Exhilarating. Invigorating. But vastly underfunded; unduly neglected. Motorsports. It is what is seen and heard about on the screen and in cyberspace; it is not what is seen or heard about around the typical street corner or, more so unlikely, at school. What immense potential it has is at a withering state for Korea.
There is an earsplitting roar of a heavily geared sports car as its engine revs up to its max. Its sleek and vibrant blue-green paint job mix is covered by an assortment of product stickers advertising from red Bull and other team sponsors. Behind the wheel is its driver, armored from top to bottom, in helmet and fireproof suit, ready to race. the rank but invigorating smell of gasoline travels through his senses, alerting his entire body to attention. upon catching the signature waving of the green flag, the unnerving sound of multiple tires screeching across freshly poured asphalt barely reaches his ears as he struggles to crisscross his way to the front. the race has only just begun.
When was the last time you experienced a chill running up your spine from hearing or watching race cars rush past you at the track? probably not too recently or maybe even never, considering the extreme neglect of motorsports in Korea.
One would think that out of Korea’s many industrial and technological advancements it would be farther along in the quite technical and extreme sports genre, motorsports. yet, that is not so. Korea has only wholeheartedly embraced racing recently, so motorsports’ current low standing here comes as no surprise.
Taking a U-Turn to the Past…
▲ Park Sung Yun achieved first place in the K1000, or Sprint Race, during Round 4 of the 2012 Hankook DDGT Championship. Provided by Park Sung Yun
Perhaps unknown to most foreign readers, chun doo Hwan, former republic of Korea Army general, became president of south Korea in 1980, and reigned as a tyrannical dictator who had to go to great, politically manipulative lengths to remain in favor with the public.
Throughout his presidency, Chun attempted to make up for oppressing human rights, by distracting the populace. He promoted sports to secure his presidency’s legitimacy and retain popular support for it, which paved the way for professional sports in Korea such as baseball.
Over the past three decades, sports have increased in popularity in Korea, but motorsports remains unloved and underfunded. “compared to other countries such as Japan, the united states, and european nations, ours is a nation that has a somewhat embarrassing stature in terms of motorsports,” said Lee Maeng-Keun, the president of MK racing company (MKrc).
Lee, who has conquered much ground in the dangerous field that is motorsports, lived an extreme lifestyle as a drag racer in his younger days. nicknamed “Bullet rider,” loosely translated from Korean, Lee is now a promoter of the only amateur motorsports competition in Korea, the Hankook ddgt championship.
It has been less than twenty years since Korea first catered to the world of motorsports, unlike other more developed countries which have more than a century of racing culture. “It makes it worse that countries such as Italy, France, and Japan have had people interested in managing and funding racing teams for many decades now, all the while expanding their knowledge and skill in the field—that is why they are so advanced today, as compared to Korea anyway,” said Lee.
Car culture as a whole is a relatively new phenomenon in Korea. “Frankly speaking, from the 1970s to the 2000s, any average person on the street would have marveled at a friend or neighbor owning a single car!” said Lee. “There is definitely room for the possibility of motorsports technology increasing in Korea, but seeing as it is not well known here, it is a difficult task to popularize it.”
In many other countries, auto manufacturers promote their vehicles by sponsoring racing teams and by marketing some of their cars to amateur and independent racers. they support stick cars, fixed wheel, and endurance racing, among others. Korea, however, is just getting started in the field of motorsports.
Korea Is No Rookie
▲ Photographed by Park Jin Yung (all above)
Yet Korea deserves a pat on the back for its enduring efforts and achievements, as it has been able to come so far in approximately just thirty years. various motorsports competitions, unknown to most, take place in Korea today, including the Hankook ddgt championship and the international Formula 1 Korean grand prix.
The annual Hankook ddgt championship series features a diverse array of races for motorsports vehicles. drag racing, drifting, grand touring (gt), time trial (tt), super touring (st), and much more. It is open to amateurs, including but not limited to university students such as ourselves. to participate, potential drivers must pass a qualifying test at the track.
This amateur competition is sponsored by none other than Hankook tire.the world’s eighth largest tire company.which has been promoting the appreciation of motorsports in Korea through various events and attractions over many years, including the Hankook ddgt championship. A total of six rounds are held every year, and the final round is where the intensity reaches its peak.
One contest that stands out in this event is the local car race, in which any average joe, or gal, may participate with a standard compact car and race against other locals. It is a singularly popular way for any and all regular folk to come to the track and blow off some steam, free from constraining speed regulations of everyday driving.
“I personally joined in on these races because you can never get into trouble or in danger here while going at high speeds,” said Kim sung Hwan (38, gimhae), a gt-300, or grand touring 300-Horsepower race, participant. Kim used to be a drag racer until he got into a small accident that ultimately had him realize the dangers of unregulated racing.
“It has become a hobby to come out here and race with the others.we do race against each other, but it is generally all for good fun with no hard feelings attached,” added Kim. racing at the track becomes more of a leisurely activity than a competition for most participants, as it does for Kim.
“The people who participate in the Hankook DDGT championship are mostly just ordinary people or amateurs; we enjoy our regular lifestyles during the week, and it is only on the weekends when we compete that we get behind the wheel to race,” said Park Sung Yun (30, nanhyang). Park is a winning driver, who consecutively races in the K1000, or sprint race, for the compact cars.
“Nevertheless, racing cars do require a lot more care and technical and manual enhancements than an ordinary car would, so there are often times when some of us have to come out on weekdays to fix up our cars or even prepare and practice for upcoming races,” said Park.
Though it is indeed difficult to spare the time, Park nevertheless feels a goodly amount of pride and excitement as a scarce female driver. “other riders and track managers here will easily remember you since you are a woman; not just that, but it is advantageous that I weigh much less than the male riders when racing!” said Park. Still, she continued that a second life as a race car driver can be physically demanding, and she especially felt so as a woman, since one race requires 25 laps of complete physical and mental concentration. “Motorsports is, without a doubt, a sport,” added Park.
Kang Sung Mi (29, yangjae) is another female race car driver who spends as much time at the track as Park does. Kang, however, takes on a much stimulating albeit riskier challenge as a drift car racer in the VENTUS-D race.
“When I first decided to participate in the race, I was a bit uncomfortable and felt pressured with the hefty amount of attention I received as a rare female driver, but it does have its merits,” said Kang. “By the very fact that I am a female racer and get that much notice as well as the spotlight is a bit of a plus.”
Ordinary citizens and even students alike may join in such competitions along with Park, Kang, and Kim, if they are willing. such races as the Hankook ddgt championship are held quite a few times during the year, and are helping to motorsports growth in the nation.
Full Speed Ahead
Motorsports is an exciting and, in the words of its followers, an extreme sport—perhaps a little too extreme to become fully established in current Korea—but is there a way to propagate its spread? “
▲ Photographed by Choi Jiyoung
Actually, motorsports is pretty popular; indeed, it is popular with those who have a little knowledge about it, and are naturally thrilled about it! this was similar to how it was when baseball was first introduced to Korea,” said Lee. “I believe, just as baseball was, motorsports will soon be recognized by more and more people as they know more about it.”
A lack of sponsors, promoters, and independent racing teams all contribute to the low prestige of motorsports in Korea. “even though this is so, our country plays host to international racing competitions like the Formula 1 grand prix, and we can see more and more people every year participating in the local car races of the Hankook ddgt championship,” said Park. “If this keeps up, I only see that the recognition and interest in motorsports in Korea will continue to increase!”