Thursday, July 13, 2006

The death race.

In this month's issue of Harper's (hard copy only, so no link), Jake Silverstein recounts his experience following the Carrera Panamericana, a car race across Mexico. Originally run in 1950 as a way of showcasing Mexico's newly built cross-country highway, the speeding cars resulted in so many fatalities that it was nicknamed "The Death Race" and discontinued after five years. The Carrera was restarted in 1988, though in a nod to its old-timey roots, only vintage cars, like those they would have had in 1950, are allowed to compete. The cars are not the only things that have stayed the same--from Silverstein's account, it seems that the drivers are just as likely to wreck today as they were in 1950. The descriptions are often funny, but also veer towards disturbing, and the article never quite deals with the swath of destruction that the reace leaves in its path. Who are these (rich, and often old) people who smash up these cars, risking their lives and others'? Are they just bored--the adventure traveler taken to the extreme? Here's a representative sample from the article:
That night in Oaxaca the news at the drivers' meeting was that a Red Cross medic had been killed. On the day's third speed section, a Studebaker piloted by Axel and Nicolas de Ferran, who some said were brothers and some said were father and son, had blown its engine and dropped its oil; coming along behind them, Frank and Evelyn Currie, an elderly married couple from southern California in a white Mustang, had hit the the slick, spun wildly off the road, and slammed into an ambulance parked beside the shoulder. Racecar drivers do not make good witnesses, and reports varied. According to all, the Curries had not been injured, but it was possible that they were under house arrest in Chiapas somewhere, or that they were undergoing a battery of tests in a Tuxtla hospital, or that they had been remanded into the Inspector Jefe's custody and were headed toward Oaxaca. The de Ferrans had fled the country or were at the hotel checking their email.... As I talked to racers around the hall, the Red Cross medic came back to life, briefly flourished, and then lost both her legs.


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