Meeting an Angel at an F1 Circuit

(This is a continuation of my previous post – read it here)

The thing about spending a day at Sepang International Circuit, Malaysia is that it’s so hard to get out of the circuit complex. It’s nowhere near a train or bus station and there aren’t any GrabCar’s or taxis near the area at all. Heck, the nearest public transport hub is at Kuala Lumpur International Airport – which is about 13.5 kilometers away.

So after our little karting session at Sepang, we spent almost another hour at the circuit, surrounded with the smell of petrol and engine noise, trying to find anyone who could get us to KLIA. One of the marshals at the track, Zul, was kind enough to try and find an Uber for me, but even that didn’t work out at all. I was starting to feel my body crumbling under fatigue after the physical exertion from gokarting and several days of no proper rest I had endured before the trip, so when I saw a red car arrive at the track and the driver talking to my parents, I was excited.

I asked Zul if he could get the driver to take us to KLIA and after their conversation in Malay, he said yes at the cost of RM20 per ride. We were in a party of 7 and Malaysian law forbids more than 6 people in a car at one go. My parents and I stayed back while the first four people went.

After what felt like forever, the red car and its driver came back. I ran to Zul, shook his hand and thanked him and got into that car.

“What are you guys doing here in Sepang? No one really comes here during off-season. I live nearby and I was just going home when I saw my Grab app so I thought I’d get  you guys,” the driver said.

“We just went gokarting actually,” I said.

“You an F1 fan?” he asked.

“Yeah, we’ve been watching since 2004,” my dad said. “But she loves it more than I do now.”

He got quiet for a while then turned the wheel to the entrance of Sepang International Circuit.

“You can’t go here without seeing this circuit,” the driver said again.

“Are you serious? I thought there’s some testing of touring cars going on in there. We can get in?” I asked, quite not believing what was going on. I had heard engine car noises from inside the main track and asked Zul what all that was about, to which he confirmed that there was a touring car testing event going on.

“I can talk to the guys,” he stopped in front of the gate and hand-braked. “You wait here, okay?”

He got out of the car and started talking to the security guards up front. There seemed to be some sort of negotiation going on between them. Deep down, I was nervous that a) we would be arrested for breaking some sort of law because of this and b) we may not be allowed to get in while also internally hoping that we would be allowed to go in and I could set foot on one of the places I consider to be the hallowed grounds of racing.

The driver finally walked away, opened the car door and said, “You can get in, but I can only get you to the automobile museum and no further than that and we don’t have a lot of time.”

I couldn’t believe it. We got into Sepang – the Sepang, F1 Circuit Sepang, that Sepang I’ve been seeing my heroes race on for so many years.

The security guard let us by, allowed us to park and I stepped outside and took it all in – the famous “umbrellas” over the pit grandstand, the engine sounds, that famous grandstand at the final hairpin. I couldn’t get over the fact that I was really seeing them in person.


The Entrance to the Track Forgive the tacky pose okay, I was freaking out internally

Our driver then called out to me and said, “We haven’t got a lot of time. Go to the automobile museum while you can!”

So my dad and I ran to the automobile museum located at the entrance of the track. For a moment, I forgot that I was sick – excitement took over and pumped adrenaline in my system.

When we got to cool, air-conditioned museum, I was panting and gathering myself while a calm, smiling woman welcomed us, told us to fill up the guest book and have a look around. I scribbled as clear as I could, thanked her and speed-walked throughout the museum, trying to gather as much information as I could and take as many good photos as I could.

The cars

The museum is home to so many vintage cars – Jaguar, Volkswagen, Mercedes Benz, BMW, Toyota, Suzuki – and I wish I had more time to explore the museum and really feel the soul of these cars and appreciate how high-tech they must have been in the past. But I didn’t have a lot of time and after exploring the museum, I finally found what I was looking for – a tiny corner dedicated to F1.

F1 Corner

I was honestly disappointed not to see more F1 mementos around or a racing simulator because this is the first F1 circuit in ASEAN. Nonetheless, I was quite happy to see this “shrine” built in the museum for the sport I love.

We were walking towards the museum’s exit when the woman at reception told us there’s a second floor to explore too and so we went up, hoping for more motorsports artifacts. What greeted us was a display recounting in detail Malaysia’s own journey in the automotive world, which was quite interesting considering this is an ASEAN country actually producing its own cars.

Malaysian Trucks Car Spare Parts

We went downstairs, thanked the woman at reception and walked back to the red car. I noticed that there was a motorsports souvenir shop across the museum, but knew that we didn’t have time to check it out so I thought “I’ll be back next time and get stuff there and watch a race.”

When I got to the driver, I thanked him again and again for getting us into the circuit.

“How was it?” he asked. “Did you like the museum?”

“I did. Thank you, thank you so much for getting us in here. Really, this is a dream come true,” I said, still in cloud nine, still so excited. I rolled down my window and thanked the security guard too and off we went towards KLIA.

As he was driving, the driver started saying “You can’t be an F1 fan, go to Sepang, and not get into the track. I know how you must feel about this track.”

And right then and there, I felt as if there was an unspoken bond between the driver and I, one shared by all racing community members that only those who love racing and live and breathe the sport can ever truly understand.

“I was a racer too – motorcycle, 250cc, you know. I even went to America, to Las Vegas to race. Stayed in Caesar’s Palace. That was awesome,” he said.

“Why did you stop?” I asked.

“I got too old. Couldn’t handle the physical stuff again. So here I am now, becoming a GrabCar driver,” he replied.

It was a story I’ve often heard in the cutthroat world of racing – that horrible way down, the fall from grace.

We started talking about racing, about our opinions on new racing rules, the FIA, Bernie Ecclestone, rich people who aren’t even racing fans but only go to races for show and prestige and it was the first time I had ever met someone from outside of my friends or family who loves motorsports too. He shared his story as a motorbike racer – how he met Valentino Rossi and Donald Trump at some point in his career, his glory days, the girls, and the other racers.

And then there was this moment when I zoned out of the conversation as the driver talked to my dad, looked out the window and thanked God that I was alive for this, thanked God that I met this guy because what are the odds of traveling to another country and meeting someone like him? I felt a lump in my throat and before I knew it, felt tears running down my cheek. I hastily tried to wipe them away but couldn’t stop crying because at that point, I felt so grateful that a stranger actually helped me make one of the dreams I’ve had since I was a kid come true.

The driver then shared more of his life story. After his stint in racing, he got a top job at an airline company only to be fired for no particular reason. He’s trying to make ends meet as a GrabCar driver while his son is working his way to be a pilot. Then he said something that got me thinking a lot:

“I believe that kindness will reward you. When you give kindness, you’ll receive kindness in return.”

This is a man undergoing such a downward spiral economically and he actually said that.

When we finally got to KLIA, my dad gave him a big tip and he thanked us, to which I shook his hand and said, “No, thank you. Thank you so much. You made one of dreams come true. Really, thank you so much.”

I asked for his contact information and finally got the name of this random angel I met at an F1 circuit: Mr. Badrul.

Mr. Badrul, I hope you’re reading this because I can never thank you enough for what you did for me. And thank you for teaching me the most incredible lesson on what a random act of kindness really means. I pray that you’ll receive kindness in return a hundred times over.

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