Tent Travels: A passion for speed

Cute little Lotus Sevens take to the track.

THE madness of Gauteng’s road infrastructure always makes me realise how lucky we are to live on KwaZulu-Natal’s relatively traffic-free Hibiscus Coast.

We moan when the roads become congested during the holiday season, when traffic is reduced to crawling pace for a few blocks, when – horrors of horrors – it takes us ten extra minutes to drive home.

The final Voortrekker Monument parkrun was an emotional experience.

I just can’t imagine having to deal with the stress of that crazy rush-hour traffic twice a day, every working day. Whew, how do commuters cope!

By the time we’d made our way from Springs on the East Rand to Zwartkops Raceway near Pretoria, detouring en route to drop off a camping fridge that needed to be repaired, my nerves were pretty frazzled. And I was in the passenger seat!

Bill, who had done the driving and who’d had to depend on my dodgy navigation skills still seemed quite relaxed about it all – but then he was pretty focused on our destination.

Zwartkops is one of his all-time favourite places and its big, annual Passion for Speed festival is a highlight of his year.

He is simply crazy about anything with two or four wheels, be it vintage, classic or contemporary, and this event is a celebration of speed, a day of retro day motor racing, nostalgia, thrills and spills.

Now in its 16th year, it started out as the David Piper Day when David and Mike Night inspired the series in 1988 as the pre-1970 International Sports Prototype Club.

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To be quite honest I am not the hugest of motor sports fan and I wasn’t too sure about accompanying Bill on this annual pilgrimage.

I usually stay at home and let him enjoy it with his mates but he’d persuaded me to give it a try this year.

for petrol heads, half the fun of the Passion for Speed Fetival is being able to wander around the pits.

Would I be horribly bored?

It was the day before the official even, just a practice day, but there was still plenty of action and a festive atmosphere when we arrived at the track.

Bill always spoke about how informal it was and how racing fans could wander around, take a look at the pits and rub shoulders with racing legends from yesterday. When we took a long walk around the raceway, I realised what he meant.

The passion for speed, a love for all those retro dream machines and an all-consuming interest in South Africa’s vibrant racing history united everyone there, be they racing car drivers, pit team members or spectators.

For me, it was like stepping back into the past and revisiting all those old car racing, bike racing, speedway, stock car and MotoX tracks that Bill used to take me to when we first started dating.

Around the circumference race fans had set up elaborate day camps, complete with cool boxes, camp chairs, gas braais and picnics hampers.

Here and there festive tail gate parties broke out and there was constant discussions about the relative merits of the cars and drivers between aficionados perched on bakkie roofs and bonnets.

Wow, spectators even looked more or less the same. Although they had aged a little since the golden age of motoring, the trackside fashions hadn’t changed all that much.

magnificently over the top’ this Plymouth fury really took my fancy even though it usually conked out before the end of the race.,

And, judging from the selection played over the sound system, they still listened to the same old music. I surprised myself by thoroughly enjoying the day, although Bill assured me the next day, race day would be much more fun.

We spent the evening with old friends who live in a peaceful townhouse complex fairly near the track.

It was one of those lovely Highveld summer evenings but by next morning some rain clouds had gathered and there was a distinct chill to the air, reminding us we were in high-altitude country.

We had a mission to complete before heading back to Zwartkops. Bill and I are both been parkrunners, taking part in the free-timed 5km parkruns that are held in park-like venues all over the world every Saturday morning.

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We usually do our local Uvongo parkrun but like to try out other runs when we are travelling. We even have four different Australian parkruns to our credit.

As an incentive to keep people doing the runs (or walks if you prefer), the parkrun organisers hand out special T-shirts to parkrunners who complete 50, then 100, then 250 parkruns.

Bill and I clocked up our 100th runs some time ago but have a long way to the next goal. To keep us interested we have set ourselves another goal and that is to become official South African parkrun tourists by the end of this year.

Zwartkops Raceway, home of the Passion for Speed raceway

To achieve this we will have to have 20 parkruns at 20 different venues in South Africa on our parkrun CVs.

At the end of last year, when we tried out the new Umdoni one in Pennington on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast Bill clocked up his eighth and me, my seventh, different parkrun.

Early in the new year we tackled Amanzimtoti parkrun and, with its 2km beach section, were very pleased to tick that one off. A few weeks later we found ourselves in Richards Bay on a Saturday morning so did their pleasant and pretty parkrun.

Now, in Gauteng, we were planning to take part in a rather historical parkrun event.

One of South Africa’s oldest and best attended parkruns was held at the Voortrekker Monument. All went smoothly until the authorities decided to start charging parkrunners entry fee to the monument grounds.

One of parkrun’s main premises is that parkruns should be free and accessible to all, so they reluctantly took the decision to close the Voortrekker Monumenthoogte parkun.

We were privileged to be among the more than 2000 runners from parkruns all over South Africa who expressed their solidarity with parkrun and with Pretoria runners by taking part in the final Voortrekker Monumentoogte parkrun en mass.

It was an incredibly emotional event and a moving experience to be part of such a big group. The run itself was lovely, the route taking us through the exquisite gardens that surround the monument.

With the record parkrun entry there was such a festive atmosphere but it was tinged with sadness too. The monument belongs to the people of South Africa.

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To open the lovely gardens, free to all who wanted to run or walk through them each Saturdays, was a way of emphasising the joy of being able to share, at last, all our cultural and historical public place with all cultural and racial groups.

By doing this the monument authorities were highlighting the fact we were all part of a united South Africa. It was such a pity that the Voortrekker Monument parkrun and all it meant to so many Pretoria residents was coming to an end.

Taking part in the moving event was wonderful and, an added bonus, the rain stayed away until the parkrun was completed.

After the run we immediately set off to Zwartkops to be part of the ‘Passion for Speed’ Festival. And what a festival it was, with all the thrills, spills and excitement that one would expect.

a final visit to my much-loved Marievale before we leave Gauteng.

The weathermen showered spectators with a little bit of rain a couple of time and the cold wind persisted for a while but then the sun came out to smile down on the festive day.

For many South Africans of a certain age there was plenty of nostalgia, too. One of South Africa’s biggest annual sporting events, for about three decades, was the Kyalami Nine Hours, an endurance race that was contested from the late 1950s to the late 1980s.

The Passion for Speed programme included a number of Legends of the Nine Hour races that harked back to this era.

There were also races for pre-1968 production and sports cars, pre-1966 big banger saloons and, a particularly exciting 45-minute race for pre-1968 le Mans and GT cars

Races on the programme also showed off single seaters of yesteryear, historic saloons and racing prototypes. There were also Lotus and GT Ferrari challenges and races for ‘wings and slicks’ (Bill explained but I am still not sure what they are) and races for extreme supercars of today.

I have to say I have changed my perception completely regarding those huge, finned and chrome-bedecked American petrol-guzzling that I used to find completely and ludicrously over the top. Seeing them in racing mode was an eye-opener.

They were absolutely amazing and I loved every minute of those races. My favourite was a big, blue, shiny, finned and monstrously chromed car that Bill told me was a Plymouth Fury.

It was absolutely magnificent as its fearless driver threw it around the track, headless of any bumps and scratches it might sustain from close encounters with any of the other auto-giants It almost came first a couple of times but, sadly, usually conked out just before the end of the race.

I amazed myself by having a wonderful time at Zwartkops so Bill had better invite me to come with him again next year or I really will sulk.

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We spent another lovely evening with my brother and sister-in-law in Springs, had a picnic breakfast at my beloved Marievale Bird Sanctuary the next morning, then we were on our way, heading home via the N2.

The route wasn’t nearly as pretty or interesting as our long and winding route over Lesotho we’d taken to Gauteng, but the countryside was green and lush and the mountains were as magnificent as ever.

Is there any route is South Africa that doesn’t have its charms? What a beautiful country is ours.


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Judi Davis

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