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Andres Diaz races the 1997 Dodge Viper he bought new at MotorSport Ranch in Cresson, TX earlier this year. (Ross Hailey for The Globe and Mail)
Andres Diaz races the 1997 Dodge Viper he bought new at MotorSport Ranch in Cresson, TX earlier this year. (Ross Hailey for The Globe and Mail)

My car Andrés Diaz

Cellist is passionate about racing his Viper Add to ...

Andres Diaz

Profession: Cellist and educator

Age: 49

Hometown: Born in Santiago, Chile, and raised in Atlanta

Notable achievements

  • Started studying cello at the age of five
  • Served five years as associate professor of cello at Boston University and co-director of the Boston University Tanglewood Institute Quartet Program
  • Founding member of the string group Diaz Trio, which was nominated for a Latin Grammy Award in 2009

Currently

More Related to this Story

  • Professor of cello and head of the strings department at Southern Methodist University in Dallas
  • Holds the Koerner Chair in Cello at The Royal Conservatory of Music; instructs conservatory students at The Glenn Gould School and the Young Artists Academy
  • Will perform as part of The Royal Conservatory’s Mazzoleni Masters Series in Toronto on March 23, 2014*

*****

Andres Diaz is one of the world’s top cellists.

Since winning first prize at the 1986 Naumberg International Cello Competition, Diaz has performed with symphony orchestras around the globe – including the American Symphony at Carnegie Hall, Russia’s Saratov Symphony and the New Zealand Chamber Orchestra. He has toured Chile, Venezuela, Argentina, the Dominican Republic, Canada and New Zealand.

Now, he’s the inaugural Koerner Chair in Cello at the prestigious Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. The internationally renowned educator and performer joined the school and the academy for the 2013-2014 academic year.

When on stage, Diaz plays a 1698 Matteo Goffriller cello with a bow hand-made by his dad, Manuel. After curtain call, you’ll find Diaz in an unexpected place – on the track. He’s an avid racecar driver whose instrument is a 1997 Dodge Viper.

What sparked your passion for racing?

My father, who is a violist and a wonderful musician and teacher, also had a degree in mechanical engineering.

From the time I was old enough to sit up, he would put me inside the engine compartment of his old Volvo and I used to hand him wrenches. I started working on cars when I was really little. Then, when we came to the States, just to make a little extra money, my dad and I would take cars from a junkyard and fix them up and sell them.

I caught the car bug pretty early and then, when I became old enough to drive, my father got me a 1959 Volvo from a junkyard for a couple of hundred bucks and he said, ‘If you want to drive, fix it and make it run.’ So I completely took it apart and put it back together and the car ran.

It had 370,000 miles when I got rid of it. I sold it to a Volvo dealer in Atlanta and they kept the car in the showroom because it was one of the original Volvos that came to the country.

Cellist Andres Diaz with his son Gabriel Diaz, his “crew chief.”
 

Why did you buy a Viper?

I started buying different cars. Finally, I bought my dream car.

When the Vipers first came out, I just couldn’t believe it – an American car company was making such a monster. So I saved up and bought it.

I started modifying it almost immediately. I did engine and suspension work on it. Now, my son, who is 10, is my crew chief – he helps me work on the car. He loves it.

How much power comes out of the V-10 engine?

At the height of everything I had done to it, the engine was putting out somewhere close to 800 horsepower. The engine in that car has almost 100,000 miles. I don’t know if it’s putting it out now because it’s kind of worn-out.

Did you start racing immediately?

I took it to the track a couple of times when I first bought it. When we moved to Dallas, I met a friend, a father of one of my younger sons, who races Porsches. He said, ‘You should come with me.’ I joined up right away and that’s when I really started racing.

The car is no longer street-legal. It has racing brakes. It has racing suspension. It doesn’t have any exhaust, so it’s crazy loud.

I’ve had it between 135 and 145 [mph] on the track. On this particular track, the straightaways are quite short. It’s a 3.1-mile track and it has enough turns so it keeps the speed very low. I’ve had the Viper at Pompano raceway close to 190 [mph] many years ago. That’s a scary ordeal with the Viper. It’ll go that fast, but it doesn’t go that fast very clean. It tends to roam around the track a little bit, so it’s kind of scary.

What’s your best race finish?

Three or four times on Sundays, when a lot of people show up to race, I’ve come in second. … But there is one driver, her name is Lisa, and she’s been driving since she was a little kid. Her father and grandfather were race car drivers and she’s impossible to beat. She is so fast.

A girl beat you?

Yeah. Yeah. And you know what? I’m okay with it. It’s great! Some of the older guys don’t think that way. But I’m okay with it. In fact, I find it crazy attractive, if you must know.

Any accidents on the track?

No. What I’ve learned is if you’re going to overshoot a turn, you just drive straight through the grass. This is a big place. There’s grass as far as you can see in every direction.

If you go flying off, it’s better to drive straight into the grass than go into the grass sideways. If you go into the grass sideways you could hug one of the tires on a rut and you’ll end up doing a few flips. I usually go straight in, wait for the car to slow down and get back on. It’s been harmless that way.

What does a souped-up Viper say about you?

It would be completely confused. What is this guy up to?

I used to drive the car on tour. The interior of a Viper is very small. So what happens is the cello goes into the passenger seat face down ’cause it doesn’t fit the other way. My music bag goes underneath the cello and then in the back there’s room for a small bag for a couple of underwear. There’s very little room in the car.

I used to take the car all over the east coast – it was so fun to be on the road.

How did people react when they saw you pull up in a Viper?

I think some of them are blown away. I’m sure some think, ‘Oy vey. Who is this guy?’ Young people are always blown away with the car because it looks like the Batmobile.

What do you listen to on the road? Classical music?

No. I either listen to comedy, which I love, or news in the Mercedes I have. Or, if I happen to be in the Viper you can’t hear anything. I just listen to the motor.

The Viper is more than 15 years old. Isn’t it time for a new race car?

I found a second engine for it and then I also went in with a bunch of guys on a Mazda racer, which is like an open-wheel car. It’s like a miniature Formula One car. Driving a car like that is very different from driving a Viper. You don’t really use the clutch other than getting the car started in first gear. I have to go to the track and practise to learn how to drive it.

If your son grows up and says I want to be a racecar driver instead of a musician what would you say?

I would go to every race with him. And maybe they would let me play the national anthem.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Change: The date of Mr. Diaz's performance in The Royal Conservatory’s Mazzoleni Masters Series in Toronto has changed to March 23, 2014.

pgentile@globeandmail.com

Twitter: @PetrinaGentile

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