The Fast and the Spurious

- BACKSEAT DRIVER By James Deakin -
There’s a chance this might be solved by the time it sees print, but I’m writing it anyway on the off chance that it may hit the right nerve of the right person at the right time, and who knows, it may even make a difference to someone I don’t even know in a place I will most likely never go to. I’m talking about some ambitious politician’s big idea to score points with Madam President by enforcing an antiquated ban on motor racing here in the Philippines in the hope that he or she will single-handedly solve the fuel crisis. And, by doing so, will also earn the undying admiration of the masses that can help put him or her in higher office. You know the drill.

Back in 1979, President Marcos declared a ban on motor racing during the time of fuel rationing. Desperate to save the sport they love, a team of very passionate racers, including Pocholo Ramirez, Vip Isada and Arthur Tuason, banded together to plead their case in a hope to reach a compromise. They argued that it takes more energy to power up a stadium for a basketball court than it would to hold a major motor race. Now, even though the opposing parties saw merit in their claims, they countered it by saying that it simply didn’t look good, and public perception was crucial during a time when people were forced to line up for fuel coupons. Fair enough.

But that was then, this is now. For one thing, in the Seventies, racing was considered to be an elite sport that was run only by a moneyed few that simply did it for kicks. Today, that couldn’t be further from the truth. It has become an industry. People’s livelihoods now depend on it. There are full time mechanics that fly around the world supporting Filipino teams, sending their precious money back home to school their children and feed their families, as well as Filipino mechanics now working for foreign teams abroad that got their training here. There are track staff, marshals, journalists and, of course, drivers, that have dedicated their lives to this. To think that after many years of painful struggle, just as those teams, drivers and track owners have finally earned the confidence of huge companies, along comes this killer blow.

Spare a thought for people like Ford, Addict Mobile, San Miguel Beer, Goodyear, Castrol etc. who have invested millions in the infancy of the resurgence of the sport, and have weathered out the growing pains, only to be told by some grandstanding politician on the eve of its popularity that, "It doesn’t look good". Or, to be more precise, "It doesn’t make ME look good". Think about the repercussions. Once again, we would manage to frighten off the last breath of hope of nursing an industry to maturity. And who would blame the sponsors for packing up their checkbooks and running a quarter mile the other way once the people in government change their mind in year or two and lift the ban as soon as one of our young drivers, like Michelle Bumgarner or Tyson Sy, start making more noise internationally.

Another thing is that toady’s fuel crisis is different to the one in the Seventies. It is not a shortage or rationing that we’re dealing with, it is a price crisis. If the government really wants to make an impact, why not limit our politicians to only one Suburban per convoy instead of their exorbitant entourages of gas-guzzling road trains they have following their every move, bullying hapless motorists in the process. If you counted the number of back up vehicles it takes to ferry a single politician from one place to another and multiplied that by the amount of power hungry road hogs there are in office, you will find that it far exceeds anything that the local racing community could ever compete with.

Racing is a business like any other. It just happens to also be a sport that Filipinos can naturally excel in. Aside from providing jobs, precious testing data for the industry as well as entertainment, it is also used as a valuable marketing tool to help sell more cars, clothing, watches, tires and other lifestyle products which help boost the local economy. The peripheral industries are just as important. Plus it also serves to educate our young, impressionable, future road users on the safety of motoring by demonstrating the responsible way to enjoy driving. Just think of the message it would send by forcing it underground.

All votes aside, I hope the government stops looking at the politics or perceptions and starts studying the facts. Had they done that in the mid-nineties and not been so self absorbed and vote hungry, they could have built a Sepang caliber racetrack instead of that white elephant in Clark, the Expo Filipino, which was reported to cost almost twice the amount and could have really put the Philippines back on the fast lane again.

We’re all hurting from the fuel costs. But killing an industry is not the answer. I mean, what’s the point of saving fuel if you’re going nowhere?

My, what an active readership we have! And because we’re welcoming a new Backseat Driver columnist this week, we tried to welcome as many comments as we could as well…

Saan po ba pwedeng magpa-ayos ng konting tabinging
magwheels? Thanks. — 09209012921 (You can try to visit Wheel Gallery along N. Domingo Street in San Juan. They have a rim repair process that can address minor dents. They did some magic on the rim of one of our cars recently.)

Some traffic lights in Buendia, C-5 and Quezon Avenue are useless due to the U-Turn slots. Let’s conserve energy by shutting them off. — 09175247584

I don’t believe that roads are safer with motorcycles around. They could always sneak into parts of the road where car drivers don’t expect. — 09189013737

I can’t take it anymore! Most motorcycles and riders really impose danger and are accidents waiting to happen. — 09189005665

Drunk drivers who cause road accidents should be guillotined. — 09268824481

Seminary Road leading to Quezon City General Hospital was widened for easy access. It is now blocked by double parked jeepneys, trucks and tricycles. — 09174725657

Why are streets being turned into pedestrian plazas e.g. Rizal Ave. while sidewalks are being turned into parking places e.g. Taft Ave. in front of La Salle? — 09184129789 (Because La Sallians are supposedly educated folk. Let’s try not to shame our alma mater now, shall we? — Dong Magsajo, LSGH Batch 90)

To Lester Dizon: While I’m in no way supportive of drunk driving, your comments naming the alleged offender are absolutely outrageous. — 09178561865

To Lester Dizon: That guy Neri is a punk. A lot of drivers in Manila are like that, and when challenged, turn out to be meek puppets. — 09175394575

To Lester Dizon: Your sister shouldn’t give another driver a dirty finger. In this country, it’s as good as a death sentence, especially if the other driver has a gun. — 09212011422

Can you feature the good and bad side of having a Nissan Safari TD42 diesel engine especially its engine specifications? Thank you and more power! — 09212851549 (On the market for a second hand car, are we? We’ll see what we can do.)

More accidents happen in just a week’s time, still no action has been taken to address drunk driving. — 09213049117

I kinda like reading your witty reactions after each message. Don’t change the format! — 09228881666 (Why, thank you! I still think it’s safer to comment only on the messages that pose questions, however. Less feathers ruffled and all that.)

Why do LTO (Muñoz, Nueva Ecija) officers flag down private vehicle drivers for not wearing seatbelts but turn a blind eye to PUJs who have no seatbelts at all? Because they are stupid! — 09267397099 (Okay, I see there’s no need to answer that particular question.)

Vehicle drivers have no concern at all for pedestrians, as if they’re the only ones using the road, they even ignore pedestrian lanes. — 09198511150

Can you please tell me your views on the Hyundai Matrix? — 09154373691 (We promise to — after at least one of us gets to test-drive it.)

Speak out, be heard and keep those text messages coming in. To say your piece and become a "Backseat Driver", text PHILSTAR<space>FB<space>MOTORING<space>YOUR MESSAGE and send to 2333 if you’re a Globe or Touch Mobile subscriber or 334 if you’re a Smart or Talk ’n Text subscriber or 2840 if you’re a Sun Cellular subscriber. Please keep your messages down to a manageable 160 characters. You may send a series of comments using the same parameters.
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