controls remained static and competitors, spectators and safety control personnel alike became casualties.

Isn't it ironic that I grew up idolizing such an amazing man who not only lived to talk about some of the most amazing crashes in race history and competed and lived through two of the most dangerous decades in car racing only to be gunned down by masked, machine gun wielding assailants in 1988. He deserved so much more. God's Speed Mickey.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Phil Hill At La Carrera Panamericana

Since referencing a quote a few days ago that Phil Hill made to my son Will and I about La Carrera Panamericana being the most exciting and thrilling event that he ever competed in I began thinking about the cars he drove.

One of them was this 1953 Ferrari 375M Spyder which was purpose built for the 1954 La Carrera Panamericana.

Here we see Phil getting ready for the SCCA National Event at March Air Force Base in Riverside California where drove the car in the thirty five lap main event to a second place behind Bill Spear's in another 375MM Ferrari. In reality this race was meant to serve as a shake down with less than 5 months beore taking it to Mexico.

In this photo Phil Hill and Richie Ginther ready themselves for the start of the La Carrera Panamericana. Phil Hill was the piloto and Richie Ginther was co-piloto and they took second place overall averaging 105.5mph. They were able to win three of the eight legs of the race. They ran out of fuel on the seventh leg and only managed fourth place which put them out of contention for the overall lead. Only 85 of the 146 vehicles entered actually finished the grueling endurance race.

Here they are taking a break in front of a sponsor's business. If you look closely you may recognize the 1954 La Carerra Panamericana poster in the window.

In this photo taken near Puebla, Phil makes repairs for the race to Mexico City. In this photo you can also see how Ferrari modified the body to include a distinctive headrest and tailfin as well as a modified rear body to accept an additional spare tire, and aircraft airscoops were added to help cool the tires. Then the traditional red was repainted white and blue.

Here we see Phil at the wheel while Richie Ginther waves to the fans at 110 miles per hour.

Phil and Richie take a break after a hard run.

Phil and Richie cross the finish line at Juarez after averaging 137mph for the final leg. By the way... that is a La Carrera Panamericana speed record which has not been broken to this very day. That's been 55 years ago folks in a car that was built 56 years ago. Think about it.

LCP Humor

Today I read the following quote that someone made regarding La Carrera Panamwericana...

Damn, nothing manlier than running a race that requires you to post your blood type on the car!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

On The Way Home

On the way back home from Infineon Anthony and I stopped in at the Palo Alto Concourse d'Elegance at Stanford University to check out some of the trailer queens... Er I mean classy rides. We got there a tad late but still enjoyed reminiscing days gone by as we walked amongst many awesome rides. The good news was the honored marque this year was Mustang and Porsche so there was quite a few Mustang and Shelbys on hand.

Yes folks, this car is the real deal.

Here is a car that has a lot of historical significance with La Carrera Panamericana fans.

As it turns out, some cars are more sentimential than others. Talk about brining back some memories!!!

So... Ya Wanna Know What It's Like To Drive Fast?

Say what you want but as far as I'm concerned, hot weather makes for great racing weather. Even today's Nascar race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway was hot as all get out and yet the race was stopped due to rain. Nascar's Buddy Baker really had me laughing on a talk show yesterday when he was asked why drivers don't just pour a bottle of water down their neck during those really hot days on the track. Buddy replied, "You've never been in a race car when it's 110 degrees have you? Let me ask you a question... Ever heard of butt stew?" What a crack up. (Pun intended)

Today Anthony and I got to spend some time at Infineon with Jon Emerson racing his Spec E30 and good friend Steffan our video producor and had a great time. Wow was there some hardware there today! So many in fact I found it difficult to decide which ones to take pictures of so frankly I just gave up. However... I did get to get in some seat time in something that will REALLY blow your mind and before I post some photos of it, let me warn you... It's not like any other car I have ever driven on the track before.

Lets take a look at some of the possibilities staring off with this beauty that Anthony is drooling over. It's a Bugatti Veyron $1,700,000. This is by far the most expensive street legal car available on the market today. It is the fastest accelerating car reaching 0-60 in 2.6 seconds. It claims to be the fastest car with a top speed of 253 mph+.

Or maybe this is the car I ripped up the course with. After all, it's not the first time and anyone who knows me knows of my passion for Ford GTs. (Even though the GT40 is my ultimate choice.)

Then again it just may have been this car. You know how much I love the vintage stuff.

Then again, you may be asking yourself, "Is Gary tossing me a curve or just messing with me? Maybe he went four-wheelin in Donny Edward's beautiful Bronco.

Well, I just can't keep you guessing any longer. Check it out folks... Here is what I used to straighten out the esses of Sears Point with. This is Steffan's hot rod from hell who is producing our new HD DVD so we took it out for some laps. Everyone loves this car and we got a bunch of waves and cheers while passing the grandstands too. Even funnier was when Steffan was behind the wheel we caught up with a Corvette. We had a pretty good chuckle wondering if his wife was in the stands trying to get some photos of him on the track. "Honey, how come that little Smart car was right on your bumper?" "Er.... Uh..... Well...... Oh, yeah I had just passed them and was blocking.... Yeah, that's it.... blocking."

Just last week our friend Marcia Blas commented on her Road Rally Rhythms blog how funny it would be to see one on the track. Well, this one's for you Bud! LOL.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

I'm Sorry, But I Just Thought It Was Funny As Hell

I was surfing around and found someones site who is from Mexico where he posted his photos of La Carrera Panamericana. Somehow I dont think he realized just how fast the cars would be as these were his only two photos.

El Caballo de Hierro, The Iron Horse

Anyone who knows anything about La Carrera Panamericana has heard of AK Miller and his custom hot rod named "Caballo". Heaven knows there has been as many articles written about it as any other LCP and even more about the car than AK himself but this has to be the best piece on it I have ever seen.


Summing Up La Carerra Panamericana

I got a message today from my good friend Kemon Jones who ran the 2007 LCP with us. He really cracked me up today with what has to be the best summation with respect to LCP I have ever read.

Buy a car for La Carrera Panamericana... $55,000

Entrance to La Carrera Panamericana... $7000

Travel, spares, food, drink... $15,000

The chance to throw your car off of a cliff while racing in Mexico with a bunch of friends... PRICELESS!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Just Do It

Photo courtesy Bret Haller

Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. The moral: It doesn't matter if you are a lion or a gazelle or even a Mustang. When the sun comes up, you better be running.

Little Car sure... But BIG Excitment

Those of us who were fortunate enough to meet and race with Stacy and Luca Maciucescu were in for a real treat, not just because they were the kind of racers other racers find it so easy to become friends with, but also because seeing first hand what their awesome race car could do was simply awesome.

Stacy and Luca ready to take the track at Queretaro in their #430 Abrath

They really are an awesome car and rich in racing history with an awesome racing heritage to boot and now from what I just read on THEGARAGEBLOG.COM now it seems Abrath is making a comeback. How cool is that! For the entire story CLICK HERE.

In the mean time watch the teaser of whats to come. By the way, this video has been shot in widescreen, so be sure to hit the full screen button to get the full effect. Keep your eyes on The Garage for the first full episode.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Don't Ever Believe For Second That The LCP Race Isn't Dangerous

I cant begin to tell you how many times I have heard someone say one of two statements... "How dangerous could the original La Carrera Panamericana have been if they were driving those old factory stock cars?" Then I have read and heard statements like, "The modern day La Carrera Panameicana is only ran by CEO types that pay a large fee just to say they have been there done that and they pretty much just putt along and then socialize all night."

Fatality during 1953 La Carrera Panamericana.

I only have one response to these comments and the most elegant way I have of summing it up in two words is "Bull Shit". The next time you hear anyone make that sort comment ask them to take a look at this list of great race car drivers many of whom lost their lives between 1950 and 1955 while competing in La Carrera Panamericana. Also note some were policemen and spectators.

CLICK HERE for list.

CLICK HERE for another list of famous drivers many of whom died while competing in La Carerra Panamericana but all of whom competed in La Carrera Panamericana.

With regard to the modern day La Carrera Panamericana, trust me, many others like myself did anything but drive slow and then socialize all night. We drove as fast as we could on roads you wouldn't ask even your own mother-in-law to drive on let alone your worst enemy and if you doubt for a second that any of us didn't hang it over the edge then think again. La Carrera Panamericana is the last place in the world anyone with a timid soul needs to be. And to put it all in even an even more mind blowing perspective, just take a look at all the safety equipment we have in our cars today including fuel cells, 10 point full body roll cages, the best seat belts and helmets, Hans devices and more not to mention safety crews all along the way. That's when any great racer today bows down on his hands and knees and pays homage to remember those awesome giants like Hershel McGriff who did all without all of the above.

It's those giants who are gone that we will read about and remember... The rest and the few who are still with us we live in awe of.

In Johnny Tiplers book titled, "La Carrera Panamericana: The World’s Greatest Road Race!” Johnny Tipler wrote, "American racing icon Phil Hill said it best:
“Quite simply, Mexico’s Carrera Panamericana was the most outrageous road race ever run on the North American continent. I loved a challenge like the Nurburgring, the Targa Florio or Spa, because even on those long, fast, meandering circuits it was possible to learn the track and calculate the risks. But how do you factor in a burro in the middle of the road in a corner just over the brow of a hill? That was the Carrera. If ever there was a racing event in which I felt I had countless times been close to wiping myself out, it was the Carrera. After three years’ worth of those 5-day experiences, each day with numerous lurid happenings-and in the shadow of the Le Mans disaster-they did away with the race. I recall thinking to myself, well, I won’t have to do that again…”

When I read those words my eyes welled with tears, not because of sadness but because of my good fortune of having heard those very words from Phil Hill himself one day while Phil, my son and I were together at Infineon. Will asked Phil, "If you could only name one race what race was the most memorable you ever raced in?" Phil responded all most word for word what I read in Tipler's book.