A Day at the Races

Private Property South Africa

Living in a landlocked city has its setbacks. Perhaps the most obvious of these is the fact that ‘proper’ nearby mountain and water related activities are in short supply. Of course you can go jet skiing at the Vaal, you can always dip your toes into Hartbeespoort’s appealing green waters or you can hike up your local koppie but somehow these pursuits just never quite compare to say for instance, scuba diving in Mozambique or a hike in the Swiss Alps.

It is perhaps this lack of easily accessible (note the emphasis on easily accessible) mind blowing outdoor activities which has led Jo’burgites to channel their energies into other pastimes such as rugby, shopping, going to gym and drag racing. We may not have a seafront or Alpine hiking but we have plenty of open, flat ground which is ideal for setting up a racetrack such as that which can be found in Tarlton.

My visit to the Tarlton International Racetrack was borne of the desire to “do something different.” The opportunity presented itself when my companions and I, avid scuba divers all, got wind that round four of the F1-X SA Drag Racing Championship would be taking place on National Women’s Day. By 9am on the day the parking area was already packed with hundreds of cars and it didn’t take long for bystanders to set up camp on either side of the track. True to South African form, the braais were broken out and the air was soon infused with the smell of charcoaling wors. One intrepid onlooker even set up his braai at the podium overlooking the start line but much to his dismay he was soon asked to remove his trusty skottel.

There are a number of vantage points from which to view the action. If, like me, your mind errs on the paranoid side your choice of vantage point simply depends on whether you would prefer to be fried or scraped off the field. If, theoretically, you prefer being fried than the starting line podium is for you for it is from here that to my mind it is most likely that the jet dragsters, yes, jet dragsters, cars which have aeroplane jet engines attached to four piddly tyres driven by a very brave/ suicidal driver warm up, and thus just might blow up.

For those who fancy being scraped off the field then a spot alongside the chain link fences which run adjacent to the drag or a seat in one of the uncovered stands further down the track is the way to go. Again, my thinking leads me to believe that anyone in one of these areas would be slightly the worse for wear should a driver suddenly feel the need to drive a bietjie skeef. Of course the chances of any such incidents occurring are pretty minimal I’m told so really it just boils down to where you want to sit.

The various cars and bikes race according to certain classes such as Street Modified 4 Cylinder, Factory Street Class and the like. Souped up VW Golfs, Jettas, quad bikes, super bikes, street bikes, Datsun GX’s, Honda Ballades, Fiat Stradas, A Mercedes AMG and various dragsters all made a deafening appearance.

But it was the aforementioned Tarlton Westinghouse Jet Dragster that took top honours on the day. After literally firing up at the starting line as the sun began to set, this bone rattling monster set a jaw dropping record of 399.13 kph in 6.604 seconds.

At the end of the day we went home feeling and smelling distinctly greasy and slightly deaf; black rubber tyre chips were found where black rubber chips really have no business being but all in all a good time was had. Suffice to say a day at the Tarlton racetrack certainly makes for a distinctive break from routine but that one really shouldn’t go without first buying a pair of earplugs.

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