The start of La Carrera Panamericana in Oaxaca.

La Carrera Panamericana and The Mzcalero

Chris Mason continues the story of how he and his brother came to race in Mexico’s challenging road rally, in a 1965 Volvo Amazon 122S called The Mzcalero.

What was the next step in your plan to compete in Mexico?

We needed a car and we needed racing licenses. The license was easy thanks to Dennis Macchio, our driving instructor at Bertil Roos. The car essentially found us.

In a racing paddock, someone always has something for sale and the Targa 66 was no exception. A couple of guys saw that Jeff and I were having fun with the Volvo. They told us a friend of theirs, Sam Nelson, had a 65 Volvo Amazon for sale.

The Volvo Amazon raced the 2011 La Carrera Panamericana.  A Volvo Amazon B20 engine.

This Amazon had competed in 2011 and won its class. With a recently rebuilt engine, it was an appealing prospect. There’s a YouTube video showing the car followed by a Mini on a Carrera speed stage. The Mini caught up to the Volvo and was honking to get by. The Mini ducked under the Volvo before a turn but the Volvo didn’t see him, turned in and clipped the Mini. The Volvo ended up with a little crease on the right fender. The Mini was totaled. I thought, “I’m definitely not buying a Mini.”

We looked at a Ford Escort and almost bought a BMW 2002 but they seemed too normal. We kept coming back to the Volvo. We thought, “Who races a Volvo? ”

The dent that was left from the crash with the Mini.  The Volvo Amazon engine bay.

So you went to Sam and bought his car?

Not exactly. I was in Europe and nowhere near the car. Kent asked a friend of his, who was a former Jamaican rally driver, to check over the car and send photos. The rally driver, Robert, gave it a thumbs up so I bought it.

I thought we were good to go. I was wrong.

The car went up to Vintage Racing Services in Connecticut. Tim Ritchie, the chief mechanic at VRS took the car for a ride and looked it over. I’m a car enthusiast. Tim is a car expert. His assessment wasn’t as rosy as Robert’s.

Testing the Volvo before La Carrera Panamericana at Roebling Road Raceway.

Together, we started to rebuild and improve the Volvo. The experience has been extraordinary. Working with Tim has taught me a lot about the craft of race mechanics. To race a car, you need to trust the car. To trust the car, you need to trust your mechanics. The attention to detail and thoroughness of the work done at VRS is exemplary and over time that trust has been built. It makes a difference when you are at 100 mph on a straight heading into a blind corner with a cliff, because Volvo’s don’t fly.

Did you win La Carrera Panamericana?

No. Our goal was to finish the race with the car and ourselves in one piece. This we accomplished. We were elated. What a ride. Over mezcal and dinner that last night in Mexico, we were already making plans with Tim and the crew to return the next year.

The Volvo Amazon racing the 2019 La Carrera Panamericana.

The Amazon, now named The Mzcalero, had performed well, but there was ample room for improvement. We did improve the car and we did return, but that’s a story for another time. If you can’t wait, watch the film we made about it.

The Mzcalero racing the 2019 La Carrera Panamericana. 

La Carrera Panamericana has influenced Chris’ life in many ways. As a result of this experience, he and his brother Jeffrey have founded a new business, Driving La Carrera. Their adventure also brought him to learn about the Piston Foundation and the decision to dedicate his time and talent to the Foundation’s mission. If you missed the first part of his story, read it here.

Chris Mason at the finish of the 2019 Carrera Panamericana

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