In 1950, the Mexican section of the Pan-American Highway was finally finished. The Mexican government were keen to celebrate, while taking the opportunity to raise awareness of their achievement and encourage international business. It was thus decided that a race along the new highway would be organised: The Carrera Panamericana.
The original route was over 2,178 miles long, crossing Mexico from north to south over five days. 132 drivers from all over the world travelled to take part. The inaugural race attracted professional drivers from Formula One, sports racing, rallying, hill climbing and other motor sports, alongside many unsponsored entrants. Nine of the competitors were women.
The Carrera Panamericana is known as the world’s most dangerous race for a reason and in that first race in 1950, four people died (three competitors and one spectator). Nonetheless, the race ran for a further four years and the death toll grew to 27 people. The race consequently has the morbid claim to one of the highest death rates per race in the history of motor sports.
By 1955 car technology had advanced meaning increased racing speeds without acceptable levels of safety. Drivers were somewhat reckless in their desire to win and crashes would often remain unattended for many hours before authorities realised.
Quite separately, in 1955 the world of motor sport witnessed the tragic Le Mans disaster, in which one driver and 83 spectators were killed with 120 more injured. Perhaps the Le Mans disaster was a wakeup call to organisers because after that, the Carrera Panamericana was cancelled.
The Modern Carrera Panamericana
It would seem that 33 years after it was cancelled, racers became nostalgic for the Carrera Panamericana because, in 1988, the race was revived. The modern course runs on 2,000 miles of public roads over seven days through central Mexico.
With the dark record of poor safety hanging over the Carrera Panamericana, drivers are now encouraged to take greater precautions. Cars must have six point roll cages, racing seats, fire-suppression systems and fuel cells.
Competitors have to wear fire-resistant suits of two or three layers, HANS devices (head restraints) and, somewhat ominously, label their helmets and car-sides with their blood types and allergies!
Despite these precautions, the Carrera Panamericana is still an extremely dangerous race, unlike anything else on earth. Perhaps that is part of the appeal as it remains popular, with drivers travelling to compete from all over the world. This year is no different…
When does it start?
The 2016 Carrera Panamericana race runs from the 13th to the 20th October. If you’re interested and want to keep up with the action, follow the official race Facebook page here.
Good luck to all the competitors…rather you than us!