Row between drag racers, race organizer erupts at Clark Speedway

Racers allegedly told they could only compete using equipment sold by organizer

The fourth and final round of the Petron Northern Series’ National Drag Racing Championship at Clark International Speedway last Saturday ended in a row as the disqualified participants bemoaned the supposedly stringent requirements set by the race organizer and the AAP.

"With the recent accident in Superbike racing, we are very vigilant in the safety requirements of four-wheel racing," said race organizer and Clark Speedway owner Johnny Tan. "We do not want another fatal accident to happen because of negligence in the implementation of safety regulations as mandated by the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) and the Automobile Association of the Philippines (AAP)."

According to Tan, AAP chief steward Jun Espino scrutinized the race cars and found that majority of the entries failed for various reasons, like:

* Fire-proof helmets that didn’t conform with the FIA Special Application Helmets;
* Fire-proof racing suits that didn't conform with FIA or NHRA standards;
* Onboard fire extinguishers with piping that were not directed toward the intake or turbo of the engine and the driver;
* Absence of FIA-mandated three-inch seatbelts with quick-release mechanism;
* Seatbelts that weren't mounted properly;
* Racing seats that weren't homologated by the FIA or the NHRA; and
* Batteries mounted inside the driver's cabin that did not have any aluminum or steel protected covering.

Tan also brushed aside the claims of the disqualified competitors that in order to participate in the race, they must buy the necessary equipment from him.

"The organizers or the AAP does not mandate any certain brand so long as they conform with the NHRA or FIA standards. Kart Plaza keeps stocks of Sparco safety equipment for motorsports. If the competitors would like to avail of it, they are most welcome. But it is not obligatory to use them," said Tan.

Kart Plaza, which is also owned by Tan, is the official distributor of numerous brands of motorsport-related equipment and accessories like Sparco and Shoei.

However, Vanni Garcia of W. Autosport Vannitec pulled his cars from competition before they were even scrutinized as he saw the race organizers and the AAP particularly singling out entries that didn't use M&H tires, a brand that Kart Plaza exclusively carries.

"When I saw them going after cars that didn't have M&H tires, that was it. I pulled my cars from the race because it didn’t make sense anymore," said Garcia.

Garcia lamented how, in the past, competitors weren't given points if they didn't use M&H tires, but were still allowed to race using their preferred brand of tires and still go home with the prize money and the trophy. But with the organizer now requiring that only cars shod with M&H tires be allowed to race, Garcia believes that race organizers are now alienating the drag racers who don't comply with a shallow and self-serving requirement.

"We tried M&H before and it wasn't any good. Jonathan Tiu compared it to another brand that many racers prefer to use and it just didn't measure up," added Garcia. Tiu currently holds the distinction of being the fastest Filipino on the drag strip when he ran Clark International Speedway's quarter-mile drag strip in 9.223 seconds.

Garcia then narrated how, with their preferred brand and with only a single burnout, Tiu was instantly able to set a time that was within the expected range of his car, which was under the 10-second mark. With M&H tires, even four burnouts were supposedly not enough to warm up the tires and enable the car to go under the aforementioned mark.

"With our cars, you can't keep doing burnouts because this will destroy the transmission. So unless you're willing to pay from P250,000 to P300,000 to rebuild a transmission just to be able to set the time you want using M&H tires, you're practically eliminating teams that don't have enough money from competing. And isn't that what drag racing is supposed to be--to be the grassroots and most affordable way of getting into motorsports?" Garcia raised.

Tiu also reportedly said that M&H tires have a tendency to slip somewhere in the midsection of the drag strip.

Garcia, though, proposed a compromise that should be a win-win scenario for everyone involved--from the participants to Tan himself.

"He should make a class that's strictly for those running on M&H tires. And we're willing to use that brand on our Super Pro cars provided that the horsepower requirement is decreased. That way, we can still race and still have enough confidence in the tires, while he (Tan) still gets his much-needed tire sales."

Garcia and other drag racers are scheduled to meet tomorrow evening to discuss their next step following last Saturday's debacle. Let’s hope that a compromise is reached so that everyone can go back to racing in a safe venue and keep drag racing off the street.

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