Cracking the Street-Racing Empire

Cape Town Street-Racers

Cracking the Street-Racing Empire

by Mia Arderne

Cape Town’s street-racing scene is a high velocity subcultural thrill, centering in Athlone and branching into dark streets throughout the city. After 10 PM, a host of stylishly skilled drivers revel in a dangerous nighttime pleasure far beyond the gaze of the tourists and, more compellingly, the law.


In Athlone on Wembly parking lot, I get out of my car – my little Toyota Tazz has never felt so diminished it all its life. The parking lot is techni-colored and buzzing in an influx of neon caps, brand-name tracksuits and a palette of modified vehicles. This is a world where men are identified by the cars they drive. The boosted-GTI driver next to me takes one look at my common unmodified ergonomic Toyota Tazz and scoffs. You are what you drive.

Tip 1: Show up in a boosted vehicle if you want any respect.

It is a clear night. I can almost see the stars through the dusty clouds of diesel pollution. 11 PM is daylight for street-racers. This crowd only meets on certain nights, as not every night sees a race. It’s Sunday, and Sunday is a big race night. So are Thursdays. Fridays and Saturdays sometimes are too, but Sundays and Thursdays are the biggest. And never waste your time going to a race when it rains. A wet road equals no race.

Tip 2: Get your timing right.

A Honda with at least 16 subs drives past, the bass shaking the tar beneath my feet and rattling  my spine. A symphony of whale’s penises and branch-fitted exhausts fills the air. What are whale’s penises, I hear you ask? Enhanced manifold filters used to increase the noise and fool the gullible rivals. Also, here in the Mother City, we do not race, we dice.

Tip 3: Familiarize yourself with the jargon.

From the back of the fast food Roadhouse queue, I smell the masala steak on the grill. This is half the reason I’m here. Wembly’s fast food Roadhouse just across the street from the techni-colored parking lot. Buy food anywhere else during the race, and you would be missing out. Not that you could, because everything else is closed on Sunday at 11 PM. Prices are good, portions are gigantic, spicing is sublime.

Tip 4: If you know nothing about cars, get yourself a sizzling steak roll and just watch.

Abdul and Ashraf pull up in a RunX RSI and a yellow Honda Civic respectively. The Honda Civic is stabilized by silver rods, adorned with a fin and credited with lowered suspension. The rivals greet each other with a respectful, “Slamat” – and a kiss on either cheek. With one hand in his pocket and the other one smoking a Rothmans, the Honda Boy gets out of the vehicle and joins the other Hondas. The racing crews are sectioned out: Honda Boys, RunX Boys, Nissan Boys, V-Dub Boys etc.

 Tip 5: Understand that you may be affiliated according to what you drive.

I do not race. I have one reason for this: I don’t have a fast enough car and I will not make a fool of myself. This is okay. There are many spectators here with steak rolls, hookah pipes and brandies (artfully concealed) to enjoy the race. If you do decide to race, however, make sure you know the stakes. You can race for fun, for status, for money or for pink slips.

Tip 6: Assuming you haven’t watched The Fast & The Furious, pink slips means you’re racing for your opponent’s car and he is racing for yours.

My street-racing friend, Leatin Booys, with his neon green sneakers and their oversized tongues sticking out beneath his tracksuit, is ready to dice. Foot on the pedal of his emerald Nissan Saber 2lt VVL, Leatin neglects to see the police insidiously snaking towards us. When he looks in his rear-view, the flashing blue lights are invasive and the howling siren signals panic. All systems go. He drops the clutch. Cars flood from the garage. It’s every man for himself now. And I’m stuck in a car with no pull-away power.

Tip 7: Be aware that street-racing is illegal. And the cops in Cape Town are a merciless bunch of thugs with chips on their shoulders who don’t need half a reason to rough you up properly.  

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