Grassroots Racing's favorite home said goodbye with a bang on the last weekend of July, thanking its patrons for 17 years of operation with a non-stop weekend of races and events.
The Subic International Raceway (SIR) was home track to Philippine racing family, the Ramirez, as well as the grassroots racing event, Run What You Brung (RWYB).
The eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the early 90's may have scared away American forces but Philippine racing legend, Pocholo Ramirez saw opportunity, by contrast. Long since longing for a permanent home for motorsports in place of the temporary circuits composed of unused roads and parking lots that had been the norm at the time.
Building a circuit had always been one of his dreams and the recently vacated naval and air base showed a lot of potential. The exact site was the fast refuelling area for fighter jets, beside the main runway of the Naval Air Station. With paved roads and big taxiways, it would take very little work to turn it into a fully functioning race track. To put it together, Pocholo quickly got together with Mandy Eduque, Mike Potenciano, Macky Carapiet, Louis Camus, Freddy Masigan and a few of the big names in racing then to put up Sports Values Incorporated (SVI) and the Subic International Raceway.
"When they first started, they only had 3 month leases, so everything could be taken out at any time," says Kookie Ramirez, eldest son of Pocholo. "So it became a year, 2 years, until now, we're ending our 12 year lease. It's been 17 years since we first opened."
Since it's opening, the SIR has been home to a whole variety of races from formula cars, touring cars, motorcycles. It gained FIM approval in 1997 and its grade four FIA license in 1998 certifying it for international automotive and motorcycle races, allowing it to host Asian Touring Car and Formula 3 races as well as put the Philippines on the racing map.
The track has also undergone many changes in its life time to come to its current form at 2.8 kilometers in total length with 12 turns and long straights that allows for a long and short circuit setup.
SIR had also opened its doors to novices, renting out the track for manufacturer events, club meets and races, racing lessons and RWYB: an event where drivers race the car they drove up in against the clock and divided into several time brackets.
"Run What You Brung was started by a FedEx pilot," Kookie shares, "His name is Michael Renfield and Georges my brother was close friends with him. He passed away already but when he was around, they were trying to come up with something for the Fed Ex pilots to do. When I arrived, I took over the concept, it evolved to what it is today: a 90 car grid. And this is the home of Run What You Brung. This is where we started. It's also the home of the clubs since we're very affordable."
The event was conceived to give the average auto enthusiast a taste of racing on a track without much of the prohibitive costs like the car, the team and track. A small entrance fee grants participants practice time on the track, timed heats as well as ranking to better gauge one's car and skills against opponents. Some of the top drivers even pursued careers in professional motorsports afterward.
And with such a strong following, it's no surprise the announcement of the track's closure was met with a lot of tears. The SIR, like many of the properties in Subic, are on lease basis and with its 12 year lease coming to a close and a number of external factors, the owners of the circuit decided not to renew.
The Ramirez family, however, long associated with the circuit, certainly wouldn't let it end quietly.
"This is actually George's idea," Kookie explains. "We were really scheduled to have a Run What You Brung here. 'Well,' he said, "We might as well have a big event.' And this is the result. This is very similar to our Philippine motorsports festival. It's usually held in November. So it's more like a thank you to all the people who have used Subic. A lot of clubs came by. A lot of Run What You Brungers today."
Last weekend served as testament to the track's popularity with several motorsports teams, shops, car clubs, manufacturers, sponsors and over a hundred vehicles registering for the final weekend, aptly named "The Last Lap" with title sponsors Castrol and Kia.
The weekend was lined up with back to back exhibition races and open track sessions featuring the cars of the Philippine Touring Car Championship, the Manila Sports Car Club, Miata Cup, various automotive manufacturers and car clubs. Photo and memorabilia galleries featured the cars and personalities that graced SIR. The evening kept engines revving with motoring journalist band Shift playing on stage and a night slalom setup, with generator-powered light sets happening in the back portion of the track.
The whole of Sunday was dedicated to the over 100 entries in the last Run What You Brung. Autoextreme also held its Club Wars event while Chevrolet challenged pro and novice drivers to 'Match the Cruze' time in the track, set by Kookie Ramirez.
With the sun setting at the end of the second day, the track was closed to allow the members of the Ramirez family to gather their cars on the main grid. The honor of having the last lap on the track was theirs as the chequered flag waived as they crossed the line.
"It's happy because they're all here," said Kookie, at the end of the weekend, "but it's also heavy because it's the end of an era where they can race affordably."
And while it may be the end of the track, Kookie promises that it won't be the end of racing, whether for the RWYB boys or the Ramirez family.
"We''ll find some sponsors and take it to another level. For the racing, my kids are already starting so we'll run wherever the races are."