Post 1945 Races
Richie Ginther


 Carrera Pan Americana de Mexico 1953 and 54

As Ginther explains, he and Phil Hill lived within walking distance as schoolboys. It was only natural that they would become' close friends, because they shared a consuming passion for cars and competition. Thus, when Hill was offered a chance to drive in the Mexican Road Race, it was equally natural that he would turn for a navigator to his friend, Ginther, who was just completing his service in the Army.The reader can't help but be fascinated by the picture of the embryo world champion and his later Grand Prix opponent driving together through their formative years. Ginther's recollections, as always, are intensely personal, filled with introspection and somewhat modest.

He stopped driving in 1967 and is now the manager of the Porsche racing effort in Sports Car Club of America competition. He was a fine driver, remembered by Lance Reventlow as being "absolutely first-rate," and by Roy Lunn as "one of the finest development drivers in the world."

The Mexican Road Race came about when I was awaiting discharge up at Fort Ord. I got a weekend pass and came down to L.A. and saw Phil. He mentioned Mexico and said, "Why don't you come to Mexico with me?" or something like that and I, of course, agreed. I had only raced twice before I went in the service - the first time being a hillclimb out at Sandberg up on the Ridge Route in an M G TC with a Clay Smith V8-60 in it and then I drove that same car at Pebble Beach in 1951.

Phil and I flew to Dallas where, the car was being prepared, in November of '53. The car was a 4.1 Ferrari Mexico coupe, and we helped finish the work on the car. But the thing is some of the major teams were down there a week ahead of time, and our car was trucked down to Juarez, the EI Paso border town, and we then drove the car down the Pan American Highway. What we did was create a log book driving down to the starting point, Tuxtla Guiterrez, running the course backwards. That was our practice for the race. When we came upon a particularly difficult section, why, we'd go beyond it, turn around and come back so as to go through it in the racing direction. It took awhile to get to Tuxtla, at least a week, I don't remember exactly, but that's the only way we could do it. Ours was a limited effort, and it almost turned out pretty well for our sponsor, Allen Guiberson.

The race stretched ahead of us, 1909 miles: eight legs in five days of racing, and elevation changes from 328 feet at Tehuantepec, the lowest point, to 10,482 feet at some spot between Puebla and Mexico City. To give you an idea, the course went through Ocozocuautla (after Tuxtla and Tehuantepec), Oaxaca, Yanhuitlan, Tehuitzingo, the high ground just mentioned, Las Cruces, Leon, Zacatecas, Durango, Parral, Meoqui, Chihuahua and Ciudad Juarez. The factory made our coupe that first year specifically for the race. It had aerodynamic devices on it for brake cooling and attempts at streamlining. It was quite fast, but we were totally outclassed by the factory-backed competition. Predictably, we didn't do too well that first year.

Puebla is where we stayed that first night and did whatever had to be done to make the car raceworthy again the next day. Then we were coming down out of the mountains towards Mexico City, and there was one spot which was pretty dangerous, and we probably didn't have it marked that well on our log. books. So, anyway, Phil lost it going into the turn and we went off the side backwards. The car went upside down and came back and righted itself on its wheels on a pile of rocks. You then saw two doors burst open and two people just split away from the car in 180 degrees from each other. We were both okay, neither one of us hurt or anything. And both of us were obviously pretty scared. We stayed there kind of looking down at the car there was a lot of smoke from being upside down, oil spilling on the headers, but no fire. Then we heard something else coming. This one was coming in such a manner that we knew it wasn't going to make the corner, either, even though other cars had gone by after our accident. I can't remember who it was, somebody in a big Lincoln and so, soon there were four of us sitting, down there on the rocks; and for quite awhile before the people came back down there to pick us and the cars up.

Juan Fangio's Lancia won that year, 909 miles in 18 hours, 11 minutes I didn't do anything after that, worked around cars as much as I could, but as far as my race-driving career, nothing really progressed during '54. I then went back to Mexico late that year, again with Phil, and this time we had the 4.5-liter roadster that really earned a reputation. That year, there was some doubt about the race being held or, I can't remember what it was, because the car was being prepared on the West Coast. Not by Phil and me, but by somebody else. They decided to run the car at, March Air Force Base in a road race. Then after that race was over, they decided it was going to Mexico. That was the 4.5 with the fin on the tail and, if you recall, it was white and blue.                                                        .

We took it down from Juarez and did much the same as the year before, plus we had the log book from the year before and we had updated it coming back the other way; So We were prepared. It seems like we were the first car through that year and one of the things I can really recail is the Tehuantepec straightaway.

That's very near the coast on the west side, very near the ocean and we were moving along, going at whatever the speed the car would do, at 160, 170, 180 mph, and the road was right at sea level so it was good and strong and Phil was straddling the centerline. That was our safety margin as the road didn't leave too much margin on either side for, say, a tire failure. So there was a local Indian lying with his feet at the edge of the road and his head at the centerline. We missed that guy's head by a foot or so and he's sound asleep with his sombrero over his face. I turned around and looked back in time to see him horizontal, only about a foot off the pavement. Every muscle came alive, flexed all at once, and he was still just as parallel as he had ever been. The last I saw, he was disappearing off into the jungle.

Then, that secortd year, when we came to that section of road near Puebla, near Mexico City, I was a total damper on the whole thing. When we came to that turn that we'd gone off of the year before, I was absolutely numb. I'm sure there was some kind of acknowledgment to each other when we were past, if it was just a raising of an eyebrow~ or just glance. But we were really too busy to elaborate.

We won several legs that year, outright, and set a few records on an overall time basis, and at the end of the event we were within striking distance of Umberto Maglioli, who won in a 4.9, I think, ,updated, privately owned Ferrari. We went through 13 states and the federal district of Mexico that year, and of 151 cars, only 85 finished. Maglioli completed the distance in 17 hours, 40 minutes and 26 seconds of racing time over five days, not counting the overnight stops, which were required. We were second.

In '55, I began to get rides of my own and I didn't have to go back, although I would have.          


Richie Ginther

Author: ArchitectPage