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Jamaica: The Go-Fast Trip

March 19, 2012

I had the opportunity in 1992 to cover an international road rally in Jamaica on behalf of Autoweek, the weekly magazine devoted to all things car-related.  Naturally I jumped at the chance; I had lived on the island in the early 80s and still had many fond memories.

This trip was one of a different sort; the rally route covered a huge swath of territory and lasted three days.  I had coordinated my attendance with local automotive enthusiasts and the Jamaican tourist board and was provided with transport by way of several vehicles, including cars belonging to medics, spectators, and government officials.  A colleague of mine came on the adventure as well and acted as a back-up photographer.

We began in Kingston, not the most touristic of destinations. The place has a bad rap, probably deserved, but the locals proved either friendly or indifferent.

1) Early on departure day near the stadium.  Not much hoopla.  In the background rise the Blue Mountains

2) Close-up of the stadium, scene of many famous events in modern Jamaican history

I wasn’t sure how uneasy I should feel, hanging in the King’s Town with expensive camera equipment draped over my shoulders, but the vibe was easy-going.

3) Waiting for the festivities to begin

Soon enough the rally fired up.  The drivers whom I accompanied, inevitably wanna-be racers, screamed down back road, racing through crowded villages at speeds reaching 60 miles per hour and causing all sorts of mayhem. The rides were great fun.

We passed through areas seldom seen by casual visitors, including sites where bauxite had been mined years earlier, old sugar plantations, and some of the larger towns.

4) Cane field

Especially interesting were the rural people.

5) Rastas trying to make a few dollars along the rally route

6) Cops looking dutifully scornful

7) Sugar mill with conveyor belt passing over the road; you can see the same set-ups in Hawaii

Every hour or so I saw sights that seemed more interesting than the cars I was supposed to be following.

8) Kids in the bush

9) Esso goes oxymoronic

But eventually I did what I was supposed to do and shot the car race.  Our theory was a simple one: find a spot with a road hazard and snap a pic of every car that navigates it.  Regardless of the race winner there would be one cool photo, at least, of the best car doing something radical.

10) A big puddle

Sometimes my faith in the drivers was touching.  I posted myself at a ninety degree turn on a dirt road for a few hours, never wondering if one of the cars would spin out and crash through my position.

11) Cornering

In St. Thomas parish the car I rode with, which carried the race medics, got stuck in a field and blocked the race for an hour or so.  Oops.

12) Blocking the route; at least the scenery was nice

Eventually the racers returned to Kingston. The only hold-up was a final police checkpoint just west of the capital. Large men with automatic weapons searched the car I was in; my Jamaican friends told me quietly to not say a word during the stop. I was happy to comply.

The magazine article was published in the States a few weeks later and so ended the great Jamaican car race.

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