The sixth Chihuahua Express will go into the record books as another great success.
As usual, the weather was excellent (dry, sunny, little wind), the route superb, and the competition exciting. Again, there were no serious accidents or injuries.
Above all, public safety – police, ambulances, and tow trucks – was excellent. Registration and tech were well organized and smooth.
A special dinner downtown for all participants on Thursday night worked well because the charter buses were on time. The Organizer, Chacho Medina, should be congratulated on a plan for the event and a staff that worked efficiently.
Twenty-three cars were entered into full competition. Of these, thirteen were from the U.S. and Canada, two from Europe, and the rest from Mexico. Another eight or nine cars participated in the Express Tour Rally. Mexican participation in the event was down in part because of the Pope’s visit to Leon the same weekend.
BMW Mexico was the main sponsor of the event.
The race was ultimately won by a fully-prepared, five-liter BMW M3 crewed by Eduardo Henkel and Sergio Puente, which perhaps is only fitting given the event’s primary sponsor. Reportedly the Federales clocked Henkel at 338 KPH (206 MPH) on one stage the last day!
This year we missed seeing some of the top Express pilotos and co-pilotos like Doug Mockett and Angelica Fuentes, and last year’s winner, Michel Jourdain. Mockett’s car was on its way to the Targa Tazmania, and Jourdain was in the U.S. reportedly trying to earn a ride in the Indy 500.
Historic “C” (V8 cars, 1955-1968), a Pan Am class, was the largest group in the Express -- with six entries. Of those, five were still running at the end of the race. The top Historic “C” car, a yellow Ford Falcon, driven by Christian Dumolin from Belgium, finished 3d overall, a new high for Historic “C” cars in the Express.
Dumolin also finished first in Historic “C,” followed by John ”Chip” and Taylor Fudge (Mustang), and Gerie Bledsoe and “El Fer” Garcia (Chevy II Nova).
There were four “low-boy” ’53-54 Studebakers in the event, and three Porsche 911s.
Stuart and Linda Robertson, Paul Hladky and Adolfo Bagnarello, and Gunter Sundag and (esposa) Barbara Hernandez showed up in their magnificent Studes. Stuart and Linda were racing alone in Turismo Mayor (up to 366 c.i.), while Gunter and Barbara, and Paul and Adolfo were matched up in Turismo Production (up to 305 c.i.). These classes are for cars manufactured 1940-1954, the same era as the original Pan Am race (1950-1954), but are heavily modified.
Another ’54 Studebaker, with a crew from Belgium, was the only entry in the “Unlmited” class. After running a close 2d to Henkel the first day, they found the bottom of a ravine on day #2 near the Copper Canyon and were out of the competition. The crew was fine, and the car was recovered banged up but intact (photo).
The biggest surprise of the weekend, perhaps, was the performance turned in by Paul Hladky (Wyoming) in his bright yellow Studebaker. After struggling through the Carrera last October in a ’64 Corvette, Paul bought Jerry Churchill’s prize-winning Turismo Mayor Studebaker and had it prepared by Jamie Hamm’s shop in Michigan. Paul decided to “take it easy,” he said, by using a 302 Chevy engine, instead of the full 366 c. i. motor allowed in a Turismo Mayor car.
Paul finished in 2d place overall, about ten minutes behind Henkel in the BMW, but over five minutes ahead of the Historic “C” car in third place. Paul was so fast that the inspectors planned to measure his engine’s displacement after the race, the only car so honored. This was only Paul’s third stage rally, too.
A question about Turismo Production cars was thus was raised: given the recent changes in the Pan Am rules, which the Express follows for Pan Am cars, what is the difference between a Turismo Mayor car and a Turismo Production car?
Chief Inspector Victor Perez reportedly ruled that the only difference was the size of the engine (305 vs. 366 c.i.) and transmissions (4 speeds vs. 5 speeds). This was seen as bad news for those who have built a Turismo Production car in the past few years.
Notable accomplishments of the weekend included:
Taz Harvey (Northern California), driving a Datsun 510, finished fourth overall, and first in class (Less than 2.4 liter, non-turbo), besting many cars, new and old, with much greater horsepower. Taz, a Nissan and Mazda dealer and experienced racer, may have a problem showing off his many trophies with BMW printed all over them. Apparently, his new navigator, Francisco Rivera, was able to hang on and guide the bullet in the right direction.
Stewart Robertson and his navigator-spouse, Linda (Vancouver) finished 6th overall in their beautiful TM Studebaker.
John Magnuson and Seth Scally (Southern California), crewing a non-turbo Mazda RX-8 with only 1.3 liters, finished a very respectable 7th overall, over five minutes ahead of his nearest competitor, Steve Waldman (Nevada), in a Mitshubishi Evo. Steve took second in the Less than 2.4 liter turbo class, and chalked up another top-ten finish. John finished 2d in the 2.4-4.6 liter class, following the winning M3.
Steve Waldman and his wife Gail are also the organizers of the Nevada Open Road Challenge and the Silver State Classic Challenge, the 90 mile open-road races, in Nevada during May and September of each year. For more info go to www.sscc.us. Points earned in the Express are counted toward the international trophy offered by the SSCC.
In addition to the winning BMW, the top Mexican finishers were Arturo Mora and his son Arturo, Jr. in a VW running in the Less than 2.4 liter turbo class. They finished 5th overall and 1st in class, and would have finished higher if not for a blown rear tire at the beginning of a stage late on Sunday. They finished the stage on three tires and a battered rim, and estimated they had lost about two minutes.
John “Chip” Fudge and his navigator-son, Taylor, (Oklahoma) overcame minor engine hiccups to finish 2d in Historic C and 9th overall.
John Gregory and his navigator-son, Jake, (Vancouver) put up some excellent times in their ’65 Chevy II Nova SS, but unfortunately they lost a throwout bearing the second day during the morning’s transit to the Copper Canyon. On Sunday, they re-joined the race to finish 2d in Historic “C” for the day.
John “Jack” Rogers and his navigator, Carolyn Strupp, (Indiana) finished 13th overall and 4th in “C.” Jack is the proud owner of several records at Bonneville, too. Carolyn’s husband also helps to keep Jack’s car running right.
Racing as the only Original Pan Am car, but having a great time, were David Buchanan and Raffi Najjarian (Northern California) in their beautiful ’54 Chrysler hemi. They finished all the speed stages -- with class -- and ended up in 15th overall.
And, finally, it is always heartwarming to see the extent of cooperation among the competitors and their support crews who literally work with other crews to keep all the cars running as long as possible. Some of these crews have been coming down to this race for years, and have made many good friends among the other service crews.
Now the not so good news.
Paul Fruchbom and his experienced co-piloto, Karen Janakowski, (Southern California) rolled their Porsche 911 on the second day. Both are OK. Karen was participating in her first rally in Mexico, but she’s is a veteran of many rallies in the U.S., so we hope to see her back.
The other Porsches also had problems. The fastest one, driven by a Mexican crew, crashed the third day. The third 911 was having intermittent electrical problems. The car had only two speeds – very fast (80+ MPH) or very slow (15 MPH), with not much in between.
Kaming Ko and Stafford Galen (Southern California) could not keep their Dodge Dart running for much of the race, but they had a good time regardless. Their race engine was not delivered on time, so they rebuilt a block from the local “yonke” overnight and headed down to Mexico. They gave it the “old college try.” When this car is all sorted out, Kaming Ko, a very experienced racer, will have the car in the top ten in a future Express.
Stafford’s daughter, Katie, and her friend, Ryan Rust, participated in the Express Tour, where they learned a lot about rallying Mexican-style in their Subaru STI. They plan to be back in full competition next year.
Last but not least is my old friend Helge Theiss-Nyland, and his navigator, Marcos Davis (Northern California). They lost their fan and water pump belts on the first day, which toasted the engine in their beautiful TM Studebaker. That’s a real pity, because they were also not able to make the Carrera last year either.
Of course, we missed many old friends and competitors who for one reason or another did not join us this year. However, several new, handsome faces were noted among the competitors, included singer Ana Gabriela Peralta driving the black ’50 TM Ford in only her third race.
The Question of the Hour
How do we get more racers to participate in the Chihuahua Express? This event deserves more support from the racing communities, especially in the Southwestern United States.
How do we get racers from the U.S. and Canada, in particular, to understand that the most dangerous thing about racing in Mexico is the racing, and not the drug cartels battling over turf along the borders?
Every year 19 million tourists visit Mexico, and if they stay out of druggie bars, the biggest danger is sun burn. Obviously, there are places in almost all American cities that should not be visited in the evenings without a SWAT team in tow.
Now it is time for each one of us to recruit just one more person to join us next year. Is that too much to ask to keep this race going?
In some cases we only need to convince spouses that it OK for us to visit Mexico.
After visiting Mexico for 13 years to race and play the tourist, and then living here in central Mexico for the last 14 months, I have not witnessed a single act of violence against a norteamericano or anyone else racing in Mexico. Certainly, the security in Chihuahua this year was extraordinary, but I would feel comfortable racing in Chihuahua without any armed guards along the route. We only need the cooperation of the local traffic police to make these rallies work well.
North Americans and Europeans should also be aware that there are another ten or more stage rallies in Mexico open to their participation each year. The only requirement to enter is the F.M.A.D. (FEMADAC) racing license we bought for the Express and use for the Pan Am.
Here’s an idea: instead of towing your car home after each race, leave it at a shop in San Miguel de Allende, like Mats Hammarlund’s or Euro Latino Racing, and fly down to race it in one or more of these rallies a year. It’s easy and economical! You may also rent a rally car from these shops, as well.
I will be looking forward to seeing many of you again in October!
San Miguel de Allende
April 4, 2012