Pablo Escobar Was One Driver You Wouldn’t Want To Run Off The Track
Photos courtesy of Pablo Escobar
Anybody watching Narcos on Netflix? If you are, you probably already know it’s a pretty riveting show about the life and times of notorious Colombian drug lord, Pablo Escobar. In episode six of the second season, Escobar (played to perfection by Wagner Moura) isn’t doing so great. Forces both internal and external seem to be aligned against him and closing in, and Escobar dreams of a time when he and his deceased best friend and cousin, Gustavo Gaviria, were racing cars while Escobar’s soldiers were placing wagers on who would win.
Now, of course there is deeper context to the dream. While it is a dream, and one taking place in a television show no less, every scene should move the storyline along, and here it speaks to Escobar’s unwillingness to lose, but the interlude did get me thinking about Escobar’s car collection. While much of it was dispersed or destroyed after Escobar’s death in 1993, delving a little deeper led to the discovery—at least for this writer—that Escobar was not only a car collector, but also someone who once actively participated in motorsport in the driver’s seat.
In the 1970’s Escobar participated in Colombia’s Copa Renault 4, and after just 6 races, he found himself ranked 2nd on the championship leaderboard. It might not have been sheer will and enthusiasm that got him there, though. While all Renault R4’s taking part in the championship were supposed to be equal, as is the nature of spec series racing, some R4’s were a little more equal than the rest of the field. By likely sheer coincidence, Escobar’s lost positions due to a slower pace through the turns were handily recouped on the straights, where his Renault was visibly fastest. Nothing was ever proved of course, because who would have the guts to say anything? Yep, that’s what I thought.
The Renault 4 was originally powered by a 24 horsepower engine and its suspension was never intended for racing no matter how much fettling it was subjected to, so It would not be long before Escobar’s sights moved on to more powerful machines. He would later field a 1974 Porsche 911 RSR—the same car originally raced in the United States by Emmerson Fittipaldi in the ‘74 IROC series, as well as for a few years in the hands of different drivers in IMSA competition following that—which under the kingpin’s ownership was transformed into the Martini-liveried 935/slantnose-look that was so popular during the era. That car would be raced in various events around South America before Escobar’s day job caught up with him and made such activities like racing Porsches impossible to continue with.
We all know that racing is one of the most expensive sports to participate in, but it’s safe to say Escobar had the funds for it, and maybe a little skill too (with a sizable amount of help from intimidated inspection officials no doubt, as well as one anecdote wherein his competitors were bureaucratically stalled before the race preparations by having their papers checked by wholly uncorrupted police…). We won’t condone the horrific life of the world’s most infamous narco, but at least some of his money went toward motorsport (he did almost successfully fund an entrant into F1 before Ecclestone identified the paper trail as one with a lot of powdered residue stuck to it). And hey, who knows, maybe some kid would never have had the opportunity to see a faux 935 tearing up a hillclimb otherwise.
H/T to Daniel Palacio for scouring old newspapers to dig up some of Escobar’s racing history.