To those in the world of auto racing, the San Clemente-based Indy Lights racer Neil Alberico may come off as a classic California guy who spends what little free time he has off-season playing beach volleyball, or catching choice waves with his professional surfer friends.
But if there’s anything else the Filipino-American race car driver is passionate about outside of his racing career, it’s the Philippines, and sharing that meaningful aspect of his life.
Ask him about the country, and he’ll gladly and vividly tell you stories of the many experiences he’s had, whether it be trying local delicacies, digging for huge mud crabs, or using liter Coke bottles attached to fishing lines in place of fishing poles.
Despite living in Southern California, the Verizon IndyCar Series prospect is no stranger to the Philippines. Alberico has been going to the country since he was just two years old, spending time on Semirara Island in Caluya, Antique where his mom Nora grew up.
When he went to the Philippines two years ago, he brought along a few of his childhood friends from California, who after hearing about many of his trips to the Philippines, wanted in.
“They wanted the real local experience so we took the boat to my mom’s island instead of flying the jet. It was like a four-day trip to get there and they were stoked just to kind of see firsthand where my mom came from,” Alberico shared with the Asian Journal.
“It was a really cool experience for me because I got to share with them my heritage and my background,” he added.
As a Fil-Am “ambassador” through the Philippine Department of Tourism in Los Angeles, sharing his love for the country comes naturally, which in part stems from having such a close-knit family.
For Alberico, connecting to his Filipino roots means bonding with family. With over 25 first cousins on his mom’s side, Alberico recalled having numerous activity-packed weekends.
He also shared how his mom came to the U.S. at 28 years old to work, sending money back home to the Philippines, and helping her family get the same opportunities by petitioning them to the land of opportunity — something many Filipinos can relate to.
“Being Filipino and going and visiting the islands since I was 2 years old has been a big part of my private life, so to be able to share that with people, and to show people what it means to be Filipino is going to be really cool,” said Alberico.
“Taking my private life and kind of making it public is really exciting for me. It’s something I’m passionate about because it’s who I am,” he added.
Alberico will once again be heading out to the Philippines this weekend amidst the holiday festivities, but this time, he’ll be focusing on preparing for next year’s 2018 racing season. This includes hopping onto the ABS-CBN’s daily sports talk show “Hardball” to chat about his racing career and introduce himself to fellow Filipinos.
Having recently finished his second consecutive season with Carlin Motorsport, Alberico is fully dedicating his off-season towards his goal of racing in the Verizon IndyCar Series and its premier Indianapolis 500.
A bonus goal that comes with it? Becoming the first Filipino-American in IndyCar since Jovy Marcelo who unfortunately died in a fatal crash while practicing for the 1992 Indy 500.
“I want to be that Filipino-American IndyCar driver and try to fly the flag for us,” said Alberico before giving a shout out to his Carlin racing crew.
He added, “I’ve built such a good relationship with those guys over the years, and they’ve been so good to me.”
To keep in shape, Alberico has been working with a number of different people to work on his strengths and weaknesses not only physically, but technically and mentally as well.
In mid-November, he went back to his karting roots and competed in the USA SuperNationals superkart race in Las Vegas.
His typical off-season day starts off with getting up between 6 and 7 a.m., eating a nutritious breakfast, and drinking a cup of Bulletproof coffee.
“Diet and nutrition [have] been a big part of my life this off-season,” said Alberico. “Making changes and eating well is a constant reminder of dedicating your life to something and wanting to be better.”
The rest of his day involves spending time at the gym and behind his simulator, or playing some beach volleyball or surfing.
Despite not having driving plans in his upcoming Filipino trip itinerary, Alberico is proud of the country’s car culture.
Other known names in Philippine racing are F1 driver Marlon Stöckinger and Ferrari Challenge Asia Pacific winner Angie King.
“I think Filipinos have a really cool car culture,” said Alberico, noting the country’s particular interest in the import scene.
“[B]eing a Mazda driver for the past six years, I think I’m connected well with the whole Mazda scene,” said Alberico who joined the Mazda Road to Indy in 2012.
Despite having meetings as a priority for the trip, Alberico said he’ll be bringing his helmet in case he does end up driving something.
“Fingers crossed,” he said laughing.
When time does open up again for him to go out and explore the Philippines, Alberico hopes to again get his friends together and explore other areas.
“There’s over 7,000 islands. There’s so much to do,” said Alberico, adding that he’s looking forward to surfing and diving during future trips.