In this country, 1954's active season of dirt and concrete, closed ovals and open roads, peeling treads and fading brakes has ended for almost all the racing drivers and the growing hosts of people who watch them.
But not for John Bentley, SI's reporter on motor sports, a man as firmly attached to the whole roaring subject of automobiles as he often is to the steering wheels of the many cars he drives.
A couple of Saturdays ago, not at all ready to retire to the winter warmth of garages and showrooms, Bentley was off on a special assignment for SI. He was heading for Tuxtla Gutierrez near the Guatemalan border and the start of the Carrera Pan-Americana Mexico, the great Pan-American road race, the Kentucky Derby of such races in this hemisphere and comparable to Europe's famed Mille Miglia.
Although not entered in this grueling, five-day test, the longest regularly scheduled race in the world, Bentley had strong hopes for playing hare to the approximately 150 thundering hounds which start the race. Using generous head starts and driving straight through many hours while the contestants slept, Bentley planned to keep one jump ahead of the field all the way north—given the good fortune to avoid the hazards which can beset a driver on the 1,900-mile course before it ends at Ciudad Juarez. His car: a 1954 Ford. His crew: Mrs. Bentley, his pit manager when he races and a racer in her own right; James McGee, his mechanic and one of America's outstanding car doctors; and Juan Guzman, Mexico City photographer.
November 29, 1954
Reporter Bentley wanted the chance to study the twists and turns of the challenging road and hoped to arrive at each stage of the race in time to talk with the drivers coming in, with many of whom he has a personal acquaintance. In this highly international profession, Bentley would probably have to use most of his working knowledge of five languages to gather material for the story of the classic run, which SI will feature in next week's issue.
Recently Bentley clinched seventh place in the national standings for amateur drivers regardless of class. With 4,000 points, compiled mostly in his 1100 Siata (see illustration), his record included nine firsts and 11 seconds in class G.
A lifelong student and indefatigable chronicler of the automobile, Bentley is understandably happy about the current U.S. surge of interest in sports cars, whose 130,000 enthusiasts, rapidly increasing in number, have brought back for amateurs the almost-vanished art of driving for its own sake. The skill and fun of motoring, Bentley feels, is a pleasure which the qualities of the sports car can best exploit—and so offer to a potentially limitless audience the exhilaration of the world of drift and downshift, cams and castor oil—the fast and fascinating world Bentley regularly reports for SI.