To those who had their adolescences in the post-EDSA I years, a vast majority wouldn't know the name Jose del Rosario 'Pocholo' Ramirez from Adam. Not unless you were his grandchild or relative, a recognized family friend, a diehard motorsports fanatic or someone working in the auto industry, those who are now in their 20s up to the mid 30s wouldn't know Pocholo Ramirez from the next guy.
Which is why his passing makes many including me, saddened to the point of tears.
He knew that he was larger than life in some quarters - the automotive and motorsports scene in particular - but he never made it known, or tried to make himself known to the general public. He made it known in ways that some would consider surprising. Business Mirror motoring editor Popong Andolong tells of a story during the early 1970s, when he was looking for a kart chassis to substitute for a broken one during a race at the heyday of the JRC Kartway in Libis. "I needed a kart to replace mine, since part of the chassis was broken. Tito Poch learned about it and readily lent me one, without hesitation."
Then there's the story of his participation in the Petron Xtra Mile Challenge, which would make him known to a general public weaned on the Internet. The 2005 challenge was meant to promote Petron's Xtra unleaded petrol, with the premise that you can go a long way on a full tank of the said product. When that Petron product was formally launched in 2005 - along with the TV commercial that featured Ramirez and Epi Quizon - Ramirez was given the opportunity to talk about his experience from Pagudpud to Sorsogon. He opened up with this quip: "All this I time I thought that I've been known for being fast. This time, the public now knows me for being slow."
By now those who have read the various tributes to him will have run the gamut of his accolades, beginnings, endings and rebirths in motorsports and motoring, from the time he was given a go-kart by the late Dodjie Laurel in 1963 (since he wanted to try karting; Laurel promptly lent him one); to the near-fatal accident in 1967 (he crashed his Renault into a parked bus on EDSA, leaving him with a scar on his chin and prompted him to conceal it with a beard that has since become his trademark); to the 1994 opening of the Subic International Raceway where Ramirez' dream to build a safe and proper racetrack was fulfilled. Those will fill paragraphs and stretch a writer's story on this Philippine motorsports legend to two, maybe three pages. That's a given. They'll also include the fact that Tito Poch to many a motoring journalist and auto industry representative - has been battling bladder cancer in recent years. But what is surprising is that despite his age and his malady, he still had more than enough left to leave rookie and veteran motoring beat writers alike with a lot of respect for the man.
One story - witnessed firsthand - was during an Audi drive held last year at the Subic International Raceway for the new A4. Sitting at the back of the car, Tito Poch was instructed by his son Kookie (head marshal of the event) to motor around the SIR's weekday setup - resembling a paper clip - as if it were a Sunday drive. PGA Cars gave specific instructions to the motoring journalists present - including Tito Poch - to go easy on the new A4, as there were only two units in the country. Naturally, everybody followed suit. But not Tito Poch. Despite much protest from Kookie, he tore around SIR in the A4 2.0L TDI like there was no tomorrow. He clipped the bus stop chicane with the left rear, then the right rear wheel at an entry speed of 90-100 kph. This writer knew the exact speed Tito Poch entered the chicane, since he was at the back, and could clearly see the speedometer. He entered slow into the far end hairpin and went flat out by the time the A4's front end passed the apex. Ditto for the hairpin close to the converted grandstand, the one that utilizes a cargo container meant for a 10-wheeler truck. Interestingly, there was no tire screech, no sound of sidewalls digging in and severe understeer. Nice and tidy. To think he ran around the track twice, AND it was raining at that time.
Guess when racing's in your blood, not even cancer can stop you. For Tito Poch, the aforementioned affliction was just a pit stop, and his passing was just a way for Him to tell the Philippine motorsports icon to change vehicles, as the next race requires a new breed of transport. And when he does, the pearly gates will surely be welcoming him with a checkered flag.