Unfortunately, the golden era of motorsports competition has long since passed, taking with it the wild, dangerous epic endurance races that inspired an entire generation of racers. Cross-country gauntlets like the Mille Miglia, Targa Florio, and transcontinental sprints like the Peking-to-Paris were discontinued as driver and spectator deaths began to climb. Some of these races, including the Mille Miglia, are still run in a symbolic and sympathetic manner, albeit with less speed and less risks. On the other end of the spectrum, the legendary Carrera Panamericana still retains a very real risk of danger, as Valkyr Films’ “The Last Great Road Race,” illustrates.
Devised in 1950 as an epic, 2,000-mile road race promoting the new Panamericana highway, the original Carrera Panamericana ran just four years before mounting safety risks put a stop to the event. In the final year of competition, the event had evolved into a full-bore factory exercise, seeing specially-prepared race weapons from Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, and Porsche piloted by some of the biggest names in racing including Piero Taruffi, Mickey Thompson, and Juan Manuel Fangio.
The documentary focuses on Benton Performance’s Carrera Panamericana revival campaign, in which a group of experienced and hardy Porsche enthusiasts braved the trials of Mexico behind the wheel of a 1962 Porsche 356B. It might not be as dangerous as the original 1950s Carrera, but this is likely the most dangerous revival still being run. Unlike cars in the Mille Miglia, Carrera competitors must drive cars equipped with full-spec safety systems, including race harnesses, roll cages, fire suppression systems, and fuel cells.
In the documentary, viewers peek behind the scenes of Benton’s efforts. They’ve run this event before, but that doesn’t mean they’re immune from setbacks and the reliable and overbuilt Porsche still suffers breakdowns. At one point, a patch of spilled oil on the road sends five cars, including Benton’s 356, into a ditch.
In the end, for all the trouble and effort, there really isn’t a huge monetary payout. This is a race ran for self-satisfaction, not cash or prizes. It’s unbelievably impressive to place first, but in the end, just being able to finish the grueling race is the goal of many competitors.
Check out The Last Great Road Race below, and see what it takes to compete.