Ever since Spanish times, education has always been emphasized by Filipinos as a tool for young adults to get themselves equipped with the necessary skills to hurdle through life. Now, imagine a school where the students learn all about life, but from the unique perspective of tackling it on four wheels. This school is none other than the Tuason Racing School (TRS).

School of (automobile) skills

The TRS is the brainchild of the late racing legend Arthur Tuason and son Jean Pierre "JP" Tuason. The goal: to develop and hone young Filipino drivers who have the talent, raw skill and determination to forge a career in the peso-eating but rewarding world of auto racing. TRS was set up by the younger Tuason to bring racing to the grassroots level, giving aspiring young drivers the foundations and the financial backing to fulfill their dreams of racing professionally. "What we want to do is not a self-serving project in itself. Rather, we at TRS develop the foundation for motorsports, start our students early and often and instill in our students the correct training needed because as you go up the ladder in professional auto racing, the number of participants get smaller and smaller due to the lack of sponsors or inadequate racing facilities. What we want to do is establish a wide base or pool of talent in order to (hopefully) provide Filipino talent at the proverbial top rung," said JP Tuason.

Another reason for the need for institutionalized learning for auto racing is JP's great belief that the Filipino has great potential in motorsports. "You actually don't have to be Superman in order to race. Yes, as you go up the ladder in auto racing one has to keep one's self physically fit, but most drivers' successes come from what's in your brain. You don't have to be tall or strong in order to succeed in motorsports," said Mr. Tuason.

Currently TRS has six developmental racing series: 1) the Ford Focus Cup series (Novice and Advanced); 2) the Champions of the Future karting series; 3) the TRS karting team, which participates in various karting races within the archipelago and features two levels of karting (Novice and Advanced); 4) the Arthur Tuason Memorial Cup; 5) the Asian Formula Three (AF3) program; and 6) the inaugural TRS Interschool kartfest.

But racing and teaching the ABCs of racing is not all that TRS has to offer. The school also teaches its drivers etiquette on and off the track, grooming, good manners and right conduct and how to present one's self to others, especially when dealing with the media. "You can see it in our grassroots programs, especially with the kids that we teach in our Champions of the Future karting series. It's because we believe that what constitutes a racer is not just only on the track but off the tarmac as well," said Jeannette Tuason, JP's significant other and an integral part of the TRS off-track program.

The TRS also offers defensive driving programs (such as the TRS Responsible Driving program) meant to teach the proper way to drive one's vehicle in all situations, whether out of town or in the metropolis. One example is the Responsible Driving Program, a series of school tours (with its inaugural first stop at DLSU [JP's alma mater]) aimed at teaching defensive driving to high school and college students. "When I was younger, all I needed to learn from driving on and off the track I learned from my dad. And I was very lucky because my dad was a race car driver, but how about the rest of the driving population? If you don't get the proper training early, you'll end up driving like a taxi driver or a bus driver, cutting everybody else off on occasion and creeping forward every second upon reaching an intersection in order to get through. If everybody's going to be like that we will not progress. And it shouldn't be that way," said Mr. Tuason.

Institutionalized learning importance in racing

With so many aspiring to be the next Fernando Alonso or Michael Schumacher, having the presence of a training school is an immense help, which minimizes the painful and sometimes fatal accidents that often comes with learning on the tracks. "Because the instructors here are experienced drivers themselves, students get to skip that part of the learning curve where they could possibly crash their car or injure themselves. Through the school, they immediately learn the ropes," stressed the DLSU (Industrial Engineering) graduate.

For those who think that the TRS personnel are merely graduates of auto racing's school of hard knocks, it is interesting to note that the people behind TRS have undergone training in several renowned racing school facilities in the US and Europe, such as the Skip Barber Racing School, the Jim Russell racing school, the Richard Petty NASCAR Experience and the Andretti Speed Lab. Also, JP and company have been conducting kart racing clinics at the Carmona Racing Circuit for four years and taught more than 300 students, a number of which have seriously gone into racing.

The money pit

Most topflight academic institutions require a steep tuition fee for teachers' salaries, textbooks, board and lodging and the maintenance of the institutions' facilities. In the same regard, the TRS also requires a moderately expensive admission for entry, but the reasons for such a fee are obvious, what with the abundance of expensive automotive equipment within the TRS paddocks and the TRS complex in Pasong Tamo (Makati). "It is difficult to promote motorsports in the country because it is perceived as expensive and it is actually expensive. It is an understatement to say that the biggest obstacle to racing has always been financial. But with the way TRS is set up, corporate sponsors help fund the school's various racing programs," said Mr. Tuason.

With a lot of help from corporate sponsors (such as Ford, Goodyear, Petron and Addict Mobile) and fellow race drivers, Mr. Tuason is taking the first step toward the goal of bringing auto racing down to a moderately expensive and safe starting point for aspiring drivers. "What people don't know is that behind all the hype and glamour of auto racing, the back end of it requires a lot of financial backing. What we bring to the table when we look for sponsors is that we offer a grassroots program that obviously needs funding - to develop Filipino motorsports talent – and that we give value for sponsors' money, especially when we hold events and exposure opportunities. And we're proud to say that our sponsors see that we know what we are doing and get results from our endeavors, " said the two-time Karter of the Year.

TRS guest instructor Eric Camarillo, in a previous interview with BusinessWorld, explained that prior to TRS's training courses, motorsport enthusiasts had to shell out no less than half a million pesos for a modified car. The expenses could add up to infinity as the racer wannabe also has to spend for safety gear, maintenance, services of mechanics, and travel fare to participate in offshore and local races. Through TRS, enthusiasts can learn the ABCs of racing at roughly PhP 6,000-PhP 150,000 per package. These packages include a weekend clinic where students are given lectures and hands-on lessons, as well as five sessions at different race tracks, either at the Batangas Racing Circuit (in Rosario, Batangas), the Subic International Raceway (within the Subic Naval Base in Zambales), the Carmona (Cavite) go-kart circuit, the Manila Speedzone karting track (at The Fort in Taguig) and Kart Track (near the Boom Na Boom fairgrounds in Pasay City).

Success stories

As of last year, Mr. Tuason claims that over 700 people trained at TRS and sees over a thousand people going to TRS this year. And if you have doubts about the success rate of the school, the inspiring story of Michele Bumgarner may prompt you to go to Pioneer Street in Mandaluyong (where the TRS head office is located) and sign up for classes. "Michele (Bumgarner) is one of our products; she was the 2003 Philippine karting champion. Last year we took her under our wing (and mind you, she doesn't know how to drive a car because she's just 14 years old) and in two months time we taught her how to drive one using the Ford Lynx and the Ford Lynx Cup. After that we sponsored one season with her in Formula Toyota and she finished third overall; her success in Formula Toyota got her an invite to race in Formula BMW this year. That's a pretty big accomplishment right there," gleamed the TRS head.

And for those who really can't afford to pay their way for their racing dreams, JP and TRS bring glad tidings. "What we do, especially in our kids' programs, is create subsidies so that we won't sponsor them 100 percent. What we provide is just an initial startup, roughly 20-25 percent of what's needed for a full season of karting…And the scholarships that we provide are around Php 50,000-Php 60,000," said Mr. Tuason.

All these activities are paying off one way or another for the school and for Mr. Tuason, despite the roller coaster ride of the economy. Next year, Mr. Tuason plans to further up the ante in the local racing circuit with the development of the school's advanced training program. By next year TRS hopes to organize a regional racing competition. Also part of Mr. Tuason's to-do list by year's end is to catalyze the development of a race car in the country that can be used to compete in international events.

Although the road to achieving his goal may seem circuitous as it is often at the mercy of the corporate machinery, Mr. Tuason seems determined to reach the checkered flag in his mind – discovering the proverbial diamond in the rough that is the Formula One Filipino racing driver. "Eventually we want to find that F1 driver," he said.

Helping the less fortunate

In addition to these activities, the Tuason Racing School also takes time out to support the less fortunate. It holds an annual Arthur Tuason Memorial Cup. The annual charity race raises funds for different Non-Government Organizations, one of which is the Mabuhay Deseret Foundation which helps children born with defficiencies. The event also helps aspiring drivers prove their skills while helping the foundation as well.