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Ah, there’s nothing like the smell of Klippies and cola in the morning. It’s only 9.30am, or about six hours from the first race but that’s not stopping the locals, who’ve set up shop around the banked oval early, from indulging in one of the East Rand’s most loved beverages.
It’s also damn cold, and while I’m bundled up in layers of fire-proof racing overalls, these guys are partaking in a spot of “smallest tee-shirt wins”. Other than their arms-wide gorilla stances, they look like a friendly bunch, but I’ve heard rumours about how feisty guys from Brakpan can be so I opt not to make eye contact and rather focus on the task at hand.
The task is to not make an arse of myself in my first-ever oval track race. A chap named Kevin Hepburn, who imports and runs a fleet of 5/8-scale Legends racing cars, has offered-up one of his miniature ‘34 Ford coupés for the day/night event at The Rock Raceway, and despite my many years of circuit-racing experience I’m shaking in my racing boots.
How hard could it be?
It’s not my first time at the wheel of one of these little high-revving bastards, but it’s the first time I’ll be driving one competitively and it’s certainly the first time I’ll contest a race comprised of only right-hand turns. Turns out the oval track itself is the least of my worries. Well, besides the unforgiving concrete barrier that lines its perimeter and seems to approach me faster than I approach it on the way out of both turns. The real trouble here is keeping the Legends car from doing an about-face every time I tickle the throttle.
They may be small - about the size of a golf cart - but they’re vicious little beasts with 90kW Yamaha motorcycle engines to push around just 500kg of total mass. Its wheelbase is just about a full pace in length, and it’s this dimension combined with rear-wheel drive that makes driving a Legends car such a handful. Rarely, if ever, are you able to get full throttle, and rarely, if ever, is the steering wheel pointed in the direction of travel.
This is a game of car control and balance called Countersteer Deluxe.
Race 1 is run during daylight so this race actually incorporates some of a small racing circuit outside and including the oval - Indianapolis road course-style. Turning both left and right is my forte, so I expect to do well here. And I do with a third overall. But not before this 1930s-style hotrod gives my guts a pounding. Suspension travel is minimal, and on a bumpy surface like The Rock’s, the car dances around like a water bead on a hot skillet.
These cars also use the standard Yamaha sequential gearbox linked to a handlever, meaning gearchanges happen almost quicker than your brain computes them. And let’s see you try to compute something while your eyeballs are bouncing around inside your melon.
To be quick in Legends requires steely concentration and quick-shifting mastery.
Darkness falls, along with temperature, but the tank-top brigade continue dopping sleevelessly. I continue to keep a safe distance.
Race 2 rolls up, but with the confidence gained in my first outing my nerves are settled. That is until I put my helmet’s visor down and realise I’ve forgotten to swop smoked for clear. Even with The Rock’s excellent oval-track lighting it’s too dark behind the tint, so I’m forced to race with the wind in my eyes. A see-no-evil blessing in disguise perhaps, as within two laps I find myself leading the pack.
With such a favourable power-to-weight ratio, and a very wide power band, I choose to leave it in third and focus all my attention on hitting apexes and not hitting walls. Changing gears would require too much attention and time, and in the end the strategy paid off. I’d won at my first oval track attempt.
Beginner’s luck maybe, but I’ll take it any way it comes.
I also embarrassingly did two full speed victory laps because the car was too low and small to see the chequered flag. The crowd seemed to find it entertaining.
Third and final race time, and I’m prepared with clear visor and all. I’m forced to start from the back thanks to my previous win, but somehow I’m soon dicing for the lead with arch rival Richard Leeke. Leeke, who’s 17 years my junior, managed to hold me off, but not before this oval rookie snuck off with second spot and an overall win for the day.
Back in the pits, there wasn’t any of that traditional drinking of milk or spraying of champagne. Celebrations here at Rockmania happen Brakpan-style with ringside seats to the boxing match finale now taking place with the dudes who’ve been boozing for 12 hours straight. No matter. This is how they do things in the East, and I love it. Have me back anytime Kevin.
Legends Racing SA will sell you a brand-new turnkey racer for R135 000, or even hire one race-by-race to you for R7000 per meeting. This is the most cost-effective way into fast-paced motorsport.
Once this formula is fully established in South Africa, where it hopes to compete at most circuits, drivers will be ranked on an international points-scoring system and some will be eligible for races all over the world, making this the easiest way to racing fame and fortune. - Star Motoring