Yesterday there were seven races scheduled and they assembled on white-marked squares in front of the starting line. Engines growled, drivers and their mechanics checked last minute adjustments to the helmet cameras, the rear view mini-cams for the tires and surprisingly, steering wheels as we’ve come to know them, are gone. In place are hand-held ‘Game-Boy” like control panels with LED panels and buttons for various controls and gauges.
With a flash of the green flag, they were off, down the first straightaway and the coming twists and hairpin turns. Puffs of smoke from overheated fat tires and violent braking action appeared in the curves and small yellow flames of exhaust fumes burst from the rear-mounted engines when they accelerated around and out of the bends. Off in the distance, in one of the third heats, dust and smoke appeared where a car had missed a turn. The yellow caution flag waved from several vantage points along the circuit, until the pace car assembled the pack again and the track was cleared and declared safe for the completion of this race.
The day went on, the classes of cars changed and the leggy and low-cut spandex-clad logo-girls advertising their sponsor’s wares came and went. They were in a class of their own: some from Uruguay, Brazil, Costa Rica and Venezuela. At any given moment, whenever a race was over, they’d pose by their country’s car and driver, often waving a national flag. It definitely was a ‘Kodak moment’, if only that Kodak weren’t bankrupt. Somehow, a ‘Sony’ or ‘Panasonic moment’ just doesn’t have the right sound.
The last race was won by “Lush” Saravia, who took his victory lap with the checkered flag. The crowd cheered but the most adulation was showered upon the diminutive Veronica Valverde, walking along with her proud mother while she took off her racing overalls. She, her father and brother, posed for photographs. Her father, of Costa Rica and the racing team’s owner (with two F3 FIAT/Abarths on hand) beamed: imagine your sixteen year old daughter pushing a $125000 race machine at 115 mph. A star was born or made. She didn’t have any spandex-models to book-end her: she didn’t need any, as she was the real star of this day.
The ‘Sky-box’? Unbeknownst to us, we were in the Cofino box: when we arrived, it was empty and not adorned with any sign. Later a banner was hung on the entrance and one of his sons was there but we didn’t know it and he didn’t advertise his presence or ask us to leave. The Cofino family has a ‘Kennedy-esque’ presence in Guatemala. His father died here in a racing accident. His grandfather died in a plane crash and his great-grandfather was executed by Army troops in a clandestine affair in Antigua in the early years of the last century. Pedro Cofino, of whatever generation, rest in peace. Veronica Valverde, go on to triumph and the winner’s circle. Sweet sixteen, indeed.