Remembering Pedro Rodr?guez July 11, 1971

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Nuremberg: A Sunday 30 Years Ago by Carlos Eduardo Jalife Villalón -Scuderia Rodríguez - México (Taken from the biography "The Rodríguez Brothers" soon to be published) In Nuremberg, the second Sunday in July is race day, just like ...

Nuremberg: A Sunday 30 Years Ago

by Carlos Eduardo Jalife Villalón -Scuderia Rodríguez - México
(Taken from the biography "The Rodríguez Brothers" soon to be published)

In Nuremberg, the second Sunday in July is race day, just like Memorial weekend at Indy or mid-June weekend at Le Mans. It is a long held tradition and although nowadays we see the DTM Touring cars, there were times when faster cars would run there. 30 years ago this Sunday, the Nuremberg 200 Miles were run, a race belonging to the Interseries championship for Group 7 cars, the continental equivalent to Can-Am. The organizers tried to get Pedro Rodríguez to race, he was a box office magnet, but couldn't get him to agree until Herbert Müller, a swiss driver who owned 2 Ferrari 512 prototypes -bought from Steve McQueen after he finished filming his Le Mans movie- said he would try. The mexican driver, 31 years old, was recently crowned as driver champion for a second consecutive year in the World Makes Championship running for the John Wyer Automotive team, using the brutal 5-liter Porsche 917K, having vanquished Ferrari and Alfa completely. Pedro had scheduled a Can-Am race for BRM but his car wasn't ready and when Herb called he was looking at a rare free weekend. Herb, who ran the sicilian Targa Florio with Pedro a few months ago, offered one of his Ferraris. Pedro agreed but asked for a retainer because he knew his name would strenghten the box office take enormously. The organizers agreed to give him a payment of over 5,000 dollars and Pedro simply announced to his teams he would race at Nuremberg. Nobody really objected, nor Wyer nor BRM, because they had nothing planned for him and they knew Pedro considered a non-racing weekend as something akin to torture.


Paris 1000K 1962. Pedro and Ricardo Rodriguez at their latest victory together, the Paris 1000K in october 1962. Pedro is on the left and there are two mariachis celebrating with them. It was their second victory in Paris and came 10 days before Ricardo died. Photo by Scuderia Hermanos Rodriguez.

Pedro went alone to Paris, left his Porsche 911 in a friend's house and went to Germany, arriving friday night to the hotel Müller reserved for him. In Nuremberg he checked the circuit, the Norisring, during Saturday practice. It's an easy track, good for high top speed since it resembles an inverted `L' with hairpins on either end, one very wide and the other extremely narrow, measuring 3,940 meters (2.455 miles). Probably its most interesting feature are the old, slowly decaying, concrete stands -where Hitler would supervise the marching nazi youths a few decades earlier. The track runs in front of these stands and behind too, making a small `S' turn which has a bridge allowing access to the stands right at the "S" corner. It is an extreme track, high speed in the straights and heavy braking in the hairpins, medium speed average, no problems. After first practice in his 512M, Pedro was delighted with the car and said "With this one, let's see someone dare to beat me" and his old love for Ferrari shone again. Among the drivers, there are some famous names and some drivers he has lapped time and again in Sport car races: one is his former teammate Leo Kinnunen with a Porsche 917 spyder -who would say before practice begins that "the `S' turn with the bridge is stupidly dangerous"; Müller in his 512M; Peter Gethin who had lost his Can-Am seat to Peter Revson but has a McLaren run by Sid Taylor for Castrol; Chris Craft with a McLaren M8E from Ecurie Evergreen of Alain de Cadenet; Jo Bonnier in his Lola T220; George Loos in another M8E with an 8.1 liter engine; Teddy Pilette in another M8E belonging to team VDS, new mount after crashing an M8C at Zolder; and some other minor drivers. When word gets out that Pedro si there and he will start in the front row, ticket sales boom and the extra money taken easily covers Pedro's retainer. That night at dinner with some drivers, Müller among them, Pedro would say: "It is a pity there's no rain. Rain makes driving more fun and more dangerous too" and he knows that under the rain nobody in the world comes close to him.


Le Mans 1964. At the start, Pedro Rodriguez taking the lead in a Ferrari from NART. Photo by Scuderia Hermanos Rodriguez.

Early Sunday morning, Pedro sends a telegram to México, to his dad -Don Pedro- in which he says: "Run today at Nuremberg; call after the race". He arrives at the Norisring, signs many autographs and spends time watching the ambiance and checking his rivals. The race is to be run in two 100 miles heats so there no need to stop for refuelling in the heats. He is sure he will win, the Ferrari 512M is very fast, and when the time of the start draws near he meets with Müller to talk tactics. A real simple plan: take the lead and win. He also meets Kinnunen; time has mellowed the rough relationship left when Leo left JWA, and after wishing each other luck and predicting their own victory, they agree on dinner after the race with the loser paying the bill. Pedro is happy, it is a minor race he should win easily, unlike the hard racing he usually has in his schedule, and this could be a well paid racing holiday.


Monaco 1967. Pedro Rodriguez in a Cooper-Maserati fore Ricardo died. Photo by Scuderia Hermanos Rodriguez.

The cars line up for the start and when Pedro gets the flag he immediately takes the lead. No trouble staying in front and each lap his margin over second place is larger. In this track 41 laps make 100 miles and by lap 5 Pedro is already passing backmarkers. By lap 11 Pedro goes right in front of the finish line followed by Kinnunen and Craft, gets to the narrow hairpin and catches german driver Kurt Hild on the way to the `S'. Suddenly his car runs wild, crashes against the wall at great speed, twisting spinning and hits the concrete stand coming back to the side of the track and catching fire in a couple of seconds.

Here there are several versions. Some people suggest the Ferrari lost a wheel due to poor maintenance, theory supported when they find the wheel about 250 meters from the crash, too far to get there just by the impact. Others suggest that while lapping the backmarker, this one didn't watch his mirrors and unvoluntarily cut across him, sending him to the barrier. Hild's white Porsche certainly touched Pedro's car when he was spinning but it was a minor contact after the initial crash. Hild would later say: "I saw Rodríguez approaching and ran to the right so he could pass (on the left).It was a normal passing situation happening about 400 meters (1/4 mile) from the crash. I was doing about 220 kilometers per hour (138 mph) and when the accident happened I was about 120 meters behind the mexican" and in his car there are no other signs of action, although it would be possible Pedro could have swerved to miss him and lost control when the wheel broke due to material fatigue; or maybe the wheel got loose after the impact but nobody remembers seeing it bounce afterwards, so there's no way to tell the cause of the accident.


Le Mans 1971. Pedro Rodriguez (#18) in June 1971 at the start of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, for the last time, in the amazing Porsche 917LH, in front of Vic Elford. Photo by Scuderia Hermanos Rodriguez.

The thing is his Ferrari catches fire and a brave marshall -called Helmut Schlosser- gets close to fight the fire while the cars go by at racing speed a few meters from him. The marshall puts out the fire helped by some other track marshalls, he and two of them suffering burns, one of them serious ones. Two minutes elapsed before the rescue team opened the car and they have to carry Pedro because he has lost consciousness, he is burned all over, wet with fire fighting foam and with various fractures all over the body. The first doctor to take care of him tries to keep him alive and will bring him back 3 times in the rush to the hospital when Pedro's heart stops. A bit after they arrive, his heart stops for the fourth time and there's no way to bring him back this time, although the medical team tries for a long time.

Pedro is dead an the news slowly run around the world. People cry for him everywhere and his body will be received in Mexico by a crowd of hundreds of thousands who will take him to his resting place where he will meet brother Ricardo, almost nine years later. He's gone, leading until the last second of his race. 30 years later, his place rests empty, his shoes have not been filled.

© CEJV 2001

See the Pedro Rodríguez pictures gallery in our photos channel.

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Series CAN-AM , F1 , HISTORY , LEMANS , ROADRACING