Racy life of a grand old man

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 August, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 August, 2003, 12:00am

Macau Grand Prix legend Teddy Yip will be remembered for his jet-setting lifestyle, colourful character and most of all his love for racing in a career few will be able to match.

Yip, who died last month aged 90, lived life to the fullest, his longevity a testament to his good living - fast cars, women, martinis and endless travels. But it was his passion for racing that made him famous the world over. His wide smile and friendly manner won him many friends.

Through the years, he would be associated with the who's who of motor racing, including such names as Eddie Irvine, Keke Rosberg, Rubens Barrichello and Ronnie Peterson to name a few.

Yip's former mechanic, Ash Vadgama, will never forget the little man with the pencil moustache who had a big heart and played an instrumental part in turning the Macau Grand Prix into the internationally recognised motor sport event it is today.

'He was a wonderful man. He respected loyalty and he was an immensely fair man. Although he was an astute businessman, he was a very jovial fellow. He'd never forget a person's name. If he'd met you once, chances are that he would remember your name,' said Kenyan-born Vadgama, who first met Yip at Mallory Park many years ago.

'He was very generous with money and he donated a lot of it. Not too many friends knew about his generosity because he was a very private man.'

While many would remember Yip's exploits on the track, Vadgama's memory of the man was at Yip's Hong Kong office at Theodore Investments, when Yip showed his caring side even though he was already one of Macau's well-known tycoons at the time.

'We used to eat lunchboxes in his office. When the food came, Teddy wanted to know what we ordered. He said to me: 'The chicken you're having is a bit tough, isn't it? Put it all in the box and let's go.' We went to the restaurant and he requested the food be changed because he thought the chicken wasn't tender enough for us. He certainly made his point.'

People cannot remember Yip not smiling. That was part of his demeanour and his ever-friendly character. He loved partying and his parties in Macau are as legendary as the man himself. Nobody could throw a party better than Yip.

One year, he invited all his various wives and girlfriends - believed to have numbered around 150 - to a resort in Mexico to help him celebrate his 75th birthday. He gave them all diamond-studded pendants with the inscription 'Long Life' in Chinese characters. Fur coats were also handed out as gifts.

When Yip spent his money, he would spend it lavishly. He loved to make people happy. 'Do you love Teddy? Teddy loves you,' he would say to just about every woman he met. It didn't matter whether they were nine or ninety. 'Why do I say, 'Do you love Teddy?' Why not? It doesn't cost anything to be nice to people,' he once said.

Yip was a showman too. At a Formula One race at Long Beach one year, he had his cars lifted by a huge crane on to the deck of the Queen Mary to show off to his 800 guests. But Yip had forgotten that his cars had missed technical inspection, which meant a US$10,000 fine. He dutifully paid without so much of a fuss. And when he wasn't satisfied that the Queen Mary could cater the quality of food he wanted, he brought in his own chefs to cook up a feast Macanese style.

His philosophy was pure and simple: 'Today never comes back. You've got to enjoy it.'

Born in Sumatra, Indonesia, of Chinese parents and educated in the Netherlands as a Dutch citizen, Yip was truly a man of the world. He spoke six Chinese dialects, English, Dutch, French, German, Malay and Thai. His father was a government official and when he was growing up, Yip took an interest in motorcycles, hoping he would raise enough cash to one day compete.

He had gone through a lot of hardship to get through business college in the Netherlands, newspaper delivering and even shoe shining to get there. But he flunked out of college because he found 'biology more interesting outside the classroom'.

Yip never lost his humour and years later during a press conference to announce his Theodore Racing Team, Yip was asked a highly-technical question about a car's combustion. At first Yip looked flabbergasted but then quipped: 'What does it matter? All the girls will be there!'

Yip arrived in Hong Kong in 1942 and started work with the National Cash Register Company, and through sheer hard work succeeded in becoming one of the wealthiest men in Macau. He gradually rose up the ranks to become Macau's director of tourism in 1962.

But it was his hotel, casino, rice and sugar trading, restaurant business and car dealerships, plus his hydrofoil service (Far East) between Macau and Hong Kong that made him his fortune.

Yip, known as the 'grand old man of Macau', was involved in the Macau Grand Prix from its earliest days. He took part in the race for the first time in 1954 and finished third for his best result in 1958. But it was his involvement as a financial backer that gave Yip his greatest success in the sport.

His generosity as a financial supporter never wavered, first sponsoring British racing driver Brian Redman in Formula 5000 in the early 1970s, and then becoming associated with another top Australia driver, Alan Jones, who won two Formula 5000 races for Yip's team and later became Formula One champion.

He would later be associated with a list of Formula One champions - Ayrton Senna, Nelson Piquet, Mika Hakkinen, Alan Jones and Keke Rosberg - who all drove for him in Macau or the Tasman series in Australia and New Zealand. He also sponsored former Indy 500 winners like Rick Mears and Bobby Unser and female Formula One driver Desire Wilson.

Yip remained enigmatic to the end, not revealing even his true age as reports suggest he was 96 and not 90 at the time of his death.

But there was no mistaking the flamboyant, larger-than-life character of a man who made a lasting impression on all who knew him.