News and views on motorsports

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Goodbye Jimmy

I guess from this day forth, those of us in and around the little Malaysian racing community will always remember All Hallows' Eve as the day a Malaysian racing legend passed on. At around 2 p.m. today, Jimmy Low (left in picture) was lost to the world, suffering from a heart attack.

The news spread quickly within the community via phone calls and text messages and as befitting a man we all have come to respect and cherish, there was an outpour of grief. Some drivers were reportedly close to tears, voices choked with emotion. In general, there was a sense of great loss. Even among those who counted as his deadliest rivals on the race track.

I never knew him personally but I did meet Jimmy Low a couple of times. I remember watching him in the Asian Touring Car Championship in his 1.6 litre Amoil Honda Civic keeping the works BMWs in close check at the old Shah Alam circuit. And who could forget his battles with perhaps his biggest rival, Eddie Lew. Everytime those two took to the track, there was certain to be some argy bargy as you do in saloon cars.

My fondest memory of Jimmy Low though happened at Shah Alam on the Batu Tiga circuit. I was being coached by a racing driver friend of mine in preparation for an upcoming endurance race. My friend was at the wheel at the time showing me the right way to do things. On track at the same time was Jimmy Low, who was also coaching another driver. Whilst we were in my daily driver, Jimmy and student was in a race prepared Proton Putra.

In the turns Jimmy was tremendous as you would expect. The roll caged and semi slick shod Putra simply eating up the distance between him and ourselves. But on the straight the MIVEC engine on my car could hold its own. Or so I'd like to think. I think maybe Jimmy was taking it easy. He didn't even have a helmet on. But still it was fun and exciting as we diced for 5 laps or so. The most vivid image in my mind was on the Shell straight going into the flat out right hander before the loop. We had the inside line and I remember hearing an absolutely deafening noise, so I looked left and there he was. Jimmy was on the outside, racing muffler blaring out loud. There was nothing to fear for the man was a pro.

After 5 laps or so, my engine blew up having been pushed to its absolute limits but luckily we managed to get back to the pits. Jimmy came in as well and came to speak to us. A very nice person, he inquired about my engine and expressed sympathy for the broken motor. I didn't have my own ride for 5 weeks after that.

By all accounts, Jimmy was a very generous competitor, never hesitating to offer advice on both driving and car setup. In fact, during my race, he even shared some setup information with us, which thanks to him, we managed to use to very good effect and we ended up on the podium. Thanks for tip Jimmy! This incident wasn't unique though and plenty of drivers (even his rivals) owe him a debt of gratitude.

And I know of some ( famous and internationally renowned) Malaysian racing drivers who would kill for the kind of respect commanded by veteran Jimmy. I remember during a practice day at Sepang a few years ago. We were all hanging out and as usual among lads, talking loud and mucking about waiting to go out on to the track again. In walked Jimmy into our pits and I remember everyone just fell silent. A mark of respect for the sifu.

Jimmy Low started racing in the most unlikely of places, in motor-cross back in the 80s. By all accounts, he was up and coming in the sport before objections from his parents put paid to his plans. If racing was what he wanted to do, then it would have to be in cars. He made his name racing in numerous events in Johor and at Shah Alam. His prowess at the wheel ensured that despite not being fabulously wealthy, he was offered drives by many a team including the works Petronas Eon Racing Team with whom he won the first ever Merdeka Mellenium Endurance race. And of course there were drives with the BSA team in Porsches and Radicals. And not forgetting of course, the one team that I always like to associate him with, Amoil.

Despite having a cabinet creaking under the weight of numerous winner's trophies, Jimmy was hardly recognised outside the Malaysian racing community and I think that is most unfair. For he had the ability to take on and beat any of driver on his day and most of 'em on his off day. Including those drivers that had a went on to race in single seaters. Perhaps the greatest injustice of all was not to have won any accolades or awards for driver of the year. The award as usual went to the fabulously rich but utterly talentless businessman.

But in the end, it matters not, for Jimmy will live on in our thoughts. A unassuming and genuinely nice fellow is lost to us in Malaysia. Not even fifty years of age, I should think it would be appropriate to say that he went before it was time. But as Iron Maiden put it; Only the good die young. Rest easy Jimmy Low. It has been a privilege to watch you race and to have shared the same piece of tarmac with you in a race.

No comments: