Culture

What Is to Blame for Paul Walker and Roger Rodas' Car Crash?

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Actor Paul Walker and racer Roger Rodas are dead. The cherry-red Porsche Carrera GT they were in on Saturday is now a burned-out carcass.

The link between Walker in The Fast and the Furious series and the manner of his death is of course ironic, thus feeding the news frenzy. His claim to fame was portraying an illegal street racer. He broke the rules and lived on speed.

In real life, he was a 40-year-old dad and car enthusiast. He died in a car driven by Rodas, a racing buddy and personal friend. Rodas was an experienced race car driver, but something went horribly wrong.

Humans seek truth. We want to know why. We want to know how. We investigate and piece together clues in hopes of solving mysteries, allowing ourselves to sleep better at night. In this case, two men paid with their lives and we are wondering whom, or what, we can blame.

Joy-riding and Human Error?

Some articles on the fiery crash are suggesting that the existence of rubber around the crash scene indicates that Rodas and Walker were doing doughnuts and that goofing off might have led to the crash. The local sheriffs have also stated that they believe “high speeds” were also a factor.

I am uneasy with the quick assumption that idiocy was to blame (especially since the existence of rubber in figure 8 patterns still seems unconfirmed). We don’t know the cause yet. The car may have failed! Something snaps, something else bursts, and there go the brakes. Even the best drivers are sometimes no match for velocity + a stationary object.

Legendary driver Ayrton Senna was probably one of the best F1 drivers to live and he was killed in his race car. It is believed that his car’s suspension failed and pieces hit his helmet. His visor was also punctured—possibly by a tie rod. Even thought he was one of the greatest drivers, there was nothing he could do to save himself.  In the end, he died doing what he loved.

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The Porsche Carrera GT?

The car that spelled doom for Walker and Rodas was a red 2005 Porsche Carrera GT. This car had a 5.7liter V10 engine. It produced 605 hp.

The Carrera GT was built for speed—a speed that is a lot higher than that dictated by most highway speed limit signs.  Imagine a Lamborghini Aventador never breaking 50mph and only fetching groceries from the neighborhood store for its entire life. Sad, right?

It’s practically a crime to imagine that scenario, honestly. The regular road isn’t the best place for cars like the Aventador or Carrera. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t allow them (it’s a free country), however putting a supercar on the regulated road is like barricading a racehorse in a barn stall for its entire life.  It’s severely limited and unable to do what it was born to do: go fast. It simply doesn’t belong there.

These cars are meant to break laws—both natural and posted speed limits. Frankly, they can be scary to drive because they have so much power. As the driver you can feel that the car wants to go fast—and it’s really hard to tell a sexy red Porsche no…

This tragedy might be an example of too much power in the wrong driving environment.

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The Car and Racing Culture?

Some people might blame the racing world or car culture—that these instilled a need for insatiable speed in both Rodas and Walker that led to a suspension of reason and a fiery crash. They might also argue that the movies Walker was famous for and their depiction of illegal street racing inspire people to drive erratically.

I won’t pretend that the The Fast and Furious series hasn’t probably influenced the behavior of some drivers around the globe—immature kids and over-confident drivers have decided to imitate what they see on screen on their local streets. Some walk away with insurance claims and speeding tickets. Others pay with their lives. However, I disagree that auto enthusiasts, car collectors, and auto-racing series promote reckless, dangerous behavior. In their purest forms, they promote control, concentration, and discipline.

People who are interested in cars or appreciate racing are not necessarily bigger risk-takers, nor are they more likely to die in a car accident compared to any other person who isn’t interested in cars or racing. The culture that celebrates racing and automobiles isn’t built on illegal, street-racing compacts with neon undercar light kits. It doesn’t live and breathe doughnuts, burnouts, and aggressive driving. Racing celebrates those with the most control in fast situations—the ability to fly around pavement at 180+mph and not lose concentration or control.

Yes, the men and women who get involved in this sport can be adrenaline junkies and risk-takers, but they are also very aware of the danger. They do it anyway. They train, practice, and continue to climb into the cockpit or driver’s seat because they love the thrill of speed and they appreciate the guttural purr when the engine comes to life. There is more to driving than a steering wheel and a pedal–it is math, psychology, and strategy.

People love to watch racing because it is an amazing sight: man pushing the boundaries of engineering, the human body, and human emotion. They must conquer fear.

To be a race car driver is to stare death in the face and accept that it may be an outcome. To watch racing is to bear witness to unyielding determination and faith. The fans and drivers who truly understand this know that you aren’t a race car driver just because you can operate a car at fast speeds—it takes skill and the driver must acknowledge that this love can kill.

Both Walker and Rodas knew these things. Whether it was a system failure in the car, driver error, or a combination of these things, Walker and Rodas both appreciated cars and they loved to race. Unfortunately, they both died, but, fortunately, it was doing what they loved: driving fast and furious.

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