Green Striped Car would attack the apex, “rubbing is racing” its way to turn 1 glory. Red and Black Car, on the receiving end of that rough approach and now facing a different direction, could still make a recovery. A commentator sounding remarkably like Murray Walker reminded the millions of imaginary viewers that it would be a tough fight back for Red and Black Car.
Home favourite, Bright Blue Car, was ready. There was a small gap between Green Striped Car and Red and Black Car, requiring a deft touch on corner entry and a strong dose of bravery.
Play it safe and slot in behind the others, or go for the gap and risk a colossal and potentially race-ending accident?
The single bed in my childhood bedroom, with a car-themed duvet cover of course, watched over proceedings in the same way Mount Fuji looms over Fuji Speedway. The imaginary spectators at turn 1 waited in anticipation for the gladiator behind the wheel of Bright Blue Car to make a call on his approach…
This is racing. You go for the gap, or you go home.
Bright Blue Car would take the gap and squeak through unscathed, with a commanding lead going into turn 2. The crowd on their feet, Murray screams into the microphone in his signature way.
Of course, this spectacle all took place on my bedroom carpet. Murray Walker was doing far more exciting things than commenting on my model car race and the only spectator was my dog.
These badly scratched, cheap model cars were my entire world. Even a trip to the Kruger Park couldn’t distract me, with my exasperated parents begging me to ignore the cars in the back of the camper van and look at the pride of lions.
No luck. I may as well have been born with a helmet on.
Remember this Sasol Super 100 Glug Glug TV ad? It won awards for being the most liked South African advert of the past few decades. It came out in 1991, when I was 3 years old. It feels like yesterday.
There are kids who are incredibly lucky and start karting at 5 years old. With absolutely no chance of that being my childhood for financial reasons, I was content with holding epic bedroom races at that age. Truthfully, I had no idea that it was possible for kids my age to start racing. It was probably better that way – ignorance is bliss.
My bedroom racing wasn’t sophisticated enough for me to have different classes, but it wouldn’t have mattered since the cars all had identical power output – my right arm!
This was serious business. Each car was given a turn to be pushed before moving on to the next one, with a carefully thought out strategy for each manoeuvre. Any cars that crashed and landed on their roofs were removed by my invisible recovery team. I meticulously kept a record of points scored by each car (especially as I got closer to school-going age), based on what position they were in when the leader crossed the finish line.
This was clearly different to the usual carpet car set that most kids get, although those were pretty cool too:
Sundays were my absolute favourite. The combination of bedroom racing and watching Formula 1 with my dad was irresistible. Mom’s mid-race plate of hot dogs was just the icing on the cake.
I would hold the first bedroom race before the start of the Grand Prix, with the all-important second heat after about 15 laps of the real thing. In those days, the Formula 1 cars absolutely screamed through the TV, engulfing the house in the symphony of Senna vs. Prost and in later years Schumacher vs. Hill.
It was glorious.
Against these incredible memories, there is one day that stands out. I didn’t fully understand what was going on, but it was as though a blanket of sadness had covered the house. It was the 1st of May 1994. I was 6 years old and the greatest driver of all time had left the track at Tamburello Corner at over 300km/h.
We all miss the sound of Formula 1 cars of yesteryear, but none of us should miss their safety features, or total lack thereof. To this day, I feel robbed that I was never able to appreciate Senna’s genius first-hand.
Regardless of that tragic Sunday at such an impressionable age, the dream of racing glory only grew stronger inside that little boy over time. Computer games allowed me to get my first taste of “racing” – even though they were totally unrealistic at that time. It’s not like I knew any better at the age of 10!
High school saw the arrival of the Playstation and Gran Turismo. I saved up incredibly hard until I could afford a racing wheel. Hours and hours were spent thereafter, trying to perfect each virtual licence test and racing in every class I could.
I didn’t realise that while I was messing around with my Playstation, a small number of other kids my age with the same dreams would be starting their main circuit career in Formula Ford. I had only ever driven a rental kart at a couple of birthday parties.
Fast forward another 15 years and the karting career I never had access to is about to enter its second full season. After 18 months of learning from scratch in Clubmans, the DD2 class beckons for me. This is undoubtedly the most competitive class for adults in South Africa.
My CRG kart is a sophisticated racing machine capable of 125km/h on Killarney’s tight kart track, with competitors literally only a few inches away. It will be as much a physical challenge as a mental one. It’s major weakness for a long time is going to be the nut behind the wheel, as the saying goes.
In my heart though, it will be the bedroom floor all over again. The Bright Blue Car moment is coming. There will be a gap that looks remarkably similar. There will be a real crowd this time and people I love will be in it.
In that moment, my mind may cast back to the scream of early-90s Formula 1 cars filling the house., mom’s hot dogs and dad’s race analysis. I’ll remember the burning desire inside me to become a racing driver.
I’ll try not to think about my total lack of experience compared to many others I’ll be racing against who have been doing this for decades. I’ll attempt to ignore the nagging voice reminding me what it costs if I get it wrong.
Much like Bright Blue Car on that fateful Sunday in a young boy’s bedroom, I’ll have to make a decision.
This is racing. You go for the gap, or you go home. As Daniel Ricciardo told us so eloquently in April 2018:
“Sometimes you’ve just got to lick the stamp and send it.”
And yes, I still have my plastic Sasol fuel pump toys from when I was a kid.