Thursday, October 01, 2009

From The Desk Of Gerie Bledsoe

October 1, 2009



A few weeks ago I sent out the first paragraph of my Handicapper’s Edition of CARRERA NEWS as juicy bait. In that snippet, I opined that Gabriel Pérez Torres had to be considered the early favorite. Several competitors rose to the occasion to disagree politely with my initial assessment.

The purpose herein is to survey the field more comprehensively.
In addition to Mr. Perez, contenders to the title this year include everyone’s favorites Doug Mockett and Angelica Fuentes. They will return in their wind-tunnel tested ’54 Oldsmobile (“in name only”). But not even testing in a wind tunnel can do much to mitigate the Studebaker’s drag coeficeint advantage. However, Doug has assured me that Phil Denny has changed the oil and spark plugs in his car for this year’s attempt to repeat his prior triumphs.

At one point it was rumored that Mockett was buying a yellow Studebaker from coffee king Juan Valdez to replace his Olds, but Doug denied the rumor emphatically, denouncing it as “vicious hearsay.”

Looking down the list, Jorge Roberto Pedrero must also be considered a viable contender for the title. Of course, with the race starting in Huatulco, Jorge – who hails from from Tuxtla Gutiérrez – loses his advantage the first day in the mountains of Chiapas. Look to Jorge to squeeze as much power as possible form his Ford’s 305 (?) cubic inch Turismo Production engine.


Another pre-race favorite is the venerable leader of the Swedish contingent -- “the Stig.” Mr. Stig Blomquist is a former WRC champion, Swedish champion many times over, and now a veteran of Mexican road racing, with one Carrera and one Chihuahua Express under his belt. Mr Blomquist and his generous co-pilota must be considered heavy favorites, too.

Reportedly, MH Racing in San Miguel de Allende, the Stig’s shop, has changed engine builders in an effort to avoid the gremlins that have fustrated this team over the past couple of years. In the Chihuahua, Stig’s car suffered from serious overheating problems, but his car builder, Mats Hammarlund, has done everything humanly possibl to ensure that Stig has a dependable car this year.

Following Stig closely will be the dashing Lars Stugemo in another car built by MH Racing. Lars is another Carrera vet now, who has the requisite skill and experience skill to win this event. But does he have the patience? He certainly has the looks and charm to send the ladies into a swoon.

Last, but certainly not least, on my list of contenders is yet another car from the MH Racing stable--a Volvo Amazon driven by Karl Schieble. Karl lives in Texas, not Sweden, and he has placed as high as fourth overall in this Hammarlund Volvo, which has given away more than 100 horsepower to the TM Studebakers and Mockett’s Olds.

On the other hand, Karl was the U.S. and Canadian SCCA rally champion for several years and knows his way around a mountain corner or racetrack. Rumor has it that the Amazon sports a new engine fresh from Sweden with extra horsepower. Carl has teamed up with co-piloto Dyana Marlett, an experienced navigator, who certainly has enough experience and competitiveness to make the trip a success.


Who among this group of highly talented drivers and their trusty companions will win the event overall this year? That answer is easy--the crew and car with the least mechanical misfortune and the most luck will win. All of the leading cars, like the rest of us, are destined have at least one serious mechanical problem. That’s the nature of endurance racing.

This race will be probably be decided by exactly when the mechanical failure occurs: during a speed stage, a transit stage, or driving into the hotel’s parking lot at night. If one of the leaders misses a speed stage or loses significant power during a speed stage, it is out of the running for the top prize. After all, this is a long, arduous race, and these top drivers push their cars at 10/10s much of the time. Even a certain percentage of new, expensive racing parts will fail under these conditions. The question is – when and where the failure will occur? Being lucky thus will probably decide the outcome.


Last year, Bill Beilharz, who won the 21st La Carrera in his black “Batmobile” Studebaker, missed a corner, went off the road, and skidded down into a shallow ravine. Instead of stopping to assess the damage and find a safe way out, Bill just kept on going. He spotted a footpath going up the other side of the gully and followed it full bore to get back on the road.

Others would have never been able to exit the gully because of a tire or suspension problem, or having their belly pan ripped off, but Bill was lucky. He knew that to remain in contention he could not stop in that gully.

Sadly, Bill is not able to return to defend his title this year, but he promises that he will be close by in Huatulco, basking on his sailboat, sporting a bevy of bikini-clad hotties on the bow.


As most of you know, tht Carrera was started by the Mexican governemnt in 1950 to promote the use of the Pan-American Highway, a paved (mostly) two-laned highway that went from Ciudad Juarez, MX (El Paso, TX) down trhough the middle of the country to the boder with Guatamala.

After 59 years there is no much of the original highway left. Much of the original road has been replaced by four-lane super highways and toll roads. But one serious stretch of the two-lane road down south remains suitable for racing, and it very special to those with the Carrera spirit. For a while, we though we might miss it this year.

On the first afternoon of competition, we will run the old Pan Am highway from Tehuantepec to Oaxaca. This is one of the last stretches of the original Pan Am highway that to be completed. They raced on it in 1950 and we have returned many times since them. It's around 250 KM long and it’s exciting, especially when the afternoon sun makes it hot and slick.

This highway cuts through the mountains, starting near sea level and climbing to over 6000 feet in places, before it gets to Oaxaca -- at a little over 5,000 feet. We'll pass through some spectacular river valleys and quaint little villages. It’s a poor, sparely populated area, but the people are friendly and wave when we pass through their lives annually.

This road is being replaced by a new toll road to the east, so we expect it to stay pretty much the same, even with its Hotel California (!), for racing in future years. Amen!


Yesterday I was talking about the Pan Am with a good friend who has been a little under the weather. He looked at me with a glint in his eyes, and said, “Gerie, I enjoy the racing but I really want to go back to Mexico to see all my friends.” He went on to explain that they are (mostly) guys and “rachetheads” like him, who love the old cars and the adventure.

For me, too, our circle of Pan Am friends is the most important thing now. If I did not go, I would really miss seeing them. Many I will see only this one week out of the year, when we are together, catching up on our lives, suffering together, while we share our passion for this great event.

Sadly, we won’t be able to share this passion this year or ever again with a special Carrera friend, Bobby Johnson. Like many of my Pan Am buddies, I did not much about Bobby, but I knew he was a good guy. We spent a lot of time back in 2002-2004 discussing how to revive the Original Pan Am class. In those years, only two or three cars started the event, and about none finished it. In particular, we agreed that OPA should be a featured, competitive class, and not just a bunch of rusty relics. So I starting promoting it, and Bobby rebuilt his Hudson.

Bobby would compete in his Hudson several times and would remain a true purist. He did not like the fact that the organizers were allowing disc brakes and many other concessions to the modern world, like electronic ignition. Now, he said, there is not much difference between OPA and Historic C, but the OPA cars look good!

Sadly, Bobby, a young man, died last month of a head injury sustained I was told --believe it or not—in a bicycle race. His beautiful wife, Zoya, is devestated, of course. We wish her well.

I last saw Bobby at the Chihuahua Express in 2007. He was quietly there, with a smile on his face, helping Todd Landon’s crew work on Mustangs. I regret only never having a chance to say goodbye after than race. I miss his smiling face and his purist passion for La Carrera! But I look forward to seeing those who will keep the passion alive this year.


Next year – 2010 – is the “reunion” year for La Carrera. It is time to get that old car out of the garage, update the rollcage and engine, and get it ready for the race. And if you are thinking about entering a new car, get it ready and tested early in the year.

Do not hesitate. The time available to complete your buckwet list is not increasing.

With the economy improving, now is the time for all good men (and women) to rekindle the passion of the Pan Am before it is too late.

Let’s fill the grid from North American next year and revive old friendships. Who knows, we may never have another chance.


Can’t get it together for the Pan Am this year? Need to sample a little of Mexico before taking the Carrera plunge? Try the Chihuahua Express.

As the name suggests, this is the quick and easy way to test your car and learn how to stage rally without devoting three weeks of your life and mucho dinero to an expediton into the Mexican jungle and hopefully back.

The Express packs 1000 miles of racing and around 325 miles of top speed stages into three days—only 145 miles west of Texas. On top of that, the racers return to the same bunk each night. How cool is that! Contact organizer Chacho Medina if interested at or The Express is also affiliated with the Silver State Classic. The entry fee is only $2000, which does not include hotels.


Guadalupe “Lupita” Hernandez Ramirez, a Mexican Red Cross nurse, lost both legs at the hip in 2003 when a Pan Am car hit a puddle of oil and spun off the road, pinning Lupita to an ambulance. Since then North American and Canadian competitors have vowed to support her. Right now, her trust fund, monitored by Doug Mockett and Oscar Carillo, only produces about $50 in interest every eight weeks. We need to increase the balance. Please send your contributions to:

Friends of Guadalupe Hernandez Ramirez
c/o Ms. Fanny Davila
South Bay Bank
2200 Sepulveda Blvd.
Torrance, CA 90501

Here’s a photo of our poster girl:


Be generous!


Auto racing in any form is dangerous, the Pan Am is no exception. Make sure your car and your body are well prepared, and use them carefully.

Anyone who enters the race is obligated to read and agree to abide by the official rules of the race. Go to and click on Rules/

Also, all competitors are solely responsible for getting their cars into the county and down the starting line.


If you change email addresses, please let CARRERA NEWS know. Once you register for the race, you will also receive CARRERA DRIVER, which contain much more detailed information about the race and how to prepare your car.

Feel free to send CARRERA NEWS to your friends and racing buddies. This newsletter is posted on the web site

At this point, I have firm information about the event in 2010, but I will start accepting applications and deposits of $500 on January 1. No, I do not know what the entry fee will be yet either.

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

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