On May 11, the INQUIRER.net, the online arm of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, carried a story filed by Inquirer motoring reporter Tessa Salazar detailing problems encountered by the Philippine team that was supposed to participate in the Nascar Racing Experience in North Carolina.
The Inquirer was one of the few media outlets invited to cover the event and Salazar eventually became the only reporter in the trip. Most of Salazar’s expenses for the trip were shouldered by the event organizer himself, Paul Monozca.
The story, titled “PH racers may have been ‘taken for a ride’” (http://business.inquirer.net/121347/ph-racers-may-have-been-taken-for-a-ride, Inquirer.net, 05/11/13), went viral and drew wild reactions from the racing community with Monozca suffering the ignominy of being pictured as a scammer.
Monozca e-mailed Inquirer Motoring Editor Jong Arcano defending himself from allegations of mischief. Here’s Monozca’s e-mail in full:
The Monozca Foundation prides itself in providing assistance to various athletes for education, training and competition since 2003. We have done this numerous times in basketball, golf, soccer and now racing.
For the past 3 years, I have been searching for a unique opportunity to bring the first Filipino(s) to racing’s world stage. As the F1 was too expensive, I looked into Nascar and Indy in the United States. I first made my trip to Charlotte, North Carolina in January 2010, which was the home of Nascar. I was toured in its Charlotte Motorspeedway and was impressed by the facilities provided by the Nascar Racing Experience Co. where they had race cars stationed inside the speedway and was running racing events regularly using Sprint Cup cars. Thus began the 2 years of my work to send the first Filipinos to the Nascar.
Just this year, I decided it was time to execute the initiative and appointed the Nascar Racing Experience Co. formally to provide a race for 12 countries participating at Charlotte. I asked the advice of Mike Potenciano on who we can send as I needed two drivers. Mike, a veteran in the motoring world in the Philippines felt that if we open up to more drivers, this could be a unique effort to unite the motoring fraternity. I agreed.
We invited drivers to attend the briefing held at the Fort this year and they came from all over. My deal was simple, I undertake half and the drivers have to undertake the other half under a shared fund basis. Everyone agreed and I have signed letters of intent from the drivers. Of course our basis of selection also was track record and popularity among sponsors so they can raise their part via sponsorships if required.
Each driver had to share in the cost amounting to P1.6 million each (they were allowed up to eight sponsors each) and this included a full-year program of not only the main event but sub-events for sponsors in the Philippines, television coverage locally and internationally, merchandising and licensing, training, airfare, accommodations, meals, public relations, etc.
Those who signed up were Carlos Anton, Mike Potenciano, Stefano Marcelo, Tyson Sy, Gaby dela Merced, Pia Boren and Michelle Bumgarner. It was an all-star cast but we had to put Mike and Tyson under the reserve list as they had political campaign commitments. We only started to go full blast in the team’s bid to participate this year.
Out of all the drivers, only Stefano Marcelo funded his own slot while the rest funded their share with their own sponsors.
I asked permission from Heather Lutz of the Nascar RaceEX co. to name the event as the Nascar Racing Experience World Circuit and made it clear through numerous emails and phone calls that this is a real race with top international drivers participating. She agreed in an email and we continued to communicate henceforth.
This year I also requested Derik Crotts of RevRacing and a representative of the Nascar Drive for Diversity program to be involved with their Team USA. RevRacing produced top drivers in the K&N and Whelan development circuits of Nascar and also produced drivers who are now with the established Sprint Cup. RevRacing fielded in five top drivers including Mark Green, a Nascar nationwide driver.
Other countries were invited and those who responded were Australia, Singapore, Korea and a European team. Please note that the Team USA diversity program is comprised of drivers hailing from Puerto Rico, Mexico, Canada etc. Hongkong was invited but never responded.
The event, which was originally slated for April 28, had to be moved to July 26 due to preparations on the Philippine side. The change of date may have affected the participation of the Korean and Australian drivers but was a decision to be made as the Philippine team had five drivers. However, the RaceEX side approved May 9 in view of the availability of the speedway and their cars and also the availability of the US team. The team was ready and although sponsors spread their sponsorships over months, I agreed to hold it on May 9. I also pushed for the team to arrive via Philippine Airlines instead of a foreign airline.
From here, the team went on a PR blitz which culminated with an official drivers launch and send-off at the 7th High Club at the Fort. All went well.
We departed for Charlotte via Los Angeles last May 4, via Philippine Airlines. We stayed at the Wingate Hotel in Charlotte near the speedway. Upon arrival, Derik Crotts told me that he met with the RaceEX Co. and that they were not going to be able to organize a real race for us. After all the preparations, I became confused and stressed. When an email to Heather about practice sessions on May 7 or 8 was unanswered, I started to panic more. I was not getting direct answers from RaceEX. Worse, they brought in a senior staff named Pat who informed me that we were only allowed 2,000 spectators. It became apparent that after 2 years of dealing and communicating with them, most of the major details were not properly coordinated within their organization.
They also seemingly overlooked the RaceEX poster that indicated a competition against 12 countries with sponsors. They neither objected nor called me to stop the event.
I called off key suppliers to cut costs and mentioned to the European team about the situation and told them that if they were open to other formats of competition on that day. They said they would think about it and would arrive nearer to the date but decided to cancel at the last minute.
The first few days at Charlotte went well with simulation training and pit-stop demonstrations at the RevRacing facility and instructional sessions with various personnel. At this time, I did not know how to break it to the Philippine team as we travelled a long way and I felt that by at least attending the time trials, it would prove something and a re-schedule of the race could be done as an option with another party.
I was hoping that RaceEX would respond to my queries on the practice rounds especially with just a day left before the main race day. To my dismay, the speedway operators informed me that it was being painted and no practice was allowed. We ended up touring the facilties inside instead.
On race day May 9, we entered gate 26 of the Charlotte Motorspeedway and was told to go to the race area. Our drivers were told to suit-up and proceed to the briefing room where the US team was also present. It ended as a Team USA vs Team Asia with Singapore joining the Philippines. Till today, I am trying to figure out why RaceEX had approved the event title “Nascar Racing Experience World Circuit” then show us videos on a thrill ride in the briefing room?
After the formalities, the drivers were asked to go to the racing area where the six Nascar Sprint Cup cars were parked. We were informed that these cars had limiters so speeds would be controlled till the final time trial run. Upon hearing this, I pulled the key coordinator (Steve) of RaceEX aside and told him that this is not what we signed up for and he had to give us a race for 10 cars, but he said he only implemented what their office instructed them to do. I called Heather in her office and she was out-of-town on that day together with her husband and their senior manager. I had to make a call and decided to cut short the event to half a day in order to cut costs and still be able to reschedule it.
But even before I could discuss it with the team, John Marcelo, Stefano’s dad came to me and told me that this was not what they signed up for. I explained to him that it’s best for the team to go through the time trials first since we were already there and re-schedule the race to a later date. But he was adamant and insisted on confronting the management of RaceEX Co. I managed to convince the drivers; after the the time trials, we all went to the RaceEX office. True enough, the key decision makers were out-of-town. This was the ultimate sign of letdown.
The next day we were able to meet Heather Lutz, their SVP and she denied having any form of misrepresentation. Instead of bringing up key points I knew that we were not there to create enemies but especially for me, just communicate the disappointment as we were new in the Nascar world.
Here are key points of consideration:
1. Key email correspondence reminding RaceEX that we are doing a real race
2. Approval of the event name “Nascar Racing Experience World Circuit”
3. Email where they have seen our poster via Yahoo showing it’s a competition between countries which they did not object to save for minor corrections on the taglines
4. Approval of the national team jacket where the RaceEX logo is placed
5. Email mentioning that they cannot hold a 10-car race but can be split into two groups of 5 cars each. Again, they knew we wanted a race but they continued to communicate correcting or repositioning the format
6. Email mentioning the budget of our year-long program at close to $295,000 per year just for RaceEX only; one event would cost around $30,000
7. As for the use of the Racing Experience logo, it was made clear to me that once we pay up we can use it for our materials including announcements—we paid
8. Why would they let us share the track on that day with another group?
9. Why would a senior person like Pat only be brought in with the rules near the date of competition? He should have come forward earlier.
10. Why were they all out-of-town when they knew I even asked for an awarding where a senior representative from their company had to present? (also in email)
11. Till today, despite 2 emails already sent I have still not received the results of the time trials where I heard Carlos Anton did very well. Stefano Marcelo was not allowed to drive as his driver’s license was one year expired and it was a requirement.
This situation should have been handled in a more peaceful and civil manner but they let their emotions get the better of them. I have apologized to the team profusely for this incident and [I] am committed to making things right. However, they refused to give me due process and thumbed down my proposal for a proper dialogue.
For someone who has put his name on this racing team and as a Filipino, this is very hard for me. It is hard to be portrayed in a manner which is not true at all as I have always had sincere intentions to play a role in the sport.
One instance I read was that I borrowed money from Carlos and John for expenses. Let me correct this: one of the Philippine team members (the name I am withholding for now) was not able to pay the share of commitment and I asked Carlos and John to help out. Shouldn’t team members be able to help one another? Anyway, I ended up covering for this team member also. Carlos Anton can confirm that I had P250,000 wired to his card at 3 a.m. to cover for the team member. I had it deposited to his card as I carried a debit card with a limit.
Please bear in mind that sponsors spread their sponsorships throughout the year so the bulk of expenses was paid for by my side.
I have a 20-year track record in sports, and am a Singapore government awardee. I am also not new to bringing national teams to compete overseas. It is unlikely of me to put myself in a situation to fool people if I myself was not mislead. In 20 years of my life in Singapore we follow a straight path; everything is by the book and no one is above the law.
I have already announced that the team has to go back to Charlotte and I thank RevRacing for assisting this time to have them in a Nascar Whelan Race, an official developmental racing circuit of Nascar. This is the only way to redeem the credibility of the team and my own name. I have started preparations and have asked all team members for their support. This time around, it will be fully funded by our program and sponsors without any of the team members sharing half of the cost.
As for racing in the Philippines, I find it to be a very cruel world. However, there are those who believe in what I do and I will finish the advocacy as I set out to do. I want to thank all the patrons and sponsors who share this sentiment.
I ask of the journalist who wrote the sensational and highly prejudicial article to give me a chance to explain my side before she writes anything malicious about me or anyone again. Besides, if I was hiding anything and out to fool people as the article seemed to impute, why did I invite you to join the team at my expense?
I was the last to leave the hotel flying back to Manila. If I intended to do something wrong, I would have jumped ship earlier. I am now busy answering numerous emails from media and as a very private person, I am showing that I am communicating to clear my name.
I have also reimbursed all team members on whatever they have spent to show my sincerity although my commitment was only half of the cost.
Let’s look forward to Team Philippines in the Nascar Whelan Race. Thank you.