Chinetti's worry is understandable; on the other hand, it may be argued that it is something of a miracle that Ricardo's self-esteem is not greater than it is. Humility and a cool, reasoned approach to racing are scarcely to be expected in a 20-year-old who, self-taught in his perilous art on the open highways of Mexico, has been steadily encouraged by a father as ambitious for his success as any backstage mother for a child actor.
The public image of Ricardo has inevitably been tinged with the Sunday-supplement assumption that he moves in a wonderfully glamorous world, awash with complaisant film starlets, where his valorous reputation and Latin good looks are irresistible. His father, Pedro Sr., is usually identified as a "millionaire industrialist" and the Rodriguez residence as a palatial mansion.
The facts are somewhat different, as this reporter learned on a recent visit to Mexico City, but the Rodriguezes are nonetheless a remarkable family. It had been the writer's impression, from previous exposure to Ricardo, that he was a genuinely likable and comparatively unspoiled young man blessed with perfect manners and a fine natural poise. This view was confirmed in Mexico City when we met in front of Pedro's auto showroom.
Papa Rodriguez has set up both boys in automobile agencies- Renault for Ricardo, and Hillman for Pedro. Ricardo pulled up in one of his Renaults. He jumped out, grinning amiably. He is a small, compact and muscular lad, with a plump, boyish countenance, and he looked sharp in a gray suit of Italian cut and black Italian shoes. He shook hands with his Yankee visitor and waved to Pedro Jr., who is slightly taller than Ricardo but resembles him closely and is as reserved as his brother is bouncy.
Papa Rodriguez, a short, stout man who wears sunglasses indoors and out, arrived presently in a big, befinned black Chrysler with tan leather seats. After the brothers dutifully gave him a peck on the cheek, the group piled into the Chrysler and drove a few blocks to an ornate restaurant. The doorman sprinted over to take Papa's car; inside, the headwaiter gave Papa a deferential bow, and soon a very late lunch was ordered.
Papa was obviously a man of parts, but about his fortune he was reticent. He had been, he said, the engineer of President L�zaro C�rdenas' private train during the C�rdenas administration in the late 1930s. It had been his good luck after World War II to acquire real estate that turned out to be a very good thing, and now he had extensive holdings in the Federal District and Acapulco. He also represents several foreign business firms in Mexico, in precisely what capacity he would not specify.
Yes, it was true that he was on good terms with President Adolfo L�pez Mateos: "He makes us the honor of being our friend. He wishes the boys to keep on racing, because this is good for our country all over the world. We are proud to see our flag displayed where we race. Sometimes our anthem is played—in places where many people have never heard our anthem before."
That evening a few former schoolmates of Ricardo's pretty, dark-eyed wife, Sarita, dropped in for dinner at the small apartment they occupy near his auto agency.
After a good deal of feminine table talk by the girls, which Ricardo took with patience, he finally squeezed in a word about his racing career.
"I was just 15," he said, "when I went to California in 1957 for my first races outside of Mexico. At first they laughed at me. But when I beat some of the best Americans, they said, 'Oh, the new Nuvolari.' "