Monthly Archives: October 2015

Tuxla Gutierrez, Chiapas to Oaxaca.

We arrived in Tuxla Gutierrez Chiapas, and had a few days to settle down, organize our tools and support trucks and to get the race cars through tech inspection. My involvement was to be crew chief of Mark Colbert’s #284 65′ Alfa Romeo Giulia and about Mark’s car: It is a gorgeous 1965 TI built by Champion Motorsport of Pompano Beach, Florida. The builders did a wonderful job with this car, it is black inside and out and has been restored to a very high level. Mark Colbert likes clean cars and this one is no exception being built from the ground up in full race/rally specifications. Seam welded chassis, gorgeous overbuilt roll cage, full rally time-keeping equipment, Tillett carbon fiber seats, panhard bar, fully built motor, AP brake system, and race suspension throughout. Everything about the car is race car, ok you get the point. Needless to say, the car came to me ready for competition so it needed only one thing, testing and driving. Mark drove the car a few hundred miles and I drove it 20 miles while we were still in Sonoma, I spent a day or two just getting to know the car in detail and doing some minor suspension adjustments/final preparation/torque striping at Competition Touring Cars Sonoma and I had a lot of confidence in the car, especially in Mark’s capable driving hands. He was driving his wife Debbie in the Carrera as his “Co-pilota” and this absolutely raises the stakes when it comes to safety and safety checks so I made safety checks my top priority as always.

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Going on, Friday qualifying took place in Chiapas on a stage from downtown Chiapas to beautiful San Cristobal. It was a very curvy and steep uphill stage. Mark and Debbie, departed and I took the service route in the support vehicle to meet at finish line and do a quick post-run service. Mark did great on this first run and it was the first real action the car had seen. After this the car returned to central Chiapas for  what would become a nightly ritual-full inspection, service and tune. Car checked out fine and we were ready for the first race stage Saturday 7AM.

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It is hard to keep this race blog solely about the race when visiting Mexico and San Cristobal was one of the places where I had my first sobering moment after meeting a couple of tiny kids who where working with their mother on the street selling food. Seeing this level of poverty and struggle while parading through this historic town in fancy race cars reminds me how absolutely lucky I am and reminds me to never take anything for granted, Of course I did my best to give money and spend with those who I knew need it the most but it will never be enough and this stayed with me everyday through the rest of the trip.

Saturday morning, the crew was up at 530 for a quick coffee and breakfast and off to the pits for some car warm up and driver prep. Our trucks were loaded and ready for the chase over the mountains to Oaxaca.

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Nuevo Laredo to Tuxla Gutierrez, Chiapas

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Getting to our starting point of Tuxla Gutierrez was a very long drive over two days. Trip started in Laredo Texas where about 12 US teams met in order to convoy to Tuxla together. The border crossing took several hours by the time Mexican officials fully inspected our incoming trucks, there was even a huge X-ray machine which each truck was required to go through. Despite having to get their job done, the Mexican officials were very friendly and professional, they went through their official procedures with us but always had personal questions regarding our cars and I was always happy to go out of my way and show them. It was obviously a very unique sight for them to see trucks full of race cars and race car parts.

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Once through the border we rooms waiting for us in Queretaro, so we had about 750 miles to cover. This was the first time I had the chance to experience driving through the vast Mexican desert and it was amazing to drive through. Mexico has some of the most diverse and breathtaking terrain I’ve ever seen. There was 100 places I wanted to pull over and explore but we had a tight schedule and a long trip ahead of us so it was impossible. Fuel stops were always a pleasant time to catch up with the rest of the teams and share thoughts.

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Laredo to Nuevo Laredo

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So as of last Friday we had been in Laredo a couple days just gathering some forgotten items locally, acquainting ourselves with fellow crews and preparing to go to the boarder to get our documents in line. Laredo Texas is very much a working class town with the extra element of being a border town so it has a very strange mood in general. Regardless Friday afternoon our entire group traveled to Mexico by cab to get our visas and attain our Automobile permits to cross the trucks/cars/trailers. It was quite a mix of fellow people from all walks of life and from all over the world for that matter. I the while I was a bit nervous, not because of the border crossing but because I knew that Mexican law only permits one car to cross the border per person and I was going to attempt to get thee across (truck/trailer and Alfa). Mark had pre-registered and attained permits for the Alfa and trailer bit being that he had very recently purchased the Ford, he did not receive the title in the mail in time to temporarily sign it over to me so that I could cross the truck over in to Mexico as my own as law requires. We hoped we could slip through the check by having Mark sign a letter giving me permission to bring another person’s vehicle into the country. When I finally approached the border agent, I was very quickly turned down and denied permission to bring the truck in. I asked to speak to a supervisor in hopes to be able to explain my situation, supervisor quickly turned me down, shit! Well I had no choice but to turn back to Laredo and try again later.

My second attempt was a lot more of an adventure Mainly because I had no choice but to try again and this time I was by myself and it was well past dark. Now Mexico/USA borders are always somewhat “sketchy” places in my opinion, but the Laredo border at night, is a lot like the cantina in Star Wars. My hopes that I would arrive to the transportation office and see a new set of faces after a shift change, but to my horror it was the exact same people who had turned me down earlier in the day, shit again! I waited in line anyways, and asked to talk to the supervisor. Supervisor came down, this time he quickly became angry with me. I pleaded with him that I had no other options and I HAD to get across, I asked him if there was ANYTHING I could do and this is where the story got interesting. He told me that there was someone above him and I could talk to this person above him if I was willing to wait. Minutes later I was waiting in a hallway inside the building and a Benicio Del Torro in the movie Traffic looking character came down in plain clothes walked up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder and says “I heard you have a problem” (en Espanol). I asked him quietly if he worked here, and he replied yes, “let’s go for a walk” he says. I walked next to him as he talked under his breath, he asked me to explain my situation, and it very quickly became clear that he was asking for some $$$ to solve my problem. We negotiated a rate and I asked him where he wanted payment, he told me to go back and wait in line and this time he assured I would not be denied. He also told me to meet him outside the building down by the “Rio” after I get my paperwork so that I could pay him. Outside by the Rio was a dark place away from government cameras, it was sketchy as hell but I got my permits!

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SF to Laredo

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So the Carrera started in Sonoma for me. I went up Friday to catch the CSRG vintage races happening at Sonoma Raceway (which happened to be the biggest Alfa GTA meet ever) and help with some final preparation on the Alfas. It was an opportunity to shakedown the cars both on the track and on the road and hopefully catch any possible problems or issues before getting to Mexico where the environment would make it more difficult to perform repairs. I spent part of Friday and Saturday upgrading Mark’s dampers from Koni Yellows to the beautiful Alfaholics threaded dampers. I also added some ride height to the front of the car to better deal with the less-than-perfect roads that we were warned about.
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By late morning Monday, we hit the road. I was piloting Mark’s brand new F350 diesel loaded with spares and supplies, my buddy Eric was following me in his 1999 Ford Expedition towing Martin’s Taxi. I had a tremendous unfair advantage towing with the diesel over the expedition, the F350 effortlessly pulled along and actually got better the faster I went. Either way, we putted through California, Arizona, New Mexico and then Texas. Embarrassingly, I had never done that exact drive and being that I’ve always had a fascination with the southwest and southwest history, I really enjoyed the drive, daydreaming along the way about the olden days and the rich history of this land.

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La Carrera Panamericana!

I’m lucky and excited to be participating in the 2015 Carrera Panamericana this year. It is a race which holds some special meaning to me since my father has always told me stories of the race which he had the thrill of watching in his childhood as a boy growing up in Zacatecas. My friends Martin Lauber and Mark Colbert, both Carrera Alumni, have invited me to join their crew. Martin is piloting his well known “Taxi Perdido” Giulia 1300TI Sedan and this year Mark is taking his very fresh and very gorgeous 1965 Giulia TI which was just finished by Champion Motorsport in Florida. I’ll be towing Mark’s car down to the starting point in Tuxla Gutierrez, and of course supporting the car along the week-long race.

I’ll do my best to post pictures and every night, wish us luck!

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