Cuban motor racing, tradition and perseverance
By: Reinaldo Wossaert
Motor racing is a professional sport that was popular in Cuba in the past century, and that today is being practiced with an educational perspective.
In Cuba, it is something genetic. While many might not know it, Cubans love race cars and pure speed, said Ernesto Dobarganes, president of the Cuban Federation of Motor Racing and Karting, in an interview with Cubaplus.
According to Dobarganes, the first auto race took place on this island in 1903. Leading up to the 1950, popular races included the ones from Pinar del Río to Havana and from Sagua la Grande to Havana, and another that followed the course Havana-Güines-Cienfuegos.
However, the ultimate motor racing event was the Havana Motor Racing Grand Prize (Gran Premio de Automovilismo de La Habana), and its first and second editions were held in the late 1950s.
The setting was Havana's seaside highway and promenade, the Malecón, and the 1st Havana Motor Racing Grand Prize's winner was five-time world champion Juan Manuel Fangio of Argentina, followed by Stirling Moss and Peter Collins of the UK.
A year later, Fangio made the headlines again, but this time it was not because of the race: he was kidnapped by members of the 26th of July Revolutionary Movement, who wanted to attract attention to their cause and confirm to the world that a guerrilla army was fighting in Cuba to free its people from the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista.
The kidnapping happened on night before the 2nd Havana Grand Prize, on Feb. 24, 1958. As everybody knows, no violence was carried out against Fangio, who soon after the events described the kindness and respect of his kidnappers, Dobarganes said.
Unfortunately, the race itself had a tragic end when an accident killed six people and injured more than 30, bringing the competition to an immediate halt.
After the victory of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, an international motor racing event was sponsored here, but without the participation of the world's best drivers, due to the political propaganda campaign waged by the United States against the Revolution.
From then on, and following the sports philosophy of the revolutionary government, “our goal was to defend the achievements of the Revolution and promote the practice of motor racing in an educational way,” said Quico, as Dobarganes, an exracing driver, is also known.
It was in the late 1970s that karting became popular on the island, and in 1996, the Cuban Federation of Motor Racing and Karting was founded, and today it is affiliated with the International Motor Racing Federation. Cuba has a karting school so that children can learn from an early age, and “ensure the continuity of this sport,” Dobarganes said. “We also have the goal of preserving our cars as a valuable heritage of our country, which is why the Museum of the Automobile opened in 1982 in Santiago de Cuba.”
Today, the Cuban federation has 11 auto clubs, including the Macorino, also known as the “Peña de Fangio,” (“Peña” means club); the “Automóvil de La Habana”; and the “A lo cubano.” Every year, the clubs join together in coordination with the national federation to hold the Rally Copa Castrol, which runs through 10 of the Cuban capital's municipalities. During the Rally, participants must comply with all traffic laws and the winner is the one who loses the fewest points. This year, the Rally is being held Aug. 17-19, coinciding with a visit by the former Formula One race driver David Coulthard of Scotland.
“One of the most important tasks for our federation is to raise awareness about and inculcate compliance with the Golden Rule of the International Federation, in a joint plan with the United Nations, which is aimed at reducing traffic accident fatalities,” Dobarganes said.
“It's an ambitious project, and we hope to receive some support from our friends at the International Federation, to see whether next year, we will be able to have resources for educating young people who are in a big hurry to drive without knowing anything about it.”