• Jovy Marcelo, a class act

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    Conrad M. Cariño

    Conrad M. Cariño

    IF Edward Jovy Marcelo were still alive today, he would have turned 50 years old on Tuesday or July 21. And maybe, just maybe, he could have topped more open-wheel car race series in the United States and registered respectable finishes in the prestigious Indianapolis 500 from 1992. Maybe, just maybe, he could have won an Indianapolis 500 race or even competed in Formula One. Who knows?

    But on May 15, 1992, Marcelo was killed during practice for the Indianapolis 500.

    His car spun out of control and hit the wall and Marcelo was pulled out of the car unconscious. Marcelo’s racecar was traveling at 172 miles per hour or about 378 kilometers per hour when it lost control.

    Before that fateful day in 1992, a few newspapers ran stories of him joining the Indianapolis 500 that got Filipino motor sports fans really excited. A Filipino competing in the Indianapolis 500! What can beat that during the early 1990s when the nation was wanting for international sports heroes? But on May 15, 1992, Filipino motor sports fans went into mourning.

    To those who are still not familiar with the Indianapolis 500, it is the race with one of the highest casualties both in the actual race and the practice and trial runs. After Marcelo, Scott Bayron was killed on May 17, 1996 also during practice.

    Before Marcelo died during practice, there were at least 15 who perished since 1910 also during practice for the Indianapolis 500. Surprisingly, the deaths from the actual races are a bit lower.

    Had Marcelo made it to the race and finished, that would have been a source of pride for the Philippines in 1992, because that would demonstrate Filipino racecar drivers can compete internationally despite the country not having a highly motorized environment then.

    Prior to 1992, Marcelo had an impressive run in the Toyota Atlantic Championships, which today can still be regarded as the best showing of any Filipino racecar driver abroad.

    In 1990, Marcelo placed second in the Toyota series and earned the Rookie of the Year Awards and in 1991; he won the championship by beating among others, Jimmy Vasser. Vasser, now 49 years old, won the 1996 IndyCar Season and his best finishes at the Indianapolis 500 was fourth in 1994 and 2001.

    After Jovy’s death, the Toyota Atlantic Championship (now called the Atlantic Championship) created the Jovy Marcelo Sportsmanship Award that was enough to immortalize the Filipino racecar driving legend.

    Prior to Marcelo’s rise to fame, another prominent race car driver, Arsenio “Dodjie” Laurel made waves in the international scene by winning the Macau Grand Prix in 1962 and 1963. Dodjie, the younger brother of former vice president Salvador “Doy” Laurel, was considered a pioneer in Philippine motor sports. He died during the 1997 Macau Grand Prix after his racecar lost control and hit the seawall. He reportedly directed his car into the seawall to prevent his car from hitting some spectators.

    After the death of Marcelo in 1992, there were fears some kind of “jinx” was haunting Filipino racecar drivers who competed abroad. But there was no such jinx because the late Pocholo Ramirez placed second in the Macau Grand Prix in 1972 in the Saloon Car division. Ramirez died of cancer in 2009.

    Then we have Marlon Stockinger (okay he is part Swiss) who has been racing internationally in European open-wheel race series. In 2010, Stockinger scored victories in rounds 9 and 10 of the Michelin Formula Renault UK Championship, which is a first for a racecar driver with Filipino roots.

    But let’s face it—we have yet to see another one like Marcelo who was knocking at the doors of the Indianapolis 500 in 1992. To date, Marcelo remains a class act.

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