"Panamericana 1950" courtesy of Bruno Hancke on Youtube.
The Carrera Panamericana race has been called many things over the years, but the ultimate conflict is one of the most apt superlatives. The race was held annually from 1950 until 1954 on the Pan-American Highway through Mexico. It pitted cars of different classes against drivers from countries around the world. As a five day race with nine legs, it tested driving ability, stamina, strategy, and the drivers' desire to win. In addition to being an exhausting race, it was incredibly dangerous as it was raced on the open roads, through the desert and the mountains. There were many accidents and fatalities throughout the history of the race. This exhibit explores various aspects of this infamous auto race. But first, a quick overview of the race:
What: The Carrera Panamericana was one of the most grueling road races that has ever been organized. It was held on a mostly paved route twice as long as the famous Mille Miglia road race in Italy. Modified factory sedans and coupes competed against each other in various classes to finish the journey in the least amount of time.
Where: The race was run through the Mexican portion of the Pan-American Highway System, a highway meant to stretch from Alaska to Argentina. In 1950, the race journeyed from Ciudad Juarez to El Ocotal, going from North to South. The rest of the races from 1951 to 1954 were run in the opposite direction going from Tuxtla Gutierrez to Nuevo Laredo. Either way the race ran, it went through the center of the country and finished over 2,000 miles later.
When: The inaugural race was held on May 5, 1950 and ran annually for 5 consecutive years before safety concerns for both drivers and spectators became too pressing to ignore. The 1955 race was even planned to be included on the FIA calendar until the tragic crash at Le Mans that killed over 80 people swayed opinions the other way.
Why: The original goal of the race was to promote the near completion of the Mexican portion of the Pan-American Highway. The race was funded mainly by the Mexican government and meant to be a prestigious international event. It eventually attracted big name manufacturer efforts hoping to use a win as both a marketing opportunity and also bragging rights. The prize money was another motivating factor for drivers, as the prize fund for top finishers ranged from around 334,000 to 765,000 pesos throughout the race.
Who: This race attracted many big names over the years. Juan Manuel Fangio, Karl Kling, and Luigi Chinetti are a few of the overall winners who were also famous drivers in other types of racing. Other famous drivers who competed with varying levels of success include Bill France Sr., Tony Bettenhausen, Phil Hill, Carroll Shelby, Dan Gurney, Robert Manzon, Hermann Lang, and many more. The Carrera Panamericana was not just for famous drivers, it also attracted people who wanted to experience the excitement of this unique race.