Saturday, March 21, 2009

Racing legend Ramirez crosses finish line

Jose “Pocholo” Ramirez Jr., long acknowledged as the “Living Legend” of Philippine car racing, died early yesterday after two years of battling cancer. He was 76.

The bearded racecar driver left behind a family of racers in sons Jose Andre (Kookie), Georges, Louie, Miguel and daughter-in-law Menchie. He has a grandson who now races regularly at the Subic International Raceway, a racetrack Ramirez himself built right after the Americans left their Subic Naval Base in the early 1990s.

Ramirez’s remains lie in estate at the Christ The King Church in Green Meadows, Quezon City. According to his son Kookie, there will only be two days of wake for their father. A private ceremony will be held before the remains are cremated on Saturday.

As a young man in the 1950s, he went to New York to work as a hotelier for Waldorf Astoria. It was in the United States that the racing bug bit him. He came back to Manila in the 1960s and met Arsenio “Dodjie” Laurel who lent him a go-kart and influenced him to take racing seriously.

His early career saw him joining the Shell Car Rally which Laurel himself pioneered. He won this on-time-all-the-time rally in 1966 as team captain of the Renault squad.

Unknown to many, Ramirez almost died in a major vehicular accident in the late 1960s. He was trying to overtake a slow-moving bus on Highway 54 (now EDSA) when he hit a parked truck. He sustained a broken jaw and was in coma for two weeks. The long scar on his jaw was the reason why he decided to grow a beard.

Yet despite the accident, Ramirez continued to race. He even holds the distinction of being the first to be issued a Racing Driver’s License by the Philippine Motor Association.

In 1969, Ramirez served as the poster boy for the first circuit race in the country – the first Philippine Grand Prix held in Cebu. He drove for the new Toyota team managed by his neighbor Dante Silverio. It was the start of a partnership that would last for more than 20 years.

In the 1970s, Ramirez ruled the races in newly developed Greenhills subdivision. He was declared Driver of the Year five times. When the races transferred in the BF subdivision area in Las Piñas, south of Manila, Ramirez continued to show his winning ways, until that fateful day in 1977 when he figured in a major crash that killed a spectator and injured dozens.

But Ramirez will forever be remembered for putting up the Subic International Raceway, which, to him, was the perfect and safest place for racing. AAP president Gus Lagman said the entire Philippine racing community mourns the death of Ramirez.== The Philippine Star

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