Popular racer Upulwan Serasinghe speaks …
Q : How did you get into racing?
I started racing when I was around 24 or 25 years of age. I studied at the Veluwana College and subsequently at the D.S. Senanayake College. I did not have money to race when I was young. My father was a Government servant. It was only once I started working and earning that I started racing. I have two private businesses.
It was my friend and fellow motorcar driver Dinesh Senanayake who opened up the platforms for me and set a foundation for me in this regard. He encouraged and pushed me to take part in racing events. My first race was at the Wattala Autocross where I drove a small Starlet that was at home.
I am by nature a man who takes up challenges. However, this all started when me and another friend of mine also called Dinesh were driving fast on the road and I overtook him. He challenged me to do the same on a race track. I made up my mind then and there that I would. He on the other hand quit motor racing back then whereas I am still continuing. My career in racing is 20 years now. I am now 47-years-old. For 12 years, I was consecutively the national champion. I have over 1,200 podium finishes (first place).
I have stopped counting. CEAT has been supporting me from the beginning. I participate in the 1300 cylinder capacity (measured in cubic centimetres), 1500cc and 1600cc national events and lead the championship in two. I love this sport. When racing nationally, one has to obtain a license from the governing body, Sri Lanka Automobile Sports (SLAS). I am proud to say that when it was implemented 10 to 15 years back, at a time when the President of the SLAS was Suranjith Premadasa, I was granted the licence and the number is one.
My son who is 22 plus and is in Australia for higher education too is a racer. Education is important. This is a hobby. He however comes down for the races and flies back. He too is leading the championship in his event.
Q : What are the challenges involved in engaging in this sport?
This sport is one that one races with luck. No matter how talented and skilled one is, one is working with a machine and if something such as a washer in the engine wears off or a nut gets loosened, or the brakes fail or slip, or if a tire comes off, one will not win.
Recently, during a race I was leading by 300 metres with just two more laps to go, the car fell into a pothole, and one of the rear wheels came off and broke. Therefore, no matter how much one prepares, something can happen. That is why one places a lot of faith and trust in the mechanics who accompany and assist one. The support of one’s wife and mother too is important. This sport is one of the most dangerous sports. The wives and mothers of racing drivers never tell the driver to win but instead advice them to go safely and come back. Racers die.
One must go carefully. Driving a car on the road is 800% safer than driving on a track. Safety is of paramount importance. Officials do not allow drivers to race without roll bars and fireproof suits.
Q : How important is it to encourage children to take up this sport?
Regarding motorcycle racing, if those under 10 years of age practice, they get into the rhythm and we have those with the potential to compete internationally. They must be sponsored and provided with the requisite facilities. This must definitely be done.
There is nothing wrong with it. Those who ride in racing do so according to some mechanism, system and procedure, and they also have some family background in that either their father or a brother is a racing driver.
Our time is coming to an end and therefore there must be a younger generation, a second line. They must be supported from the beginning and if that is done we can produce international level drivers.
Q : What kind of Governmental support do the drivers receive?
There is no kind of support provided whatsoever. This is one of the world’s most expensive sports. Like one requires a bat and a ball to play cricket, one needs a car to race. This is a third world country and the country cannot bear the costs involved and thus the administration is not too keen on the sport.
The only Sri Lankan to shine internationally is Dilantha Malagamuwa and even he too did not do so in Sri Lanka but instead was in Japan and used the money he had worked hard to earn. All racing drivers use and spend their personal funds in engaging in the sport.
There is no contribution whatsoever from the Government or the Ministry of Sports. There is a certain limit to which even Minister of Sports Dayasiri Jayasekara can go to. For an example, to import a racing type vehicle or a tire set requires approval from the Ministry of Finance or the Cabinet. Therefore, we have to commend whatever sponsorship that comes our way.
Also, if not for the Sri Lanka Army and the Sri Lanka Air Force there would be no motor racing at all in the country. Even the Walawa Supercross is being held on a track built on land belonging to them. All Commanders of the Army and those in the regiments have helped in this endeavour. Also, the income and profit from the event goes towards providing for the welfare of disabled soldiers and to provide scholarships for students in rural villages near the regiments.
Q : Countries like Monaco, Malaysia and Canada (in Montreal) have formula one grand prix tracks and they are big money spinners which boost their local economies. Does Sri Lanka have the potential to capitalize on motor sports in such a manner?
I am fairly certain that a grand prix track akin to the one in Singapore was designed into the development plan pertaining to reclaiming the land and sea (Indian Ocean) in Colombo. India too has facilities for world championship level international motorcar racing. There are benefits for tourism in having such in Sri Lanka. A survey has revealed that after cricket, this is the sport that is viewed by the most number of spectators.