by Hoai Nam
Motorcyclist Le Huy Hoa has collected around 20 trophies since he debuted as a professional in 1997.
|On the edge: Racer Le Huy Hoa of Luc Phong racing team takes a bend at the Vietnam Motor Club Prix at Da Nang's Military Zone 5 Stadium. — File Photo
HCM City-born Hoa had a one-year test on a race track as a young amateur before trailing professionals in the city, which is home to 20 top racers and the biggest centre of the sport in Viet Nam.
Hoa begun watching the gun racers on Phu Tho track when he was 20 and he then fell in love with the sport and motorbikes.
"I reserve all my time for motorbikes. I dreamt to be a professional racer and I did my best to make the dream come true," Hoa said.
"I was recruited by the City-based Yamaha racing team after a year's perfect performance with the team," he said. "I also took charge as a technician at the Japanese motorbike manufacturer's service centre."
For the past 20 years, Phu Tho Stadium, which was a former horse racing centre, has been set up as a motor racing track.
The 1km long track was a major venue for the first races in the City, but racers could not reach the speeds they desired.
The first racers had to upgrade their 125cc two-stroke motorcycles in order to reach 13,000 revs per minute.
Hoa donned the jersey of the City-based Luc Phong Motor team as a key racer when the team debuted in April.
Earlier, he had a two-year contract with the Thanh Dat Racing team.
Hoa, now 37, along with technicians of the racing team, had to completely change the original design and production of their engines. Racing bikes were equipped with a bigger carburettor, integrated circuit, clutch and plug the cylinders rebored till the reached their best possible power.
The air intake system and exhaust pipe were also enlarged which created a deafening noise and fumes at the track.
"Of course, it was a complete change of technology that taxed the brains of the technicians," Hoa said. "After mechanics have worked on them, the engines are about 70 per cent of the winning equation while the skills and experience of the rider make up another 25 per cent, leaving a little percentage of luck."
"Professional bike riders know lots of racing tricks. They force out their opponents and prevent other racers passing.
Senior racer Luu Thanh Tuan said: "It's a brave race. We have experience from tough tracks for years so we know the right way to finish at top speed.
"We've had many falls on the track when we were young and we grew up from the tumbles," Tuan said.
Keeping fit is also a must for all racers, because overweight bodies would make it hard to balance on the bends, Hoa said.
"I've held my weight at 70kg for years. My daily regimen is not as tough as other sports but I rarely drink beer and eat fat meat."
Hoa said the team drew up a detailed tactical plan that helped them dominate rivals.
"One of us may run faster from the start and lure opponents to catch up at top speed from the first lap. It's a trap. My teammate may then suddenly slow down at bends and the other biker may take a chance to pass with quick acceleration.
"It's like a game of cat and mouse. The win is for the brave man who makes the right decision."
Racing teams all pour big money into providing racers with safe leather jackets, shoes, helmets and gloves and the best bike.
Luc Phong team's chairman Le Viet Hoa said, "We provide around US$20,000 for each racer, excluding $250 payment for each person at a race. Racing is an effective way of marketing spare parts and accessories.
"The team have four professional racers and three amateurs and we try to build up a powerful team at races year around."
Hoa said all the racers had broken their legs, ribs or collarbones.
"I have torn my knees ligaments from tumbles in past years though my body was well protected from leather jacket and helmet when I rolled on the track."
However, despite serious injuries racers still return to the track, Hoa said.
"It's a great passion. We are eager to go when hearing the engine starts roaring on track. If we can stand up from injuries, we keep the race going."
Hoa said his worst crash was in a race in the Buon Ma Thuot City in the Central Highlands province of Dac Lac, in 2004, which kept him in hospital for two months and forced him off the track for five months.
Hoa got back on track when he was well again and the love of the sport helped him grab four top, two runner-up and three third-place finishes last year.
Hoa said his wife, who had met him on the race track years before, had witnessed the accident and had never been back to the track since.
"She does not dare to see me racing but she just stays in the hotel to hear the final result. She just warns me to race safely before the race starts."
The couple now are working at a motorbike service centre in HCM City.
They have a daughter, but Hoa said he wants to have a son – a future racer – next year.
Hoa said his idol is Italian rider Valentino Rossi, who drives the number 46 for GP Motors of the Yamaha team.
He said he wished to test drive for GP Motors on a world racetrack.
"It's a long way to go. Vietnamese racers have to promote themselves at international junior tournaments before joining the world race," he said.
"I hope the young generation of Vietnamese racers will join a GP Motors someday." — VNS