Alice in Wonderland describes it best:
‘But I don’t want to go among mad people,’ Alice remarked.
‘Oh, you can’t help that,’ said the Cat: ‘we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.’
‘How do you know I’m mad?’ said Alice.
‘You must be,’ said the Cat, ‘or you wouldn’t have come here.’
Braais. Biltong. Doing something “now now.”
These are the things that make us proudly South African and unique in a global context. At the track, the equivalent South Africanism is the fine art of gooi’ing mielies.
The phrase is infinitely versatile. “Gooi mielies boet” is a perfectly acceptable thing to say to your mate as he pulls down his visor, ready to put life and limb on the line into turn 1, usually less than a metre away from you.
“Absolutely not ONE mielie was gooi’d today” is a PG13 way to say “my !@$!@$ racecar is broken” or “I drove like a !@!#! and I can’t figure out why”
At this stage, the reader (especially if not South African) may wonder if this is a strange version of Alice in Wonderland, with the Cheshire Cat reminding us that we are all a little mad here.
Truthfully, we probably are.
Motorsport isn’t a rational sport like cricket or tennis. In relative terms, it costs the same for everyone – every spare cent we have. It’s dangerous. It’s time-consuming. It’s more family friendly than golf, but that isn’t much of a benchmark.
Weeks of planning and practice can end in an instant with screeching tyres and smashed bodywork. Worst of all, it might not even be your fault, but it’s certainly your name on the invoice to fix it.
Entire weekends are dedicated to finding another tenth. It must be there. There comes a point in your journey where you have no choice but to find time on corner entry after the main or back straight, which means braking later from serious speeds. The only way to find the braking limit is to go past it. The most ambitious racing drivers and their cats share something in common – spending a significant amount of time in the kitty litter, figuring out how to cover up a crappy outcome.
When the chequered flag comes out and there are no mielies left to gooi, the visors go up and the smiles come out. There will always be rivalries, some of which unfortunately take a bitter turn, but most of the track gladiators are good mates when the helmets come off.
The satisfaction of walking back to cheering family and friends after a great race is something that cannot properly be described, only felt. The kid beaming at you from behind his or her dad, cellphone in hand and ready to snap a pic of the war horse you piloted to a podium, reminds you of how you felt 20, 30 or even 50 years ago. Your parents took you to the track and you promised yourself that one day you would make the journey from the grandstand to the grid.
So, you think you can gooi mielies?
Then do it. Stop patting yourself on the back because you’re an expert at launch control in your German car – that doesn’t count. Public roads are either for commuting or for roadtrips, but they aren’t for racing. Believe me, no proper racing driver is impressed by your ability to do 190km/h and use all three lanes of the highway in your GTi. In fact, nobody is impressed.
Find the right racing series for your budget and ambitions, whether on main circuit or short circuit, and you’ll soon discover what driving really entails. With slight adaptation from Rudyard Kipling: if you can gooi mielies, make new friends and inspire young fans, then you’ll be a man my son.
You can’t do that from the fast lane of the highway, but you can certainly do it on track. YOLO, bro.