Does any of this sound familiar?

“It’s not like it used to be.”
“In our day, it was all about fast cars and faster women.”
“What do you mean there’s a parking fee? That’s ridiculous!”
“What do you mean I can’t take my own beers? R32 per beer?!? Are you mad?”

The Kyalami 9 Hour returned to South Africa after a 37 year hiatus. A lot has changed since icons like the Porsche 917 and Lola T70 graced the Highveld with a symphony of pure racing goodness.

Motoring technology has evolved considerably in the past four decades, but social norms have transformed almost beyond recognition.

Perhaps this is why there remains a cancerous growth in the South African motorsport community. Much like those who chose to wave the Apartheid flag at overseas rugby matches for several years, there is a group of people who just cannot get over themselves or the fact that the world has moved on since the ’70s.

It’s nothing short of a miracle that anyone bothers to arrange motorsport events in South Africa. For every person brave enough to post a positive comment on social media, there are at least two other people complaining bitterly about the event. It’s exhausting.

Kyalami was destined to become yet another residential complex until it was bought on auction by Toby Venter, the man behind the Porsche brand in South Africa (and more recently brands such as Bentley and Lamborghini as well). He took a risk with over R200 million worth of capital. This should make him a hero to South African motorsport fans, yet it made him a villain to some.

Things at Kyalami had to change to make it financially viable. Club racing doesn’t pay the bills, but corporate events do. The fact that the track still exists is something we should all be thankful for. No other track in South Africa could come close to hosting an international event like we saw this past weekend.

None of this matters to the grumpy brigade. For a group of people who refuse point-blank to move on from the ‘70s, they have done an extraordinary job of embracing modern social media technology as platforms to complain on. Hopefully a race win for Porsche put a smile on Toby’s face, even if some of the social media comments didn’t.

I wasn’t alive during the “golden age” of motorsport. My parents hadn’t even met each other yet. I can read books and attend revival races, but I’ll never be able to truly experience a 1970s Grand Prix at Kyalami. I can only rely on stories of how great the old 9 Hour was, with a huge variety of cars doing battle.

The modern iteration of the 9 Hour is the closest I’ll get to that experience and frankly I loved every minute. I absolutely cannot wait for the event next year, where I can experience the sensation of goosebumps as I hear the field coming towards me lap after lap.

It’s true that Kyalami’s layout has changed since the 1970s. So has the price of beer. So has the price of parking. Funnily enough, so have motorsport safety standards as well.

It took all of Kyalami’s energy to negotiate with the series promoters to move away from a park-and-ride scenario so that people can relive some of the 9 Hour nostalgia by parking their bakkies at the track and watching under a gazebo.

Nothing is ever good enough. Pockets of people still complained. They refused to shell out a couple of hundred bucks to buy a general access ticket (an absolute bargain at the price). Thankfully, over 10,000 people jumped at the opportunity to attend a terrific event.

I’m so, so tired of the negativity.

Part of me wants to simply accept that certain people are miserable old fools who couldn’t choose happiness if it hit them in the face. The problem is that they aren’t terribly good at suffering in silence. The “it was different in my day” crowd never fails to give an opinion that nobody asked them for.

Thankfully, the world has moved on from “fast women” draped over men with moustaches and a Camel in their mouths. I adore the cars from the 60s and 70s, but the motorsport athletes of today wouldn’t dream of putting their bodies through the chemical excesses of that time. Even more importantly, the “fast women” are usually wearing the helmets, rather than parading around in a short skirt. F1 has done away with pit girls and hopefully other series will follow suit. I would rather see women sitting in the cars as proper racing drivers than suggestively posing next to them.

The stark and frightening reality is that the future of motorsport hangs in the balance. Governments have gone mad with love for electric cars, despite their dubious environmental credentials. Car manufacturers are throwing the baby out with the bathwater, dropping proper racing programmes left and right in favour of stupid electric formats that nobody wants to watch.

You think this 9 Hour didn’t cut it compared to the ‘70s? Wait until we face a reality where 40 electric racecars hurtle down the Mineshaft and you’ll be none the wiser unless you are looking in that direction, because they will be locked in a silent electric dance that nobody is interested in.

Goosebumps? No chance. Tears? Maybe.

The only way to stop this is to vote with your feet. Proper motorsport must be supported strongly. People must learn to appreciate what we have instead of complaining publicly all the time. If there is demand for proper motorsport with noise and theatre, it will survive.

As I sat at Kyalami watching an incredible storm roll in over the Sandton skyline, I was engulfed in an atmosphere of pure racing magic as gladiators battled around me. It was emotional to say the least. The lightning in the background reminded me that one day this may end. The electricity will probably be on the track rather than in the sky. At that point, it’s hard to see how anyone will be excited about motorsport. The theatre will be gone.

I choose to go out fighting. I will attend every event. I will be thankful for the motorsport that I do get to enjoy, rather than negative about the motorsport that I wasn’t alive to see. The rumours this week are that the World Endurance Championship might be considering Kyalami for their racing calender. This would be absolutely epic if it happened.

Even if you refuse to ever see anything positive in the world, at least do everyone a favour and be miserable quietly. Some of us are trying hard to enjoy motorsport while we can.

15 thoughts on “Crushing the Cancer in SA Motorsport

  1. ZennaRacer says:

    My first was SA GP 1969. TO DATE my last (most recent) the KYALAMI 9HOUR 2019.
    Guess what……. 2019 was the SAME excitement, heart thumping, hair raising than that day Jackie Stewart took the chequered in 1969.
    Change the rules, the tracks all you like but you will NEVER change this Petrol head’s love for it…..
    Roll on 2020…. I am ready

  2. Ivan Slabbert says:

    What an awesome event, awesome location and wonderful place to relive old memories and make new ones with like minded Gearhead, had one hell of a week end with my two boys. I hope that they will one day look back on this with fondness and gratitude to those who were able to make this event possible. No matter the naysayers, internal combustion engine powered racecars, and bikes, are here to stay. The smell of burning tyres & fuel vs the nothing of electrics are reminders of how ingenious the engineers of the past made this all possible. I doff my cap to you Mr. Toby Venter and all the athletes who competed, to all the track officials who made this fantastic event possible. Here’s to hoping this event will be an annual one, coupled with MotoGP and WSB. Job well done

  3. Dan Esterhuyse says:

    Very well said. The world moves on and so does everything else. If the negative people want to keep on bitching, then offer to organize an event, but bitching for the sake of bitching instead of being positive and assist where you can makes you a burden for people that are positive and dynamic and make things happen. Go and play tiddly winks.

  4. Karien says:

    What a wonderful event it was! We bought general access tickets, pitched our gazebo at 08h00 the morning already, the toilet facilities were always clean AND we got soaking wet but it was all worth it. We will definitely do it again!

  5. Andre stemmet says:

    Could not be there but i say amen to rob’s comments!

  6. Jan Gous says:

    Well written. Could not attend because of being in Swakopmund, Namibia so we watched on Supersport 12 – thanks DSTV. It was sad to see almost empty grand stands on TV but to learn that there were 10 000 spectators is heartening and we will have to do the trip to the next event in 2020. Being 64 years of age, I grew up in the ‘golden era’ but unlike some of my grumpy peers do appreciate that things have changed and that it is still motorsport in its purest form with great cars and drivers. Well done Kyalami – see you next year!!

  7. William says:

    Awesome event, loved every minute, I for one loved the fast cars and girls, let’s not change too much

  8. charles somerset says:

    I am from durban , so could not make it. sadly . I was a kalani Marshall during the 70’s . I will never lose the memories of that era. you are absolutly right stop whining about what can never be the past is the past . love the memories but move into the present .

  9. Wayne Riddell says:

    The below comment is what I shared on Monday night on a different thread on FB but believe it to lend credence to this article.

    Everyone has missed the fundamentals when Kyalami went under the hammer in 2014. We as South African Motorsport enthusiasts had lost the Kyalami of old.

    Everyone knows that there are just 2 business models that could ever work.

    Fail to use these and you will see the ultimate end of the circuit.

    The common race circuit business model is…. run a race circuit and create opportunities for as many tenants as possible. Guaranteed monthly income 12 months of the year.

    This is the model Zwartkops, Port Elizabeth and Killarney use relatively successfully to the extent of circuit survival goes.

    Any major repairs (resurface or alteration and extensions) will hit the organization hard and possibly arrive so late that other items often earn the right of first attention.

    Failure to do this leaves us with Lichtenberg, Midvaal and possibly soon, East London.

    These are race circuits with facilities you are all talking about in this thread.

    The Kyalami business model is the opposite. It is actually a convention center that also has a race circuit on it.

    It hosts business meetings, conferences, product launches and exhibitions throughout the year with the option of a person renting the pits and tar circuit for a price, just as one would rent a launch area or conference hall.

    This continued comparison of Kyalami of old to the New Kyalami is as productive as comparing prickly pears with watermelon.

    The Kyalami venue is an advertisement free venue (a whiteout track) that allows any renter to bring his own sponsors to his event.

    The success of the current Kyalami facility is that they can rent out the convention center to anyone and it generates income from a wider range of clients compared to those of lets say Killarney or Zwartkops have.

    So, when an independent promoter brings us a show that we as petrol-heads have the opportunity to enjoy, then get out there and enjoy it or sit down and shut up.

    But to see all these armchair critics who don’t have two pennies to rub together think it’s ok to sit and rebuke someone who has invested heavily into A) the property and / or B ) a company / promoter who knowingly signed a 5 year deal with the clear understanding that they will take a financial bath in its first year, I hang my head in shame to those armchair critics.

    You are what is wrong with our sport.

  10. Graham Anderson says:

    Like a few I remember the 70s and things change. I now live in Oz and I am looking forward to the Bathurst 12 hours. It started as a minor event on the Oz landscape but has grown year by year to be a major event, let the 9 hours grow

  11. Jan Langenhoven says:

    I watched every minute of it on TV because I live in Cape Town what an awesome event.

  12. Leon Botha says:

    My first GP 1969-70-71-72-74-76-77-78-80-81-82-83-84-85 – 9 Hours the same years at the old circuit and we had good times, lots of parties and plenty babbalas Sundays- times have changed as this is now a First class establishment , toilets working and all the catering and entertainment which is excellent and so was last Saturdays 9 Hour. After attending the Malaysian GP 2015 at Sepang I got to realize how FIA events have changed motor racing for the good. Sasha Martinengo’s Facebook video explained all the ticket prices , do’s and don’ts and squashed the perception on how expensive the tickets was, at R200 it was a great price to pay and surely R100 for parking – still a bargain- WE WILL BE BACK NEXT YEAR FOR MORE !! THANK YOU KYALAMI!!

  13. Dave (70 years old) says:

    Great article, I couldn’t agree more with everything you said! Supporting the sport and race meetings is critical – yes, the old races were fantastic but those are now history!

  14. Alan Keevy says:

    Great to read all the positive comments .look for the good things in life and you will find them look for the bad things and they will find you.!

  15. Well done Rob, I agree with you heartedly, even though I was fortunate enough to be there in the 60’s and 70’s as I told you, I had an amazing time and thisweekend was great. I too can’t wait for next year. (Same place same time)

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