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Uncensored CART Commentary
by Ed Donath

Remembering Speedy
9/16/02

Laguna Seca: “The Pass” in its signature series of corners known as the Corkscrew, wherein Alessandro Zanardi suddenly—shockingly—stole what appeared to be Bryan Herta’s imminent breakthrough victory. Gil de Ferran, after his own icebreaker begging the crowd of revelers and well-wishers in the winners’ circle to hush in an effort to allay the fears of the infant daughter he had taken in his arms. Paul Tracy magically emerging there as the next one to watch. Jacques Villeneuve setting the stage for a Championship sophomore season. PPG Cups regularly decided alongside the grandeur of Monterey’s Pacific coast.

Laguna Seca: The unthinkable untimely death of Gonzalo Rodriguez on September 7, 1999.

* * * *

“It was the impression of those on the scene that he was killed instantly on impact with the wall,” a grim Dr. Steve Olvey, Director of CART Medical Affairs officially reported.

For some still unclear reason Rodriguez veered off course during a practice session. Subsequently, his Lola/Mercedes slammed into an outside wall near Turn 8 in the aforementioned majestic downhill spiral known as the Corkscrew. Then, Gonzalo’s Champ Car went airborne, cleared a concrete barrier, hit the ground nose first and finally came to rest on its roll hoop.

Just as suddenly and shockingly as Zanardi had passed Herta in those same environs, so too came the violent passing of 27-year old Gonzalo Rodriguez.

It would have been Rodriguez’ second FedEx Championship Series start. His first, also a Penske fill-in stint earlier in the year at Belle Isle—in which he bravely and unswervingly diced right up to the checkers to eke out a single Championship point—bade well for Gonzalo’s future in Champ Cars. One could only imagine how hard Gonzalo would fight for a better finishing position, let alone a victory.

Rodriguez was a proud Uruguayan who enjoyed his Americanized “Speedy Gonzalo” handle. In death he has been honored as a national hero not solely for his driving success—particularly in the prestigious F1 feeder F3000—but equally so for his undying work ethic, his unrelenting will to win and his unwavering support of less fortunate friends and countrymen. Even after tasting the jet-setting international lifestyle, Gonzalo not only remained a patriot but he never lost his likeable personality or his sense of humor.

“If I am to become a household name in the USA—and the world—then Champ Cars is where I must be. This is my big chance to show the world how good Uruguayan drivers are. My dream now is to stand on the podium in America and hear my national anthem,” Rodriguez reasoned in an interview shortly before his death.

Gonzalo Rodriguez, from a nation that most people in our ever-shrinking world still know virtually nothing about, had become a global Uruguayan role model and an ambassador of his country. Of course, his fellow Uruguayans miss him most, but even jaded multi-national veterans of the Champ Car Wars, inspired by his enthusiasm, openness and hard work, have been deeply saddened by his death.

It would be a fitting memorial tribute to the memory of “Speedy Gonzalo” if a certain piece of music, Orientales, la Patria o la tumba (English translation: “Countrymen, the Fatherland or death!”) would be played during podium ceremonies at Laguna Seca CART events.

Please click here --> to find the stirring National Anthem of Uruguay. As you listen, imagine Gonzalo Rodriguez standing atop the Laguna Seca podium proudly holding high his beloved nation’s flag.

* * * *

Postscript: After the original version of this tribute to “Speedy Gonzalo” was published on the first anniversary of his death I received the following note from his sister, Maria “Nani” Rodriguez:

Thank you for your kind and insightful article about Gonzalo. Gonzalo enjoyed very much speaking with the press and getting to know the journalists all over the world. He knew how important they were for a successful career in racing and always appreciated the way they treated him. This article shows how kind you were to him.

Thanks again,
Nani Rodriguez

Copyright © 2002 by Ed Donath and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

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