Viva La Carerra Panamericana
For many, the mention of the word "carrera" is enough to spiral a perfectly good car-related conversation into an impassioned Porsche-filled debate, or perhaps a mention of the popular TAG Heuer time piece - at least to native English speakers. However, to native Spanish speakers like Juan Manuel Fangio, the word 'carrera' means something completely different, 'race'. And one of the most epic 'carerras' - in fact, the one that inspired both the names of the Porsche and TAG Heuer - happens to take place just south of the border every year. I'm talking, of course, about 'La Carerra Panamericana': one of the most insane, let-it-all-hang-out road races in the world.
What I (and probably many others) call the Mexican Mille Miglia, "La Carerra" is celebrated every October by closing down public roads to let racers from around the globe - trying to beat the clock - push their cars flat out. Sounds like a dream doesn't it?
It gets better.
That's because you can enter the relatively relaxed-rule race as a normal petrol-head, but we'll get to that. First, a little history.
Now the first 'La Carerra' was held in 1950 to celebrate the completion of the Panamerican highway, because what better way to celebrate the completion of a road than to let a bunch of Ferraris, Lancias, Porsches, and hot-rodded Studebakers go all out?
There isn't one, and it attracted driving talent from around the world including drivers like the 'Maestro' himself (Fangio) and the legendary Dan Gurney, among others. Carol Shelby also reportedly broke his arm practicing for the event.
Photo by: ProtoplasmaKid
However, in 1954, just four years after the first race, the event was discontinued due to its danger and the drivers' "win at all costs mentality". Of all the races of its time, 27 people lost their lives, making this particular race one of the deadliest in history.
Lancia D24 - Like Fangio's - by Marco 56, Flickr.
So while it only lasted a short while, it certainly cemented it's place in history as one of the most dangerous, diverse, and historically significant (at least for those who live in North America) motorsports events in the world.
And that's exactly why it was revived - albeit, it's much safer now. In 1988, with the help of two men and Mexican officials, the 7-day 2000 mile race was resurrected and continues to this day to be a pilgrimage for those who love to drive flat out. Just look it up on youtube, you'll never be the same.
Photo by: Germán Torreblanca
Yet what really tickled us is that on the official race website under the FAQ section, the 'Do I need racing experience?' is answered as follows:
"This race can be great fun for amateur drivers with good driving skills who enjoy a “spirited” drive down a canyon road. It is highly recommended, however, that those without recent racing or rally experience take a three- or four-day session at a racing school to learn basic car control."
To that we say, vamonos.
Lastly, it should be noted that only 100 cars are allowed to enter, and as of 2011 a speed limit of 144 MPH has been imposed (before that cars were reaching 180 MPH) on the three fastest classes, but I think I can live with that. At least it's open to lead-footed fools like you and me.
For more information brew yourself a nice hot cup and check out the official 'La Carerra Panamericana' site.
Feature image courtesy of Germán Torreblanca.