Remembering Pedro Rodriguez
© Andrew S. Hartwell
When a racing driver gets behind the wheel he has every expectation that he will perform at his very best, and if he is possessed with the mind of a champion, he is convinced his abilities will see him prevail over the competition every time. In the annals of sports car and formula one racing history, an archive replete with volume upon volume of tales of champions past, there are several racing greats that seem to stand apart on pages alone, if you will from the rest. Some merit this special distinction for the championships they won, others for the cars they drove, and still others for the spirit and verve they displayed when engaged in competition.
A list of the greats would have to include the late Jo Siffert, a man who could make an underpowered Porsche move like a missile. And it would include the likes of a John Surtees who many considered to be the best formula one champion there never was. And Bruce McLaren would certainly be found here, not so much for the way he drove a racecar but for all the Canadian American Challenge Cup races and championships won by him and his technologically superior cars. And a collection of others would also have a claim on a place of distinction for the way they went about their craft, even if they did not win the most races or always run with the best teams. One of these is Mexico's fondly remembered Pedro Rodriguez.
Pedro Rodriguez earned his special place of distinction in the history of sports car racing because of the way he approached the job of going fast. Pedro, and his brother Ricardo, were two flames of brilliant talent that blazed a trail from their native Mexico to points around the racing globe. And each displayed the kind of verve and spirit and get-out-of-my-way determination that set them apart from the other drivers no matter what the event.
July 11, 2001 marks the 30th anniversary of the death of Pedro Rodriguez. A ceremony marking the loss of one of it's most beloved citizens - a Mexican representative to the world of all that is good in that country and in the spirit of it's hard working people - was held at the Mexico City site of his burial. They gathered to remember that Pedro was lost in an Interserie race held at the Norisiring in Germany on July 11, 1971. They remembered the way his car was edged into a wall by a slower car everyone else always seemed to be in a slower car than Pedro and how the ensuing impact led to his death. And they remember the man who could seemingly force his cars to go faster than the designers intended. And they remembered that they loved him then and they love him still.
Pedro Rodriguez was more than a man who finished 6th overall in two consecutive formula one championships (1967 & 1968). He was more than a former National Champion on motorcycles. He was more than a Ferrari, BRM, Cooper, Lotus and Porsche driver who racked up wins at such diverse venues as Bridgehampton, Paris, Daytona, Mosport, Reims, South Africa, Le Mans, Brands Hatch and Monza. Pedro Rodriguez was a man in perpetual motion. He was a man who demonstrated by his on-track vitality and his off track adventures - that there was just one acceptable way to travel on a race track - and through life; fast.
For this writer, many memories of Pedro Rodriguez were provided through the pages of the car magazines that reported the exploits of those who raced in the only kind of racecars that ever really mattered, sports cars. But there is one other memory of him that I have not forgotten in the 33 years that have passed since I actually watched this 'Mexican Meteor' in action.
In the fall of 1969, at the running of the Can-Am race at Bridgehampton, I vividly remember standing on the abundant sand that was so prevalent at "The Bridge" and watching a determined, persistent, impatient and screaming fast red Ferrari 312P rocket up to slower cars with headlights flashing as fast as any strobe light ever did. Pedro Rodriguez was coming through and the other drivers knew they had two choices: pull over or be run over.
Pedro made sure whoever was in front of him would soon realize they were about to be behind him. And he 'communicated' his intentions while rounding curves at deliriously high speeds and zipping along straights at a pace that would tire mere mortals in but a few laps time.
Pedro Rodriguez was a hard-charging, immensely talented, extremely popular and very fast racecar driver. And 30 years after his death there are countless students of sports car history who know who he was and what he accomplished. And they also know his intense flame was extinguished much too soon. Had he been allowed by the higher court of eternity to continue his love of racing - and of life itself Pedro Rodriguez may have become the standard by which all who followed would be measured. One thing is clear; he was certainly one to set the standard for determination in his time.
Pedro Rodriguez 1940 1971. Too fast through life; too soon goodbye.