Remembering Ronnie Peterson, Gonzalo Rodriguez on Sept. 11

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September 11 stirs the emotions like few other days on the calendar. As Americans, we tend to get caught up in the patriotism and the emotions of what happened on Sept. 11, 2001.

Racing has its own form of memorials on Sept. 11, in the form of two very talented drivers who we lost on that day many years ago. Ronnie Peterson died Sept. 11, 1978, and Gonzalo Rodriguez passed on Sept. 11, 1999.

Peterson (pictured), better known as “Super Swede,” was a World Champion-in-waiting in the 1970s. His stint at March to open his career, including a runner-up finish in the 1971 World Championship, led to an opportunity with Colin Chapman’s all-conquering Team Lotus, where he won 10 Grands Prix.

As Mario Andretti’s teammate in 1978, Peterson won twice and entered the Italian Grand Prix just more than a race win back. But the tragic crash just after the start of the race, where Peterson’s Lotus went in several different directions and caught fire, was enough to claim his life. He died in hospital the day after the race, aged 34. A tribute video compiled on the 30-year anniversary, five years ago, is below.

Rodriguez, a Uruguayan driver, starred in 1999 with a famous victory in the F3000 race at Monaco with the lesser-rated Astromega team. His performances caught the eye of Roger Penske, who invited him to America to drive a second CART Champ Car at Detroit and Laguna Seca in the second half of the season.

At Detroit, Penske announced Gil de Ferran and Greg Moore would be his new drivers for 2000, but still wanted to provide Rodriguez an opportunity to showcase himself to other team owners. A point on debut with a 12th-place finish was a very good result, indeed.

Come Laguna, though, Rodriguez had an accident in practice with a stuck open throttle at the notorious Corkscrew corner. His car front-flipped over the barrier and catch-fencing and landed upside down on the other side. Rodriguez was pronounced dead from a basilar skull fracture.

That was a particularly gut-wrenching time for Penske, whose other future driver, Moore, was killed later that year in the season finale at the California Speedway. Rodriguez was on several teams’ shortlists for drives in 2000. Sadly, neither was able to fulfill their potential in the new century.

Al Unser Jr. back in IndyCar after a decade away: ‘Life is very good’

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There’s been somewhat of a hole in Al Unser Jr.’s heart ever since he retired from racing in 2007.

It was a void, something was missing.

But now, after a decade away from racing, Unser has found the right medicine to fill that hole in his heart: he’s back in the racing game again.

No, he’s not driving again (although he does participate occasionally in vintage races), but the two-time Indianapolis 500 (1992 and 1994) winner is definitely back in the IndyCar world.

And he couldn’t be happier.

“For me, it’s a dream come true,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “Since I stepped out of the race car and retired from racing, there’s been something missing from my life, and it’s racing.”

Unser has hooked up with Harding Racing. The team competed in three races last season as a ramp-up for a full 17-race effort this season. While Unser’s official title with the team is “consultant,” he’s involved in so much more.

His main role is as a driving coach to 2015 IndyCar Rookie of the Year Gabby Chaves. But he’s also involved in so many other areas, including helping the team obtain sponsorships and much more.

He then added, “I’m involved in every sense of the word except actually driving the car. And I’m happy about that because I’m too old to drive the car.”

Unser, who won CART championships in 1990 and 1994, is now 55. He’s so involved with his new job that he even moved from his native New Mexico and has relocated to suburban Indianapolis.

Not only is it a new start for Unser, it also is for Chaves. After running all 16 races in 2015 for Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian, he competed in just seven races for Dale Coyne Racing in 2016 and only three races for Harding Racing last season.

But he definitely impressed the team, with a fifth- (Texas) and ninth-place (Indianapolis 500) finish in the first two races and 15th (Pocono) in the team’s final run of the season.

That’s why when Harding Racing decided to go fulltime in 2018, Chaves was their pick for behind the wheel. And Unser was their pick to help guide him to potential stardom in the series.

“(Team owner) Mike Harding is definitely a person that when he decides to do something, he does it right,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “The potential for this organization is through the sky. We’re all working really hard here and we see the potential.”

And as for Unser?

“Life is good, life is very good,” he told IndyCar.com. “We’re back full force, eager and better than ever.”

Click here for the full story about Unser from IndyCar.com.