ICON: Eric Ooi @ Azhari Ooi Abdullah
By Tony Mariadass
Veteran motor racing driver Eric Ooi @ Azhari Ooi Abdullah will be turning 81 on August 17, but he does not look a day older than 60 years-old.
Looking trim, fit and charming as ever, the Caucasian looking Ooi said he owes his long live and good health to his racing days.
And on his Caucasian look, he said he was from through bred Chinese family.
“It is just that my mother comes from Shandong in China where the people are much fairer,” said Ooi of his Caucasian complex.
“I must really thank my racing days where I was very disciplined and focussed in racing,” said Ooi who was among the pioneers in motor racing having started racing in Singapore as a privateer in 1959 before moving to Malaysian in 1963.
“I used to cycle 10 miles every day and gave up smoking when I used to smoke three packets a day.
“My light weight also helped me in the race as the car was lighter.
“I was sharp, aggressive and above all studied the course and made tactical decisions which gave me extra speed in the races to overtake a faster car on the race track.”
His first car was a Conco MGT which he brought from the money his mother gave him.
But his love for speed saw him sell car and buy a TR2 which he modified and raced at the Thompson circuit in Singapore.
Ooi fast gained a name for himself known for his tactical skills in racing, and for being a very fast and good driver.
His reputation saw him lured by Volvo to their team which had experienced drivers like Rodney Siow and Philip Siow.
But it was only a matter of time before Ooi became the top driver driving the B18s.
Among the racers Ooi competed in the saloon car races and rally included the likes of Anne Wong, Steve Harvey, Albert Poon, Alan Davies, SK Quek, James Goon, Alan Moffat, Shankar Pal Singh, Harry Lim, Ian Urquart, Lim Guan Hock, William Lyou, David Bok, Tommy Koh, William Mei, Edwin Stodart, TS Chung, Don Horst, Bill Bretnall, William Lim, Mike Liew, Joe Huber, Harvey Yap, Eric Ooi, Md Hamid, Abdul Malek, Teo Eng, Philip Leong, Foo Wan Kien, Chong Kim Fah, Ron Lim, Ian Gray, Yoong Yin Fah, Ali Kadir and his brother Shah
In the later years when he moved to Malaysia he was driving Toyota before switching to the Datsuns.
Besides racing in Johor in the early days, most of his time was spent racing in the Kenny Hill circuits.
Ooi also competed in rallies and competed in the first and only Asian Highway Rally in April 1969 from Vientiane to Singapore.
He finished the race without any penalty, and was expecting a good placing, but there was chaos when the results was announced at the clerk of course, Trevor Butcher, Ooi was placed ninth.
“I was really disappointed with the result as I had a clean sheet. Then I was told that when I had finished on time at Seremban, it meant that I was speeding because it was trap,” said Ooi.
“This has to be my worst moment in my career because I was so sure that that I had done well only to be robbed of a better placing. Many of the drivers all protested too over the results, but nothing changed.
Ooi’s fond memories of racing was the Batu Tiga circuit in Shah Alam.
“It was indeed a sad day for motor racing when he circuit was closed for development,” said Ooi with sadness.
“That circuit produced some of the best motor racers both for cars and motorcyles,” said Ooi himself had powered Malaysian Motor Sports Commission (MMSC) driving Nissans together with Kenny Lee and Lee Kwan Leong to win the first interclub championship in Batu Tiga in 1973.
“Anyone could race there because it as affordable. And they had the series production race where one could just race a car with no modifications at all,” said Ooi who was employed by Dunlop then.
Ooi singled out YS Khong as one of the talent who surfaced from Batu Tiga and whom he personally took an interest in.
“Khong was very fast and he impressed me. I did give him some tips to become a better and faster driver, which I believe he put to good use.”
Ooi said that motor racing is very expensive these days and it is only for the rich kids.
“Those days the mechanics could dream to become top drivers one day.
“The Sepang circuit is too expensive and the young enthusiasts cannot afford it.”
Ooi said that he has only fond memories of his racing days, expect for the 1st Asian Highway Rally.
“I just enjoy racing and winning races was a thrill,” said Ooi who had won many races but does not have a single trophy to show.
“I gave away the trophies to schools to use for their various sports. For me the memory of having raced is enough and it will forever stay etched in my memory.
“It was great racing days where we competed with passion and competitiveness against each other, sometimes with hostility and bitterness, occasionally ending up in fisticuffs and physicals, but sitting together and becoming friends again.”
One incident which Ooi said will always remember was when during the Enduro race in the 70s during race refuelling stop, oil spilled on the hot engine and caught fire.
“My crew Dorai’s shirt caught fire and I threw my arms around him and wrapping him with my flameproof suit. A marshall directed an extinguisher at us. I remember laughing at Dorai’s white face covered by the foam. We were unhurt but I did lose some face hair.
“Looking back, it is funny but I am glad that I had the presence of mind to wrap myself around Dorai and that we all got off the incident safe.”
Ooi these days spends his time with his family in a slower moving lifestyle.
He drives a Toyata Vios and said that he longer fancies driving fast.
“For starters I have lost my aggression, my reflex is slower and speed does not thrill me anymore. I suppose I have tasted all the fun and thrills of motor racing and am glad that I am still alive to tell my story,” concluded the jovial Ooi.