Remembering a motorsport legend

Atty. Jerome G. Neri

TWENTY-FIVE years ago, on May 15, 1992, the Philippine motorsport world suffered a great loss. Jovy Marcelo lost his life at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway while practicing for the greatest spectacle in racing, the Indy 500.

1992 was Jovy’s rookie season in Indycar. He was running with the Euromotorsport Indycar team. His team was not a top team and he was on a year-old car, thus, being competetive in his rookie season was out of the question. It is natural that newbies in motorsport start in the smaller teams and drive good enough to get noticed by the big teams. The Indy 500 at that time was the fourth race of the season. Jovy raced in Surfer’s Paradise, Phoenix and Longbeach. Three races in an uncompetetive car was not enough to get Jovy noticed. But Jovy was a very talented driver, one of the very best drivers our country has ever produced.

Jovy found his way into the Indycar series on merit. He was the reigning 1991 Toyota Formula Atlantic. The Toyota Formula Atlantic Series was North America’s version of Formula 3 in those days. In his champioship year in the Toyota Atlantic Series, the main rival of Jovy was Jimmy Vasser, who, like Jovy, moved up to Indycar in 1992. Jimmy Vasser went on to become the Indycar World Champion in 1996. Had it not been for his untimely death, there could have been a Vasser-Marcelo rivalry in Indycar.

An online magazine Racer.com just recently published an article remembering Jovy. Jimmy Vasser was interviewed and had this to say… “He was a great person,” he said. “He came from a really tight-knit family. He was married with kids. He had a couple of small children. I knew his father real well – a really likable guy. He was the only pro driver I’ve ever seen from the Philippines, really. And he was a great competitor. He was a smooth driver, pretty quick. I think he was a great protagonist for me in the Atlantic Championship. I liked those years. And Jovy was a champion. That says it all right there. I was second in the championship. I had six poles and six or eight wins, but he pulled it out and beat me by four points. He was a well-deserved champion.”

Jovy crashed and lost his turn in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a race track that is considered hallowed ground by the top drivers worldwide. The injury that caused his death was a basal skull fracture. Today, drivers now have safety equipment that was introduced in 2001 and made mandatory. It’s called the HANS ( head and neck support) device, which addresses the problem of fatal basal skull fracture injuries.

I remember that I was at a friend’s house when the news broke out about Jovy’s death in 1992. I also remember following his races on short edited clips from the TV show Motoring Today way back in 1991.

In 2007, I was invited to join the Marcelo Racing Team by Jovy’s brother John and late father Ed Marcelo to tune the Kart of his grandson Stefano Marcelo, who like his uncle Jovy also made Philippine Motorsports history by becoming the most succesful karter in the Philippines. He secured pole position in the 2008 Karting Rokk Cup World Finals in Lonato, Italy and eventually finished seventh overall out of 200 entries.

I was a fan of Jovy, but never got to meet him. It was an honor for me to become part of the Marcelo team some 15 years after the passing of Jovy, where I got to meet an incredible racing family.

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