[DEREK’S BLOG] Feisty Teens and Spinning Queens

Derek Watts
By Derek Watts | Follow @DerekWatts
Derek Watts has been a journalist for nearly 30 years, presenting on South African television since 1985 as a sports anchor. Derek has been an anchor and presenter on Carte Blanche since the programme's inception in 1988. See full profile

I LOVE CARS. The latest off the production line that are the forerunners to autonomous driving. They follow the road without a hand on the steering wheel, brake automatically if there is an imminent collision and even take emergency avoidance if a pedestrian ventures across the road at night.

The aerodynamic designs take your breath away and when you fold yourself into the heated seats there are important choices to be made – like configuring the virtual instrument panel, selecting a colour for the ambient lighting and even deciding on a fragrance for the ionized air conditioner.

And let’s not forget the new breed of highly-tuned turbo engines that are smaller than ever, yet faster and more powerful with better fuel economy and reduced carbon emissions.

It’s not that I can afford any of these marvels of engineering, but as a part-time motoring scribe I get to test them and sometimes push my limited racing skills on Kyalami or Swartkops with an ashen-faced instructor shaking his head in the passenger seat.

Yet probably the most fun I’ve had in recent months is being thrown around by a 14-year-old driver in a decades-old BMW 325 with no safety belt – the threadbare seat collapsing under me.

It is all a revolving blur of screaming crowds, screeching tyres and a deafening engine howl mixed with smoke pouring through the open window and the smell of burning rubber. All as you clutch the dashboard for dear life while endlessly missing the concrete wall by millimetres.

They call it “spinning” and it is a far cry from the classes of the same name at your local gym where you are perched on a static bike for an hour.

It may have started with movers and shakers in the townships, but spinning is now a mainstream sport and the event we are covering for Carte Blanche is on a small asphalt patch in the south of Johannesburg.

A patch surrounded by stands for spectators and a pits area where mechanics are prepping brightly painted jalopies which will soon be strutting their stuff with a new band of petrol heads at the wheel.

The young fellow seemingly intent on making me part ways with my lunch is Jean Pierre Kruger – better known to his fans as Panjaro. Rather quiet in our interview, he clearly expresses himself with a frenetic driving style that comes close to leaving me in a neck brace. But I shouldn’t have worried about his ability – Panjaro has been spinning since the age of 10!

What truly amazed – and inspired – me were the girls who are making a name for themselves in this fast-growing form of motorsport.

Like the petite Queen of Smoke, 20-year-old Stacey-Lee May, who combines studying for her law and finance qualifications with the most extreme daredevil antics in and around her Gusheshe – the nickname for the favoured BMW 325.

Because what I haven’t explained is that it’s not just about releasing the clutch and making wheelies. Half the time the drivers are hanging out of the violently spinning car by their feet with their heads dangerously close to the tar – or they hop out while their thundering steeds circle around them.

And the show goes on till the tyres literally pop!

Tina Roussouw is 22 and a soldier in the Defence Force where she also studies diesel mechanics. She is a feature on the spinning calendar, but doesn’t just perform for the crowds. Tina maintains and tunes her Gusheshe and even carries out the engine modifications to push out that extra kilowatt of power.

But we aren’t just talking smoke and mirrors. Spinning is also about new opportunities and personal empowerment in young, and sometimes challenged, lives.

Stacey-Lee, who matriculated at the age of 16, was bullied at school. “I was younger than the rest. So they called me names and put me in the dustbin. I used to come home crying.”

“When I started spinning I changed – because I don’t let people walk all over me. I have a voice and I can tell you that what you’re doing is wrong”, says Stacey-Lee.

She aims to open a school to teach young girls about mechanics and the gentle art of spinning. She also wants to spin under the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Stacey-Lee, you have Carte Blanche.