One thing I know about racing is that the passion a racecar driver experiences will never leave him until the day he or she dies. Speaking for myself, I found myself trying to learn about life and speed on the track, and a homily about self-perfection. But I also learned this passion is shared by many others, all of whom become an intricate piece of the grand scheme of all things racing. I learned my passion was unfulfilled without the support of so many others, and I’m not just talking about sponsors, engine builders, parts manufactures and such. I’m talking about the people who not only shared our passion for speed, winning and success. I’m talking about camaraderie, encouragement, loyalty and, most importantly, a lifelong commitment to a never-ending friendship.
This past week as I saw a message on my iPhone, my heart rate jumped. “Good evening, sir. I know it’s short notice, but we’re in Texas, and I was thinking we could spend some time in Santa Fe on our way back to California, if you have time.” I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was from Junior Rodriguez, my racing crew chief for many years who also had been my shop foreman.
Racing had done this, created one of the most memorable friendships a man could ever possibly hope for. Racing isn’t just about buckling into a racecar and going fast. There comes a time that we notice the trophies we won begin to collect dust and tarnish, but these friendships we created while racing maintain a shine and luster that outlast even the brightest stars. Reuniting with old racing buddies makes for some of the most exhilarating times imaginable.
After what seemed like an eternity, Junior and Mary arrived in the driveway. I don’t mind saying I found a lump in my throat. It had been at least six years since we had seen each other, but it seemed like a century. I suppose one can only feel this way when the memories are so remarkable.
It wasn’t long until we found ourselves sitting in the living room reliving cherished moments, events, successes, and even a few defeats. Not only had Junior been the most loyal employee I had ever had, but we traveled, raced, fished, and we both spent time with each other’s families and friends. My brother became close friends with Junior and always spoke highly of him. Even in later years while suffering with Alzheimer’s, some of my brother’s most revered memories were of times spent with Junior at the Laguna Seca Raceway.
We shared stories as we recalled them from many races that we competed in and won, including the Mexican Grand Prix, three consecutive Timex 12 Hours endurance races and Timex Series, then three consecutive 25 Hours of Thunderhill, season championships, many other races, and all those late nights spent working on the racecar. As we sat around the dinner table, we recalled our nostalgic, sentimental yearning for the happiness we shared while fighting sailfish, and other Mexican gamefish and memories of grilling them around the pool with each other’s family when we returned home.
It was sad seeing Junior heading out of the driveway, but I remember his words as we hugged goodbye, “Let’s do this again soon.” It felt quite satisfying, just as it did standing up on a podium holding up a trophy and seeing him projecting a big thumbs up, or giving him a high five after landing a big sailfish. Racing friendships are more like brotherhood, which will always stand out as the most important thing about racing.