This story both begins and ends on June 14, 2009 at the Autódromo Miguel E. Abed in Mexico. It is the story of a man that started the day at the bottom and ended it at the top before being subject to the cruellest twist of fate imaginable. This is the story of Carlos Alberto Pardo Estévez’s final race.
Before the story is told, we first must look at the protagonist. Carlos Pardo was born September 15, 1975 as the son of two Spanish emigrants. He was the middle child, his elder sister Marta Pardo is currently working as a motivational speaker, his younger brother raced in the NASCAR PEAK Mexico Series and had guest appearances in NASCAR Xfinity Series, his best finish being an 18th place at the last running of the Corona México 200, as well as the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
Carlos Pardo himself first appeared on the racing world in motorcycle competition, winning two championships in 1996 and 1997. In 1998, he moved to stock car competition, racing in the Neon Challenge. His debut season saw him finish in the top 10 of the championship, before winning his first title in 2000.
After a few more seasons, the arrival of a new championship would be a twist in Pardo’s career: NASCAR and Mexican promoter OCESA teamed up to establish the Desafío Corona (nowadays known as the NASCAR PEAK Mexico Series). Mexico’s premier stock car racing series would debut on June 6 at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez. In a season dominated by Pontiac (only one of the races were won by Dodge, the other marque competing in the series at the time), Pardo won at Autódromo Marco Magaña, Autódromo Internacional de Zacatecas, Autódromo de León and the Trióvalo Bernardo Obregón. This, in addition to seven top-five finishes, saw Carlos Pardo beat his own brother Rubén to the championship.
After failing to defend his title (without collecting a single race win), Pardo bounced back, winning four races in 2006. Two additional seasons with one more victory established Pardo as one of the elite drivers in the Mexican racing scene and saw his team move to using Fords. Pardo’s 2009 began with three top-ten finishes, including a podium finish at the Súper Óvalo Chiapas. While he was well behind the championship leader (and eventual series champion) Germán Quiroga who opened his season with two wins and a runner-up spot, it was a good start to the year.
In comparison, his weekend at the Autódromo Miguel E. Abed started badly: he finished qualifying on the back row of the grid. However, as any avid fan can tell you, starting position on an oval is not the most important thing. With 100 laps around the paperclip oval which, despite its very bumpy surface, is accommodating towards overtaking, there was more than enough time to fight his way back up the order. Indeed, that ended up happening: he made his way up the order with decisiveness and good fuel mileage; he eventually ended up in the lead of the race.
Three laps from the end, his lead was in peril. Talented racer Jorge Goeters (known internationally for his appearance in Indy Lights, where he managed a pole position, and guest outings in ChampCar and A1GP) was putting pressure on the leader on lap 97 of 100. The two made contact, Goeters bumping Pardo’s rear, causing a spin. Pardo’s Ford smashed sideways into the outside barrier of a corner of the infield course at over 200 kmh. The car immediately disintegrated on the barrier; the crash being a horrific visual for all spectators.
As Pardo was airlifted to a hospital in search of immediate aid, race officials decided that there was not enough time to fix the barriers and restart the race. In accordance with the rules at the time, the lap count was reset to the last lap completed under green flag conditions. This resulted in a top 5 of Carlos Pardo, Jorge Goeters, Rafael Martínez, Germán Quiroga and Rúben Rovelo. However, it would not be a victory worth celebrating for Pardo’s team Motorcraft, his family or the man himself.
Carlos Pardo was pronounced dead on arrival at a nearby hospital. He was 33 years old and left behind a daughter.
In response to this immeasurable tragedy, NASCAR Mexico renamed the race after Pardo’s demise the “Goodyear 200 en homenaje a Carlos Pardo“. Despite that, it is not controversial to say that it could have been easily avoided. Similar to the fatal accidents of Greg Moore and Gary Terry, an exposed wall was the point of impact. In fact, the contact between Goeters and Pardo was something that happens in the faster US-based NASCAR Cup series on the regular without major consequences.
Whilst the criticism is justified and needs to be pondered as a reminder of the need for perpetual vigilance in racing safety (for the record it must be noted, that the owners of the AIMA took the lesson to heart and fixed the most dangerous spots of the track in its oval configuration, even though it was (falsely) cleared of any foul play by NASCAR Mexico) it is not really the “point” of this story, if it can be said to have a point.
It cannot be said that dying at the wheel of a race car is a positive thing. There is no way of confirming whether his demise was relatively painless or whether his final moments were full of suffering, and speculating either way is tasteless and unbecoming. With that in mind, the meaning of the accident and Pardo’s demise is still something the author considers worth thinking about.
There is one undeniable fact: anyone reading this will die one day.
The author will die at some point as well.
Pardo, as part of his profession, most likely had great fitness and would have had possibly 50 years left to live, maybe even more. Those years were taken away from him on that Sunday, there is no other way to describe it. Saying that he “went out on top” is both clichéd and morbid in that situation.
Intrusive thoughts make many of us consider what it would be like to have our life end by falling from great heights or by swerving into oncoming traffic, just to name a few examples. The so-called “call of the void” is a scientifically-researched phenomenon, familiar to many (to very briefly summarise the scientific explanation: the brain performs an post-hoc rationalisation for unnecessary subconscious safety measures, like stepping further away from a ledge than is necessary, by imagining a desire for death)
However, fewer of us ponder how we want our lives to end. What led us to that point? What are we doing when it happens? What are we feeling at that time? The author is no different, he rarely uses his brain cells to ponder these questions. However, there is a good argument to be made that these questions are important questions. There is a simple reason for that: how we died is often a product of how we lived.
Pardo’s sister understood this and established Association RacePar9 to emphasise the legacy of his brother and to celebrate the ten-time NASCAR Mexico race winner, as well as starting her own projects inspired by his commitment to his passion. His death, tragic and avoidable accident it was, would not have happened without his passion for motorsport.
The same goes for all racing drivers that die at the wheel of a race car, the most famous recent example being the tragic fate of Jules Bianchi, who passed away six years ago on the date of publication of this Gravel Trap. Without the fire for racing, the spirit to take on the tremendous effort required to be a successful racer at any level and the undoubtedly many exciting, fun and enjoyable moments the sport gave him and the adoration of the crowds he gave the sport in return, Carlos Pardo, Jules Bianchi and many others would very likely be alive today.
However, would they want that? Would living a (much) longer life be worth giving away all those moments to them?
The author does not know.
He cannot know.
All the author can do is hope that everyone reading this is lucky enough to find a death that is the last act of a life worth living.
That is the lesson of Carlos Pardo’s final race. May it echo through our actions.
Memento mori, amici mei.
Sources: El Universal, markmanson.net, mediotiempo, nascar.mx, poblanerias.com, RacePar9, Scenedaily.com, WBUR, Wikipedia
Image Sources: NASCAR Mexico, Pixabay