As the helmet was fitted on to my head and fastened, reality set in.
I’d just seen cars screeching round the track at super speeds, smoke belching from their tyres… drifting. What the heck had I got myself into?
But this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Not a PlayStation game. This was the real deal. Saturday marked the final day of the SupaDrift Series and Wheels of Fury Expo, on at the GrandWest Arena on its first visit to the Mother City, with more than 40 drifters vying for the coveted National Drift Champion title.
The winner will be named in November, after eight legs around the country.
More than 5000 people are expected to pack the Arena to share in the skill of some of the country’s best drifters, fine-tuning the art of oversteering their cars, causing a loss of traction in the rear wheels through corners, while preserving vehicle control at high exit speeds.
I was strapped into Alex Simon’s 350z Nissan so tight I could hardly move. I was confident in my pro driver, until I discovered he’d only been in the drifting game for the past six months.
But his cool exterior put me at ease. I asked if he still felt an adrenalin rush every time he got into his car. “Every single time,” he answered.
He started the car, it grumbled loudly, and the sound and power reverberated through my body. Informing me that this was a “practice run”, we pulled up to the start line, my heart beating crazily.
We pulled away instantly with a loud roar and drifted across the field under Simon’s perfect control, while I was thrown around like a ragdoll, screaming in pure excitement.
The youngest competitor on the field, Yaseen Damon, 20, said: “Drifting is a man’s dream… You’re not driving straight or slow on a track… you’re controlling a vehicle that is out of control.
“Your foot is flat on the throttle and your car just slides.”
Pointing out the various cars in the pit, he told how drivers would easily spend R500 000 to R600 000 on one car, in preparation for drifting.
He added that it took years for competitors to master the skill, getting to know their cars, all the while facing the possibility of injury if they made even a tiny mistake.
On my second lap I was with the only woman driver on the field, Clare Vale, in a souped-up Mustang. She has been racing for 10 years.
“It’s not so strange being a woman drifting. It’s the same in racing… the field is very competitive,” she said.
On the steady growth of the drifting community, Vale said the sport was “young, instant, and constant excitement, with one car riding after the other”.
“And people want that action. I love the intensity and focus involved. You always have to think ahead… You feel so alive.”
Feeling more confident, I went another few laps in the Mustang, controlled with style and grace by Vale, who disproves the “woman driver” stigma, changing the way even I look at cars.
Speed, skill and an adrenalin rush all get a new meaning.
And interestingly, it left me calm… but wanting more of this addictive sport.