Haunting Victories CART driver Adrian Fernandez races in the shadow of death

September 13, 1998

CART driver Adrian Fernandez is a superstar in his native
Mexico, even rivaling the Rolling Stones in popularity. When
Fernandez went with his two sisters and some members of his race
team to the Stones' Mexico City gig in February, people
recognized him as he walked to his seat after the concert had
started and chanted his name, "A-dri-an, A-dri-an," while the
band played.

Elsewhere Fernandez is known mostly as a driver who has had his
celebratory moments stolen by gruesome chance. Two years ago his
first win on the CART circuit was marred by two fatalities. Then
two months ago, at Michigan Speedway, Fernandez wrecked in Turn
4, and a tire and part of his suspension flew over a 14
1/2-foot-high safety fence into the stands, killing three people
and injuring six. The aftermath of that horrific incident put a
damper on his third career victory two weeks later at the Miller
Light 200 at Mid-Ohio. On average, two or three cars crash every
race, but the CART series hadn't had a spectator fatality in
more than a decade. "As drivers, we hate to see things like
that," says Fernandez. "We are human. We feel pain like everyone
else."

Fernandez sent condolence letters to the families of the dead,
and the sister of one of the victims, Sheryl Laster, even wrote
back. "It was such a nice letter, it made me cry, to be honest,"
he says. "She told me about the type of person her sister was
and that we should keep in contact. It made me feel very nice,
but it's very private."

Except for that tragedy this has been Fernandez's best season.
During his previous five years on the CART circuit, he had six
top five finishes and one win, and his highest finish in the
point standings was 12th. This year alone Fernandez has seven
top fives and two victories--at the Budweiser 500 in Motegi,
Japan, and at Mid-Ohio--and he is third in points after
finishing 15th at Sunday's Molson Indy in Vancouver.

Fernandez's first career win was at the 1996 Molson Indy in
Toronto. However, the race had been red-flagged two laps before
the finish because of a messy, four-car crash. Only after the
podium ceremony and postrace press conference was Fernandez told
that rookie driver Jeff Krosnoff had been killed in the accident
and that flying wreckage had also killed a race official. "That
was a big shock," says Fernandez. "My win wasn't important
anymore. For me, that wasn't my first win." It took 19 months
and 24 races for Fernandez to find victory lane again, at Motegi
last March. Fernandez, the son of a Mexico City auto-parts store
owner, raced on the Mexican road circuits as a teenager and then
in a few of Europe's developmental open-wheel racing series. His
win in Japan was the culmination of a 15-year journey to the
pinnacle of North American racing. Now he hopes for happier days
like that one.

"The team has done very well, but it's our first year together
and we're still learning," he says. "Next year we will work to
win the championship, and I think we can do it." If he does, the
people of Mexico will dance in the streets, and he will be able
to celebrate too.

--Loren Mooney

COLOR PHOTO: BILL GRIMSHAW/AP [Adrian Fernandez]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)