Day 7- race to the finish!
Yesterday was our final day and it started early and ended late. Really late! As in, we caught on fire on the last speed stage and ended up crossing the finish arch dead last!!! But we finished.
Here’s what happened…
We started the day in San Luis Potosí. I was driving, Mark was navigating. We had a 3+ minute gap to close between us and the 3rd place car in our class. So, our goal for the day was to close the gap and get a podium spot in class.
Everything was going great until we noticed that we’d lose oil pressure every time we turned left. We thought we solved it by adding more oil at the first service stop (dip stick read down one quart). We ran the next two speed stages without incident and went into the final stage having closed the gap and then some. After a quick lunch of Mexican KFC (yum!) and a little fuel, we lined up for the final speed stage of our epic adventure. 5,4,3,2,1 go!! Blasting up La Buffa, everything is going great and then boom! All of a sudden the car fills with smoke. Like an idiot, I ask Mark, “you think that’s okay?”. He replies, “we’re on fire! Pull the fire system!” Thinking about the huge mess those integrated fire systems make once engaged, I pause and hope the smoke will just go away. Again Mark yells, “pull the fire system!” Again I do nothing and keep driving. Mind you, this all takes place in about three seconds and 50 yards. Then Mark takes matters into his own hands and pulls the magic red handle on the dash and… Nada, zip, nothin’. (We took the pin put under the dash. Duh. ) We’re still on fire and the handle has been pulled and it’s time for plan B! Panic. Actually, we didn’t panic. We just drove on a short distance till there was a safe, clear shoulder and stopped. Then we jumped out and got the good news and the bad news. Good news: the car and its humans were NOT on fire. Bad news: about twenty yards of Mexican roadside grass WAS on fire! Now, of all the amazing, beautiful and hilarious things I’ve seen in four years of racing the La Carrera, my new all time favorit is Mark in helmet and full gear stomping out the line of fire with his racing shoe shod feet. It was like a fire-enhanced River Dance! He is quite talented.
I ran off down the road to warn the coming cars that we’d dropped oil (that’s what caused the smoke – hot oil splashing on hot exhaust). Luckily it was a small patch but with cars coming at full speed I had to slow them down or it could have been a repeat of the pile up from earlier in the week. So, while Mark did the fire dance, I waved my arms frantically, ruining the times of but hopefully saving the cars that raced up the hill. Joined by Mark and a spectator who got our whole comedy show on video (I wish I’d had the presence of mind to get his email address) we alerted the last of the competitor cars and then waited for our own crew to come collect us. These were painful and wonderful minutes. We managed to find the source of the oil leak (spill) but had no way to repair it. The adapter plate that takes the oil filter had come loose and was no longer tight to the engine block. Even if we could have tightened it back on – we had no new oil, having left about five quarts on the roadside. So, we sat back and took turns encouraging each other as good friends do. “It’s the journey, not the destination”, “there’s always next year” – that sort of verbal shoulder rubbing. Truth be told we were both bummed that we weren’t gonna finish after all those smiles and miles. Lucky for us, our crew chief Tom wasn’t giving up so easily. After about 45, platitude-filled minutes he arrived with Jose and Eric and they promptly fixed the adapter and topped off the oil. Jiffy Lube has nothin on these guys!
So, back in the car we jump and even though the speed stage was long over and I’d even changed into shorts and flip flops, we figured that we could at least finish! ( RECOMMENDATION: do not try to drive quickly on a twisty Mexican road in flip flops! ) Safely down the hill and now in civilian traffic we honked and curb surfed our way to the finish arch. We were literally the last car to cross under its own power (a wrecked Alfa came a little later on the back of a flatbed). Let the party begin!!! We’d finished the 2012 La Carrera Panamericana!! Ole!
For the next two hours we celebrated in the streets with our friends, old and new. I was grateful and humbled by the number of competitors who came and found us to say how concerned they’d been as word of our roadside roast had spread quickly. The little Taxi has its fans and we are so appreciative.
Several beers and a wonderful team meal at La Garufa (the Argentine steakhouse in Zacatecas) later, and we finally started to come down off of our adrenaline high. But wait! There was one more surprise in store for the Taxi team that wouldn’t give up. – Apparently, we’d done better than just close that time gap. We’d created a time cushion that was large enough to absorb our delayed finish and still have us 2nd in class for the day and 3rd in class overall!! Well, either that or their time keeping is all messed up. either way they called our names and we were amazed. Happy and amazed. Just goes to show you that it really isn’t over until its over.
And so it goes with this year’s edition of this blog. Almost over. I want to thank the whole team, Eric, Tom, Jose, Debbie and Kiley for putting up with us and keeping it light and fun. You guys were total newbies to this but you kicked ass like veterans! yAnd a big thank you to all the folks at home who helped us get here and are keeping an eye on our regular life while gone (Brian, Flo, Conrad, Frank Z, Angelo Z, Dodge, Jon, Rick, James, Tasha, Molly, Kathryn, my mom, Bryce, Cathleen, Sabrina, Josh and more that my hangover is keeping me from remembering at this moment). Thank You!! And lastly Thank you! to all the wonderful and amazingly friendly people we meet and see each year (Jochen, Manuel, Frank, Eva, Paul, Nancy, John, Renee, Big Dan, Taz, Rudy, Russ, Mike, Bernt, Lalo, Monica, Gabbi, Diego, Diego senior, Victor, Sergio, Raul, Carlos, Angelica, Doug, Phil, David, Lauren, Carson, Linda, Stewart, and so many more) we miss you already and look forward to seeing you again next year.
And finally, finally – thanks for reading along ( Bub, Kay, DaveB, Roddy, Todd, Sherri, Joe, Dean, Scott B, Debbie’s mom, Swirl friends, and more). I hope I haven’t bored you too much with my babbling on. I am blessed to be able to do this and sharing it is one more reason it’s so much fun.
Lastly, the last, last, last thank you. To my dear friend and co-pilot Mark Colbert. This guy made me laugh for thousands of kilometers. He told me his life story three times. And listened to mine just as many times. He never once, missed an opportunity to sincerely thank the time keepers and police along the route “mooch-ass grass-e-yass!” He took to navigating like a pro and drove even better. On more than one occasion he told me that if I ever needed it, he’d give me a kidney – his way of saying “I love you man”. His happiness pushed us down and road and his quick thinking kept us in the hunt. Thank YOU Mark. If you ever need a kidney, or a translator for that matter, I’m here for you.
(Fist bump – explosion- falling sound).
Hasta la vista!! Till next year everyone.