City drag racers ‘won’t stop’

2018-07-02 10:44
A digitally manipulated image of drag racing in Pietermaritzburg.

A digitally manipulated image of drag racing in Pietermaritzburg. (File)

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Pietermaritzburg street racing enthusiasts say illegal street racing will continue unabated until the city provides them with a legal drag race strip.

“It’s either they build a track or they will never get illegal racing off the roads,” said one street racer, who did not want to be identified for fear of arrest.

Almost every Thursday and Sunday night, cars built for speed barrel down Victoria Road to conquer 400 metres in a few seconds, threatening the safety of other road users.

Other favourite strips which are notorious for illegal street racing at night include streets between Boshoff and Retief streets, New Greytown Road near Prilla Mills and the stretch on the highway near Nampak.

The New Greytown Road has been associated with many street racing accidents in the past, some of which have claimed the lives of youngsters.

But enthusiasts say they have nowhere else to go and, despite the risks, will continue their dangerous races on public roads until it is legalised.

Also read: Dizzy’s need for speed

The vehicles race between 120 km/h  to 200 km/h depending on the race strip.

On Victoria Road, on a busy night, about 300 vehicles, and hundreds of spectators line the street to view the spectacle that closely resembles a live scene from Hollywood’s blockbuster franchise The Fast and the Furious.

The two-way streets remain open ground to the drag racers between 9 pm until early hours of the morning.

This despite Msunduzi municipal spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha saying that the municipal traffic department has the capacity to police the streets after hours.

“The municipality has a 24-hour shift system in place to detect, deter, and take action for drag racing and other traffic related offences in the city,” Mafumbatha told Weekend Witness.

The avid racers allege that often the drags take place even when police are present.

Last week, six cars were damaged when a vehicle  allegedly drag racing down Victoria Road smashed into a row of parked cars between Boshoff and East streets.

According to witnesses, the young racer lost control of the Range Rover, writing it off as he smashed into the parked cars.

One racer who attends drag racing events religiously said this was the second crash this month.

“If it’s in your blood it’s in your blood,” said the racer, who admitted he has been racing illegally for 10 years.

“If you are a big soccer fan and you are Liverpool mad it’s just in your blood. I enjoy speed. It does get dangerous and we need a controlled environment.”

He said an underground club of racers organise the events in the city.

“We move races around to avoid arrest but operate ‘everywhere’,” he added.

The illegal racers were adamant that even if the municipality erected speed humps on the current strips, they would find somewhere else to go.

“They did in Mkondeni and we found Victoria Road. It’s never going to end until we are given a legal strip or a piece of dirt road that nobody uses,” said another racer.

The racers said they were not prepared to drive to Port Shepstone or Johannesburg to take part in the legal races, claiming it was too pricey.

“Petrol is pricey and most guys can’t afford the travelling expenses.

“At Dezzi drags (Port Shepstone) just your entry is R1 800, it’s a lot more money.

“If I have to run at Dezzi with my car preparation, including my entry and travelling fees, it would probably cost me about R10 000 for one weekend.”

Another petrolhead, who said he was reverting to legal racing, admitted that the drags in Pietermaritzburg had taken a turn for the worse.

“We’ve always had a code in terms of how you conduct yourself at the drags. Originally, you wouldn’t come on to oncoming traffic. You never do a U-turn in the drags.

“Now what people are doing is going up and down. There is also a lot of drinking and driving. It’s a problem because people don’t know what they are doing when they are drunk.”

He said alcohol was the major cause for most of the crashes.

“In the accident two weeks ago there was alcohol involved.

“Even the crashes before, it’s either alcohol or people that are not licenced to drive.”

He added that racing in general was very popular in Pietermaritzburg, with 70% of racers in the province coming from the city.

“It’s very popular and it brings people together.

“On Youth Day alone, the racing and spinning event in Mason’s Mill attracted about 10 000 spectators. It brings everyone together.”  Calls for a legal strip Michael Chetty, a member of Illegal to Legal, said they had been trying to get council approval for the past 16 years.

“Our application went in, in 2002.

“We went and did environmental impact studies and nothing was ever done. Working with government was a waste of time.

“We spent over R500 000 trying to get it right and nothing was done.”

Despite earlier promises by Msunduzi Municipality to regulate the sport and build a facility, Mafumbatha said: “The National Road Traffic Act is clear that drag racing is illegal, therefore it cannot be regulated.”

Mafumbatha added that those caught racing can be arrested for reckless and negligent driving.

Provincial Transport Department spokesperson Mluleki Mntungwa said there were no drag racing hotspots on provincial roads.

“This issue is really on the municipal roads,” he said.

“We don’t know any drag racing hot spots on the provincial roads. However, if this happening, our officials will work around the clock and put in several enforcement interventions to ensure that this illegality is curbed.”

Readers have their say

 Weekend Witness readers weighed in on the issue on Facebook: 

• We asked whether or not drag racing should be made legal in Pietermaritzburg?

 • Danie Fourie: “Yes and to those who play golf as a sport or hobby that’s your preference like racing is for others.

“It is a sport that will never be stopped so why not get with the program rather then make an issue over it. Give the guys a place to race and be stricter on those who don’t follow the rules.” • Michael Goba: “Legalise it and let those fond of it enjoy it in peace.”

 • Dawn Ryan: “When are the police going to stop it on Hesketh Drive? It’s a race track day and night, especially on weekends.”

 • Chris Brian Morton: “To deter the public from using public roads for drag racing, the hot spots must be monitored closely and offenders must have their vehicles confiscated and a minimum of six months prison sentence be served.

“The licence should also be revoked indefinitely. The police must make a distinction between normal speeding and a drag race, the latter being that two or more cars are involved in a race.”

 • Marius Gaynor Stander: “Yes, it will be a way to curb illegal drag racing ... but keep in mind that illegal drag racing is a thrill. It will still happen.”

 • Penelope Steven Haggard Louw: “Back in 1980/90, they did legal drag racing by PMB Makro where you paid to enter your car.

“My dad was one of them and I think they should start a drag racing club under strict supervision, no drinking alcohol allowed. Sober habits to enter into competition. This is a sport and it would control the people from doing it illegally.”

 • Lynda Tyrer: “As far out in the rural area as possible so as not to inconvenience rate paying residents with noise.”

Read more on:    motorsport  |  pietermaritzburg  |  drag racing

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