When life gets to stock-take time – that is the time when you wonder what you have achieved – then your passion, your achievements and failures, all tend to hit your mind’s screen at the same time.
As life goes by, following twisty roads through imaginary (or is it) plantations, maxing crests and power sliding through long, long sweeps – I often wonder how anyone can conclude life without ever having driven, or at least having been inside a rally car, driven in anger?
When I sit back and reflect my career in motorsport, I can still distinguish the screaming bumble bee sound of a two liter 16-valve Volkswagen Golf engine, the incredible sound of the magic Ford Escort Turbo that I could unfortunately only drive once. The screeching engine of that unpredictable 4X4 Nissan Sentra with its cannon-shot gear changes, the unexpected silence of the first time I drove a Subaru and the magic scream of that giant killing Class C Golf and so I can carry on recalling the Toyotas, Deawoo, Opel, Fiat, even Vauxhall and the many moments of joy, as well as a few utter disappointments.
I still hear the anxious voices of some navigators, the wonderful times I shared with a number of the bravest men alive – well they are not all alive anymore – but at least I did not kill any of them, well not directly.
How do you explain the magic … no, rather that feverish burn of pure adrenaline having a go at your heart?
How do you tell those who have never experienced the true intensity of the moments when you knew you were going to die – especially after you have been “warned” in a dream – that you did not tell the poor navigator about.
How do you describe sensibly why you were chasing a navigator 300 meter down a road with a wheel spanner, how do you tell of that moment when you had all in hand and you relaxed for a fraction of a second – only to throw a win away?
How do you repeat some of the stories told while travelling by car to the Cape, Port Elizabeth, Swaziland, Durban, Sabie, Tzaneen, Bloemfontein and Alliwal-North – to go and compete in events. People could never understand why I always insisted to travel with the crew – while the reason was simple – I enjoyed and loved it!
Will people believe you when you say, that you started some rallies while you did not have enough money for the fuel, let alone tyres and accommodation, but that you knew you would do so well that people would “donate” things like fuel, to help!
How do you explain the Ford team giving a driver in a 1600cc Golf some fuel because he was lying third overall between two Quatros, halfway through a national championship rally (a real one with more than a 100 entries)
Will people believe you when you say that you cut out sponsor’s name stickers by hand while driving to a rally or that the service crew sat in the rally car on the trailer still preparing the car on its way to an event.
How can there be truth in the story that a navigator still had one and a half page of notes left to read, after we went through the flying finish of the stage?
Can you explain the friendship that developed in a rally car when your life depended on the person who sat next to you?
What does it feel like to travel to Cape Town, do 4 meters of rally in a Nissan Langley Turbo and then return home, or 1,8km in a normally very reliable Golf at Killarney, when the engine blew due to a wrong fuel setting and after less than a minute of rallying go home?
What does it feel like, hitting a river about 20 meter away from any form of bridge in fifth?
What is it like to sit in the left hand seat after a career as a driver?
How can anyone who have not been there, try to tell me he or she had an interesting life?
I have, do and will always love this game, the only regret I have is that the real people came and left and took the mystique of the sport with them.
Will people believe that I hit front pages of news papers with stories or rather challenges between the great Sarel van Zyl or what was his name again, and me, before and after rallies.
I now stand next to the road – looking at some of the efforts displayed by some so-called rally drivers, I watch the disappointment on the faces of fans who waited in great anticipation for their “heroes” to pass.
I page eagerly to read write-ups or then just news that are supposed to appear in newspapers, I look on bookshelves for magazines that describe the events, meter by meter, like in the “old days” … almost nothing!
When I think about some of the people who were supposed to run the sport and think about some of the current competitors who for some or other reason believe that they are the greatest since sliced bread – then I wish the images would rather disappear and let me rather think back about rugby or boxing, cricket or beautiful young girls…
The words of an old song “Look what they have done to my song” pops into mind and I adapted the words a bit to suit the occasion.
Look what they done to our sport ma
Look what they done to our game
Well it’s the only thing
That we could do half right
and it’s turning out all wrong ma
Look what they done to our sport
Look what they done to the cars ma
Look what they done to the rules
Well they picked it like a chicken bone
they are playing seven aside ma
Look what they done to the game
I wish I could find a good place to hide in
Wish I could find a good place to hide
Well if I could find a real good place
I’d never have to come out and look at
What they done to my sport
La la la la la la la la la
© Leon Botha 2017