Murto: Racing belongs on track

Saturday’s death of “Fast and the Furious” star Paul Walker should serve as a reminder that excessive speed and racing belong on the racetrack, not on public roads.

Walker, 40, was a passenger in a Porsche Carrera GT when the car slammed into a lamp post, slammed into a tree and burst into flames in an industrial park in Valencia, Calif., shortly before 3:30 p.m. The accident happened within earshot of a charity car show and toy drive event to which Walker was returning to sign autographs.

The driver of the car was 38-year-old Roger Rodas, CEO of the Always Evolving custom car and race-prep shop, which was hosting the charity event. Published reports indicate that the Porsche was on display at the charity event and Rodas and Walker took it for a ride. Depending on the source, they had been gone for between five and 20 minutes.

Rodas and Walker were co-owners of the car shop, and did a lot of charity work together. They also shared the passion of racing and raced together in the Pirelli World Challenge Series. Rodas finished second in the 2012 Pirelli Porsche Driver’s Cup championship.

Though authorities stated that street racing has occurred in the area in which the crash took place, Rodas and Walker were not believed to have been racing. But authorities did state that speed was a factor in the crash, and early reports stated that the car may have been going as fast as 100 mph.

But there was also evidence that mechanical failure may have contributed as well. Witnesses reported a streak of steering fluid that led to the skid marks at the crash site. The skid marks went straight, indicating that Rodas may have lost steering control of the car prior to impact.

Much has been published about Walker, who was working on the next Fast and the Furious film prior to his death. But not much has been published about Rodas.

Besides being an accomplished racer, Rodas — who was a native of El Salvador raised in California — was an accomplished businessman. He was a Merrill Lynch employee and considered to be one of the world’s best financial advisors with an impressive list of clients, including Walker. He also owned a recycling plant in South America and was involved in turning waste into fuel.

It is ironic in a tragic way that the star of a series of movies that glorifies the cult of street racing would die in this fashion. The deaths of both of these men are a great loss; they routinely gave of themselves to a number of charities, and each leaves behind a minor child who is now fatherless. Thank heaven their recklessness didn’t take out any other innocent people.

Rodas and Walker knew better than to drive this way on the street. There are plenty of rich guys racing in series such as the Pirelli Porsche Driver’s Cup who would not be racing anywhere if they weren’t paying their own way; racing alone doesn’t make you a race driver. But anybody who has been around true racing should understand the dangers.

First of all, city streets, public roads and industrial parks are NOT racetracks. At a racetrack at least you hit a guardrail, a tire barrier or a sand trap and have a safety crew nearby. There’s a reason there are safety standards we try to maintain at racing facilities; and there’s a reason we no longer race on city streets or country roads without miles and miles of additional guardrail and catch fencing.

High performance street cars are not racecars. They may look sleek and have beefed-up suspensions, but they don’t have racing suspensions; they don’t handle as well as true racecars. Stock automobiles normally don’t have roll cages, nor do they have fuel cells to help prevent explosions such as the one that took Rodas’ and Walker’s lives.

Finally, reckless driving on public roads endangers innocent people. An out-of-control car at 100 mph can take a lot of other cars with it if the incident happens in traffic. Those other cars could be driven by you, your mother, your sister or grandmother.

The Fast and the Furious films are fiction. They glorify the cult of street racing, which is a criminal activity and endangers innocent people. If you want to race your car, go to a drag strip, or a local road course like Summit Point when they have open track days. Keep the excessive speed and racing on the track and off the streets and public roads.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.