Growing up, I was just like any other boy. I had dreams of doing something amazing with my life. Some wanted to be soldiers, astronauts or movie stars, me? I wanted to be a race car driver. I always looked up to those guys, battling it out on the track in ultimate machinery like fighter pilots during the war. I viewed them as men of steel who weren't afraid to take it to the limit for glory.
With that in mind, I took up go-karting when I was young, hoping to use it as a springboard to bigger and better horizons in the motorsports world, but the reality quickly set in, racing was an expensive sport and it just wasn't feasible for me to pursue it, hence it remained a dream. Until recently...
Fast forward a few years and here I was granted the opportunity to compete in the 3rd leg of the Vios Autocross cChallenge that was held at the Clark International Speedway. It was to be a weekend of fun, intensity and as is with real life racing harsh realities.
We arrived at the racetrack an hour before call time, and upon parking our cars we were greeted by the aural and visual experience of a full born race weekend. Cars being unloaded from trailers, the hustle and bustle of mechanics in the paddock, and of course, the sound of race cars screaming past the finish line, leaving just a whiff of burned rubber and gasoline along the way.
Our first step was to sign up in the holding area where they lent us racing suits and complimentary balaclavas. We were assigned to the media class along with other publications who sent their own representatives to compete. Seeing the names of well established editors gave the first timer in me quite the scare, knowing a decent result would not come easy.
Shortly after initial preparations, a track marshal came into the room informing us that the autocross track was ready and it was time for us to head out for the 1st warm up session. We walked out onto the track and was greeted by a glistening tarmac (it had just rained) lined up with various obstacles and cones that we were supposed to drive around.
A happy coincidence as the track marshal belted out my name as the first few to tackle the track for the first time. I suited up, wore my balaclava and put my helmet on before making my way into the stripped out roll-caged interior of a Vios race car. I was strapped in and given final instructions for what kind of track layout awaited me. I started the car and it angrily snorted into life. As I revved the engine for a proper warm up, I could feel the testosterone jolt through my system, and finally I thought to myself “Today I get to go racing”, the flag dropped and off I went.
After the morning warm up session, we were briefed by the track officials and organizers on the rules and regulations governing our challenge. There were 24 of us competing in the media class, ensuring a tight and competitive battle for the top spot on the podium. On top of that, it was also going to be a rainy weekend adding another handicap.
The day went by with two more practice sessions both in the wet and dry. I clung to the advantage I had of being on top of the name list giving me more chances to run the track and hone my driving skills for the next day's official race. I slept that night confident that I have done enough to do well. As they say though “assumptions lead to disappointment”, and boy was I in for that.
If day 1 was nerve wracking, then day 2 was heart attack inducing. The track was teaming with more people and everybody was in full race day mode. Car models in body tight outfits scattered around the paddock, fans were pouring into the grandstands, and race cars were being tended to in the garages with surgeon-like precision.
After another morning practice run, we made our way to the main stage for the opening ceremonies. Various Toyota officials gave welcoming remarks as well as the mandatory group photo of all participants. With race day officially underway, the Vios Circuit racers marched into their respective garages and strapped themselves in. It was then followed by a symphony of race engines bellowing into life as they made their way to the starting grid.
While the circuit race was on going, we autocross challengers patiently waited in a room so thick with tension you could cut it with a knife. Up until that point, we all remained cordial and friendly but with the race looming, auras immediately changed to intensity as all of us racers knew it was every man for himself from this point on.
Again my name was called out for my first official timed run, which if I failed to crack the top 10 would render my race day over. Waiting for the green light I started the Vios race car and it crackled and popped into life like a true racing machine. Here I was revving the engine just like I always dreamed of in pursuit of personal glory. “Drivers ready?” 3...2....1.....I dropped the clutch and went for it.
This being an autocross, the technical track tested both skill and bravery. I mustered every fiber of my being to give all I could. I crossed the line and prayed that it was enough. A few moments later I learned I was not fast enough to move on to the next round, deflating an already bloated ego.
Later on as I watched the other racers compete, I reflected on the experience I had. I may not have made it past the 1st round, but I was thankful that the dream I always had to be a racing driver even just for a day or two had come true. From the jealous awestruck stares I got as I pranced around in my racing suit, to comparing notes and techniques with other drivers; I truly felt I was a seasoned pro.
To sum it all up, many say racing is a dying sport as the level of competition is continually raised along with the rising costs of running a racing team. This is more evident in a developing country like the Philippines where every penny counts and sponsorships are king. However, Toyota continues to keep the spirit alive with entry-level, grass roots racing like the Vios racing series which is already in its 5th year.
It may be too late for me, but somewhere down the line, another young hopeful who sat on the grandstands that weekend and witnessed the action, could pick up the baton and live the dream without having to sell their soul.