No Race On Earth Is Like La Carrera Panamericana
Friend-of-Petrolicious Jeremy Heslup is a filmmaker par excellence, car enthusiast, adventurer, and all-round good guy. When he told us he’d be again following the La Carrera Panamericana, we asked, “Will you answer our silly questions?”
What follows is a lengthy interview and stunning photography that Jeremy was able to capture during his time down in Mexico. As if you needed any more convincing that the La Carrera Panamericana should be on your bucket list…
Petrolicious: This was your third year covering this event. What do you know now that you wish you’d known in 2013?
Jeremy: Frankly, I have no regrets. This is an event that you have to unwrap slowly, kind of like a Christmas present. I’m not sure anyone could go for one year and get the full effect of what La Carrera Panamericana truly is. You may get a taste and either it’s sweet or sour, but it’s certainly unlike anything else you’ve ever tasted before, and soaking it up in the way I have been lucky to have done the past three years, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Petrolicious: What advice would you give someone who’s about to sign up for an event like this?
Jeremy: Everyone will always tell you to expect the unexpected, but it’s more than that. For me, this is an event that isn’t even really about cars. This is an event about the people who participate in it. For three years now I’ve been trying to liken the Carrera to something that people could understand who may have not been there. The best thing that comes to mind is imagine a 2,000-mile road trip through a foreign country, with 1,000 of your closest friends, and spec’d vintage race cars through mountains, deserts, colonial towns, and everything in between.
To answer your question, the best advice I can give is to have fun, it’s serious racing, it’s completely exhausting, and there’s no way to predict what Mexico will throw at you, so just be prepared to turn everything you know upside-down for a week and enjoy the ride.
Petrolicious: What surprised you about this year’s event?
Jeremy: This only being my third year, I’m certain that each year has it’s own twists and turns that define it. 2014 couldn’t be mentioned without talking about the torrential rain that plagued the first 2/3 of the race. 2015 we didn’t have that problem, on the contrary, every single day was remarkably beautiful weather.
It’s also been cool to see how the race has grown in popularity among the locals. In 2013, we would run into people who weren’t sure what the race was and where it came from. This year, we weren’t even able to get shots we wanted in the city centers because they were too crowded with people—to the point where you couldn’t even see the cars.
This year was also the most competitive I’ve ever seen. Everyone is there to have fun in their own way, but more than anything, they want to win, and it was extremely close in some of the classes all the way up to the end.
Petrolicious: What unique physical challenges (fatigue, crime, speeding cars) does the Carrera present? How do you prepare for, or work around, them?
Jeremy: Transiting to a new city each night presents challenges even when it’s not a race. Many times, the roads between cities will also be the only roads to take and when they are closing them for the race, that means that you really only get one chance to get in front of it. If you fall behind as press, you’re pretty much behind the rest of the day, especially when the race is transiting at 125 mph on average
Petrolicious: Could an event like this happen anywhere but Mexico?
Jeremy: A lot of people say it couldn’t, but I’m not sure that’s so accurate. In a film I produced in 2014, pilot Taz Harvey said something to the effect that, “Mexico has just enough organization to do the race, and just enough disorganization to allow it.” I think that this race is very special to Mexico and because of the historic significance this race and racing in general holds in Mexico, it is the perfect place to hold it. Could it be done in another country? Maybe. Would it be anywhere near as special with the culture, the scenery, the people, the food? Not by a long shot.
Petrolicious: Why all the damn Studebakers?!
Jeremy: I don’t think that the original Carrera had many Studebakers participating. Of course, Ferrari, Porsche, Ford, even Lancia were all present, but the original race only happened for four years before it was cancelled. When it was revived, organizers wanted to keep it vintage, but also open it up to cars that were newer than 1954. The cutoff is currently 1972, depending on who you ask, but the Studebakers that compete are all around 1953 or 1954 models. Since they are essentially shells over Nascar chassis, they tick the box of aerodynamically efficient, period correct, and boy do they look cool roaring through Mexico. There are also some much larger Oldsmobile, Dodge and Lincoln / Fords from that era, but none of them can get as low or seem to go as quickly as the Studebakers.
Petrolicious: When filming an event like this, where you can’t control the action to fit your narrative, how do you decide where to cast your eye and structure your interviews?
Jeremy: The first thing to realize is that this is a race, not a film production. People spend tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars to participate in this event, and they are focused on doing just that. The race presents many opportunities to gather footage over 7 days, and frankly, unless we had a helicopter and 5 camera teams, we’re not going to get everything.
The first year we filmed the race, we followed one team specifically, so it made it fairly simple to know where to focus. The second year was for a sponsor with a much broader focus. This year, it was much harder to include every aspect of the race, but also great to get an overall perspective from many participants instead of just one.
This year we aimed to combine the intimacy of following teams, with the overall perspective of the race. I think we did a great job from the footage we captured,. The thing to remember is that once the cars cross the starting block, there is virtually no stopping until the finish line, so as long as we can squeeze in what we need at the service areas and in the cities we stay in, there’s really no problem capturing our narrative.
Petrolicious: If you only had one word to describe La Carrera Panamericana, what would it be?
Petrolicious: Now what if you had a whole bunch of words?
Jeremy: La Carrera Panamericana is a 7-day, 2,000-mile vintage road race through colonial Mexico that 1,000+ people participate in each year, supporting up to 100 vintage automobiles. If you like adventure, if you like traveling, if you like people, if you like culture, if you like racing, this is probably the foremost event for you at the moment (in my opinion).
Petrolicious: What are the people like that you meet along the way? Are the towns you pass through excited to see you?
Jeremy: You can’t participate in this race without making new friends. It’s almost like battle, everyone is in it together, there’s work to be done, and you have to make it to the next city. Things of course go wrong and it’s always amazing to see who comes to the rescue. Direct competitors will lend each other parts, even if that means potentially losing, just because that’s the spirit of finishing the race. If the participants are friendly, it pales in comparison to the locals you will meet in Mexico during this race. The cars are a point of understanding, common ground, something that is universal that everyone “gets,” and when something goes wrong, without a doubt, someone will help you fix it and get you on your way.
Petrolicious: Will you be back next year?
Jeremy: As long as they continue to hold this race, I’ll do my best to be back each year. It’s been a pleasure filming the race and I will probably continue to do so until the opportunity presents itself to drive a car in the race. It’s a shame that every country doesn’t have something like this, because in my opinion this is 100% the most fantastic way to see REAL Mexico and make friends in a week that will last a lifetime.
Special thanks to Jeremy Heslup for answering our questions and sharing his photography. You can follow Jeremy’s work at valkyrproductions.com, and @valkyrfilms / @jeremyheslup on Instagram. Photography by Jeremy Heslup.