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.