I’m dedicating this post to Ricardo Rodriguez. He owns the record for the youngest driver ever at the 24 Hours of Le Mans at 17 years and 126 days old. The Mexican set the mark on June 20, 1959 and I hope to break it on June 14, 2014 at the age of 16 years and 202 days old.
Most of what I’ve learned about Ricardo comes from this incredible 607-page coffee table book called The Brothers Rodriguez written by Carlos Eduardo Jalife-Villalon from David Bull Publishing, which is ironically based wear I live in Phoenix, Arizona, just 2 miles from my home.
I’m guessing that more people know of Ricardo’s brother Pedro because the older of the two had a career that spanned from 1953 to 1971. Both were highly accomplished, though, making it into F1 with Ferrari, as well as other teams like Lotus and BRM. Between the two they raced at Le Mans 18 times with 4 podiums, including Pedro’s overall victory in 1968.
01. Le Mans 1959
Ricardo and Pedro drove as a tandem in an OSCA S750 TN made by the Maserati family. Just a few weeks earlier, young Ricardo gave his actual age during registration for the Nurburgring 1000km and he wasn’t allowed to race. He provided a different age at Le Mans, and although lore suggests that the organizers were suspect, he was allowed to drive. The brothers recorded a DNF on lap 32, though Ricardo returned to claim an overall podium the following year.
I still have a hard time telling the brothers apart in pictures, most of which are black-and-white. Pedro was two years older than Ricardo, but they look like twins. As they got a bit older and graduated from horses to bicycles to motorbikes and ultimately to cars, Ricardo often wore a yellow helmet, making it easier to tell them apart.
The Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, the circuit you probably know in Mexico City, is named after the brothers. It was built in 1962 and wasn’t initially named after the brothers. But, in the same year shortly after construction was completed, Ricardo perished there in a non-championship F1 event – the Grand Prix of Mexico – and the renaming occurred.
04. Spinning Records
Ricardo is also the youngest to ever podium at Le Mans, doing so in 1960. At the time he was 18 years and 131 days old. When he entered F1, he was also the youngest ever in that sport (that mark has since been eclipsed). He is still the youngest to start the 12 Hours of Sebring, which he did in March shortly before his Le Mans debut.
It’s hard to do justice to Ricardo’s story here. The best way I can think of to respect and honor his legacy is to perform at Le Mans next week in a way that would make him proud. Had it not been for the lack of safety in his era, he would be 72 years old now and very likely watching with pride.