Readers Digest once carried a column titled, “My Most Unforgettable Character.”
My choice would have been Teddy Yip. If not No. 1, surely in the top three.
Yip died last week at 96, give or take a year, his long life a testament to good living -- martinis, women, fast cars, tireless travel, unlimited generosity and a wide smile. No one can remember Teddy Yip not smiling.
How could a man not smile when he could round up his various wives -- and girlfriends -- and bring them together for his 75th birthday and have them act like sorority sisters at a reunion? Of course, he gave them all diamond-studded pendants with the inscription, “Long Life,” in Chinese characters.
“Do you love Teddy? Teddy loves you,” he said to just about every woman he met, from 9 to 90. “Why do I say, ‘Do you love Teddy?’ Why not, it doesn’t cost anything to be nice to people.”
He always referred to himself in the third person, as in “Teddy would like a martini.”
When he wanted to celebrate having his cars entered in the Formula One race at Long Beach and the Indianapolis 500 in 1981, he had them lifted by a huge crane onto the deck of the Queen Mary to show off to his 800 guests. When F1 officials informed him his car missed tech inspection and that meant a $10,000 penalty, he smiled and paid.
Vern Schuppan finished third for him at Indy in one of Dan Gurney’s Eagles and Patrick Tambay finished sixth at Long Beach in a Tony Southgate-designed Theodore.
When he wasn’t satisfied that the Queen Mary could cater the quality of food he wanted, he had his own chefs brought in from Macao to create their own feast.
When he wanted to make sure he would have a place to watch the Long Beach Grand Prix, Yip rented a suite on the 28th floor of the International Tower and had his young friend Albert Wong live there to be sure Teddy could entertain during Grand Prix week.
His philosophy was, “Today never comes back, you’ve got to enjoy it.”
The little man with the pencil-thin mustache was born in Sumatra of Chinese parents and educated in Holland as a Dutch citizen, but he was a man of the world. He spoke six Chinese dialects, English, Dutch, French, German, Malay and Thai.
“My children [he had seven] always say to me, ‘Teddy, no matter how hard you try, you always sound like a Yank.’ ”
His legacy centered around Macao, the six-square-mile island 40 miles offshore from Hong Kong. Known as the “Grand Old Man of Macao,” his business card says he was executive director of the Macao Tourism and Amusement Co., but he was involved in hotels, casinos and the hydrofoil service between Macao and Hong Kong, lucrative businesses that made him a millionaire many times over.
His race cars had Chinese characters on their sides. Yip said it meant “Theodore Racing Team, Ltd.”
Bobby Unser, one of Yip’s racing friends who was his guest in Macao a few years ago, differed. “It’s probably an advertisement for his cat houses and gambling joints in Macao,” Unser said. “Teddy owns most of them, you know.”
Confronted with Unser’s statement, Yip only smiled enigmatically behind his oversized dark glasses. Then he said, “You know Bobby,” as if that told it all. Unser says that anyone who travels to Macao as Yip’s guest is everyone’s guest.
“It didn’t matter if we were in Tokyo or Bangkok or Hong Kong, it seemed like everyone knew Teddy and when they heard we were his guests, we couldn’t spend a dime anywhere. I never saw anyone who knew as many people or who was known by so many as Teddy.”
Yip was a racer himself, driving in the Macao Grand Prix for 18 years before becoming a Formula One car owner. He finished third in 1963 and claimed he should have won another time when “My steering broke and I swerved into the embankment and met a stubborn lamp post that refused to give way.”
A chance meeting in 1974 with Sid Taylor, a longtime mechanic and car builder from Ireland, on his way to Kuala Lumpur led to Yip’s leaving the Asia/Australia racing circuits and campaigning in Europe and the United States.
“Before I left Sid, I had agreed to sponsor Vern Schuppan in Taylor’s Grand Prix car for one season,” he said. “The next thing I knew I was hiring Tony Brise to drive the Theodore car in the first Long Beach race.”
When his cars were running, Yip was always there, often commuting 17 hours from Hong Kong to Los Angeles for a weekend of racing. He thrived on it, saying, “Teddy would rather take Friday, Saturday and Sunday off and go to a race in Long Beach or Indianapolis or Le Mans than take a vacation. Three days are better for Teddy than three weeks.”
The list of drivers who drove in Yip’s cars or with his sponsorship reads like a Who’s Who of Racing.
For instance, Formula One champions Ayrton Senna, Nelson Piquet, Mika Hakkinen, Alan Jones and Keke Rosburg drove for him in Macao or the Tasman series.
Also Indy 500 winners Rick Mears and Bobby Unser, plus Roberto Moreno, Roberto Guerrero, Kevin Cogan, Bill Simpson and Mike Mosley in a variety of equipment.
Desire Wilson became the only woman to win a Formula One race when she drove one of Teddy’s cars, a Theodore Wolf, to victory in a non-points race at Brands Hatch in England.
Services are today at the Hong Kong Funeral Home and it is probably a good thing Teddy Yip had so many hydrofoils, because they will be needed to handle all his friends.
Long summer nights have prompted tracks to schedule multi-main event programs Saturday night.
Both Irwindale Speedway and Perris Auto Speedway will feature five classes of racing.
Irwindale will mix NASCAR super late models, super stocks, two divisions of trucks and a Figure 8 race. Perris will counter with super stocks, street stocks, champ trucks, cruisers and
Up the coast at Ventura, Jim Naylor has added NMRA three-quarter midgets to its weekly program of VRA sprints, senior sprints and modifieds.
Walt Johnson, 77, former U.S. Auto Club official and midget car owner, died July 10 after falling and hitting his head at his home in Burbank. Johnson and his wife, Pat, received the Jim Blunk Award for their “many contributions to the sport of midget auto racing.” Survivors include his wife and son, Walt Jr., 2001 USAC TQ midget car champion. Services will be 1:30 p.m., Aug. 3, at Burbank Elks Lodge.
Bill Merrill, 73, second generation timer and scorer for Southern California races, died June 18 at his home in Ontario after suffering a stroke 11 days earlier. Merrill’s father, Curly, was a pioneer timer and scorer for the California Sports Car Club, a position his son assumed upon his death in 1992.
Earl Mansell, 94, a longtime sprint car driver who raced at Legion Ascot Speedway, Jeffries Barn and on the sand at Pismo Beach in the 1920s, has died of natural causes in Santa Maria.