Huatulco Life was inspired by people with a passion for Huatulco and the Mexican lifestyle. It is a place to find out more information about the region and enjoy the beauty of the Oaxacan coastline through the photo gallery. From time to time, other interesting tidbits about Mexico make their way into the pages of this blog. Enjoy!

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

La Carrera Panamericana

The 2011 La Carrera Panamericana started this past Friday on it's circuitous course from Huatulco through the mountains and winding passes to Zacatecas.

The race has a long and storied history and first began in 1950 after the Mexican section of the Pan-American highway was completed.  The 9 stage, 6 day race was organized by the Mexican government and ran almost the entire distance of the Pan-American highway in Mexico,  spanning some 3,373kms.  The initial goal was to celebrate the completion of the highway and attract more international interest in business.  

For those that participated, and those in the know, La Carrera Panamericana was considered the most dangerous open road race of its kind anywhere in the world.  The premier event in 1950 was represented by all racers in just about every category of motorsport including: Formula One, sports cars, rally cars, stock cars, endurance racing, hill climbing, and drag cars.  However, many of the competitors were ordinary unsponsored citizens from the United States, Mexico, and elsewhere in the world.

The Course
This race was not only taxing on the drivers but also on the cars themselves.  Starting out at sea level and reaching elevations of 8,000 ft, many cars required continual servicing and monitoring as the engines were stressed to the max.  Many racers modified their cars to handle the extreme conditions including rejetting of carbuerators to handle the thin air. 

In only the second year of the race, many competitors found out just how difficult this race could be.  José Estrada, a prominent Mexican car dealer announced, "I will win, or die trying".  His words turned out to be very prophetic as he careened off the side of the road on the first stage of the race and proceeded to tumble 630 feet to the bottom of a ravine.  Estrada and his co-driver died later that day in a Oaxaca hospital.  The very next day, Carlos Panini, a pioneer in aviation and Italian by origin, was killed on the stage from Oaxaca to Puebla will he was being overtaken by a then young Bobby Unser.

In 1955 the race was cancelled due to safety concerns as 27 fatalities had taken place over the course of 5 years.  The cars themselves were rapidly changing and gaining speed but safety measures at the time were not keeping up, and much of the course was not monitored.  It was possible that a crash by a competitor could go unoticed for hours before a rescue crew was assembled.

Competitors Line Up
Although the race was abandoned, it was not forgotten.  And in 1988, the race was resurrected to a 7 day, 3,200km course.  The racers themselves are categorized into several groupings based on age and authenticity of car.  And while the cars may look like antiques on the outside, most of the cars have severe modifications underneath the hood that border on Nascar like specifications.  It is not uncommon for competitors to reach speeds of up to 260 km/h during the course of the race.

One thing remains the same to this day, what separates the Panamericana from all other road races is the danger involved.  The competitive nature of the race, coupled with high speeds and winding roads still claims a few lives.  I suppose for some, part of the appeal of this race is the uncertainty with which you enter.  Your car may not survive, and neither might you!

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