Veteran racers lead NASCAR charge

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - October 13, 2012 - 12:00am

The NASCAR dream is just one step away from reality. 

The NASCAR Racing Experience World Circuit from March 1 to 3, 2013 will see the historic debut of veteran Filipino drivers Carlos Anton and Mike Potenciano at the massive Charlotte Motor speedway. The pair led five teams to sign letters of intent to join the event last week. Organizers were hoping for at least two teams of two drivers each to represent the country, and were pleasantly surprised at the response. At the latest briefing, other experienced drivers attended and expressed interest to join the exclusive opportunity to set foot in the iconic American racing competition.

The NASCAR Racing Experience is an entry level racing circuit which uses full-scale 865 horsepower Sprint Cup cars. This pioneering attempt to break into the Sprint Cup is being subsidized through the Spirit Sports program by its Filipino founder, Paul Moñozca. For the past year, Moñozca, a businessman and sportsman based in Singapore, and the respected Potenciano have been trying to bring the racing community together and find a more economic way to get Filipinos onto the world stage of NASCAR.

Aside from the potent tandem of Potenciano and Anton, younger champions Tyson Sy, Stefano Marcelo and a women’s team of Gaby de La Merced and Pia Boren were among the first to sign up hoping to fulfill a life-long dream to compete in the most popular racing circuit in the United States. Essentially, each team must find a way to fund half of their costs, in the amount of P3.3 million. The Spirit Sports program will shoulder the other half. According to Moñozca, the cars are already waiting for the Filipino drivers in Charlotte.

The Filipino teams will be responsible for preparing to compete in two 20-lap events. They will undergo rigorous training on March 1, complete with their own pit crews and communications equipment. On March 2, the team competes in the qualifying round dubbed the Spirit Cup. Each driver takes 10 laps around the track. The two teams with the best times will then compete in the World Circuit on March 3 against Singapore, Hong Kong (China), Australia, Spain, New Zealand, Mexico and the Soviet Union. A couple of American drivers will likely join, as well. Most of the foreign teams will arrive a month before the event to train.

“What is important to note is that everyone will be a novice in this race, including the Americans,” says Moñozca. “All we’re after is flying the flag and measuring ourselves against them the first year.”

This will be the first time in the history of the Philippine sports that a delegation is participating in a US stock car racing event in Charlotte, the home of NASCAR and its Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping Truck series. The main quad oval is 2.4 km. long with 24-degree banks, making it one of the top three racing venues in the United States. The stands have a seating capacity of 250,000 spectators.

The Spirit program is a private sector initiative under the patronage of Jean Henri Lhuillier and Cebuana Lhuillier. The program advocates the international education, training and competition of athletes was founded by the Singapore-based sportsman Moñozca to provide an inspirational and aspirational platform for Filipinos to be competitive at the highest level.

“We have already been the best in the Philippines for a long time,” says long-time champion Potenciano, a vice-mayoralty candidate in San Pablo, Laguna. “Now, we have a rare opportunity to test ourselves against the best drivers in the world.”

Though there are several high-profile racing events around the world, some carry costs that will ultimately make Filipino participation unsustainable. As it stands, our NASCAR RE drivers are already looking for sponsors among multinational corporations seeking to expand their market outside of the Philippines. Though this is a first for Philippine sports, it is also a unique chance for advertisers to make themselves known as global brands. Maine is a Philippine brand on an actual NASCAR car. That image alone would be priceless.

The Spirit program had previously sent the Smart Gilas Philippine team of sports patron Manny Pangilinan to the American Basketball Association (ABA) California Games, and players like Letran Knights point guard Kevin Alas to train in the United States with the LA Slam. It is also sending two high school basketball teams to train in Singapore in June, and is following up junior golfer Ivan Villarosa’s participation in the Rolex Invitational Golf Tournament in Singapore with two more golfers next year.

Lately, Spirit is also providing slots to the Manchester United Soccer School, the World Powerboat Championships, the Formula Green racing series in 2015 and the 2XU Marathon. Besides its training and competition platforms, it is providing 20 scholarships to its Spirit Sports University’s internship program in Singapore for deserving athletes.

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