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Driver in Paul Walker crash was racer in his own right: Roger Rodas: 1975-2013

Sun, 01 Dec 2013

You know the headline: “Fast and the Furious” star Paul Walker died Saturday when the driver of the red 2005 Porsche Carrera GT that Walker was riding in lost control in a business park drive, wrapped the Porsche around a tree, and then the Porsche burned.

But less likely to make headlines was the death of the driver of the car, Walker's friend for nearly a decade, Roger Rodas, who became Walker's formal business partner and financial advisor in 2007. The crash, which occurred about 3:30 p.m., was near the end of a charity event that the tuner and racing company they operated – Rodas was the CEO -- Always Evolving, announced on the company's web site:

“Our next open house and car meet is November 30th from 10 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. We will have complimentary doughnuts and coffee. Please call ahead to confirm as we may need to cancel due to weather or track events. Please bring a new toy with you as this meet will be a charity toy drive! Thank you!”

It's a shame they didn't have to cancel.

According to a story in “Wealth Management,” the two met when Walker, at a track event, noticed that Rodas was driving a Porsche GT3 that Walker used to own. They ended up racing together at events like the 25 Hours of Thunderhill, but his schedule limited Walker's racing mostly to time attack-type events at Buttonwillow or other California tracks.

Rodas, though, moved up through the ranks from Porsche-only series like the Pirelli Driver's Cup, where he won twice in 2012, into the Pirelli World Challenge, leading a two-car Ford Mustang Boss 302S team, sponsored by Always Evolving and charities that he and Walker supported. Rodas raced car number 52; his co-driver, in car 75, was Erik Davis, owner of Autotopia, a massive, near-legendary car collection in Los Angeles that supplies cars for movie and TV productions.

Both rookies in the series, Rodas finished 13 in GTS points, Davis 16th, despite missing the races in St. Petersburg and Lime Rock. Has Rodas competed in those races, he almost certainly would have been the series rookie of the year. Rodas' highest finish was fifth at Toronto, impressive since the GTS class has such veteran drivers as season champ Lawson Ashenbach, Jack Baldwin and Peter Cunningham. By sad coincidence Rodas and Davis raced against another Mustang driver in the class, Roger Miller, who died unexpectedly at age 44 last August – Miller's family owned the Utah Jazz and Miller Motorsports Park near Salt Lake City.

Rodas, who turned 38 a month ago, and his Rodas Group company were well known in financial circles in California, largely through an enduring relationship with the investment firm Merrill Lynch. According to his biography, he was “instrumental in developing waste to energy power plants and wind farms in Central America,” and he was also owner of Cielo Recycling, a Central American recycling plant. He was ranked by Barron's three years in a row as one of America's top financial advisors.

According to Wealth Management, Rodas reorganized Walker's financial portfolio, described as a “hodgepodge of personal investments.

“Meanwhile,” the article continues, “Rodas helped Walker find a creative solution for maintaining his passion for cars and racing without having them become a financial burden. Maintaining and transporting his fleet requires several full-time professionals, and Walker had been funding the operation out of his own pocket. Rodas suggested an alternative: that Walker create an incorporated race shop that is bonded and insured, and that brings in income by also doing work for other drivers. 'Paul said that what he saved in expenses covered all of his racing costs last year,' Rodas notes.”

The two also joined forces in charity work, with Rodas creating the “Reach Out World Wide” foundation for Walker. Led personally by the actor, his foundation sent help immediately to disasters such as the earthquake in Haiti, and the tsunami in Chile.

What brought Walker and Rodas together, though, was their love of cars, and that ultimately had fatal consequences.

Roger L. Rodas leaves a wife and two children.

By Steven Cole Smith