Meet the 5-year-old petrolhead from the Free State who has a need for speed

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Wian Muller (5) is the youngest of four generations of racing drivers in his family. (PHOTO: Onkgopotse Koloti)
Wian Muller (5) is the youngest of four generations of racing drivers in his family. (PHOTO: Onkgopotse Koloti)

Most people get behind the wheel of a car only in their late teens but in the Free State town of Virginia there’s a five-year-old petrolhead who’s not afraid to put the pedal to the metal.

Wian Muller is one of the world’s youngest competitors in midget car racing – in the tiny vehicle his dad built for him, he’s able to whip around a track at speeds of anywhere between 40-60km/h.

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Dressed in overalls and an oversized helmet, he definitely looks like a racing wunderkind as he proudly poses next to his car in his parents’ front yard. The custom-made vehicle, which is about the length of a shopping trolley, is covered in stickers featuring the kiddies’ TV series Paw Patrol.

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Wian's vehicle was built by his father and he is able to drive speeds of between 40-60km/h. (PHOTO: Onkgopotse Koloti)

“I love Paw Patrol,” he says cheerfully.

But when he’s in the driving seat, there’s little time for idle chit-chat. He has to keep all his wits about him as he races in the under-12 junior category against kids who are much bigger than him.

It doesn’t bother Wian that he’s the youngest. In fact, it makes it that much more satisfying when he manages to out-race the majority of them.

Since the start of this year, he’s reached second or third place in several races.

“He’s a natural on the track and really enjoys racing,” says his proud mom, Mariska (32), who’s an accountant.

“Wian is always excited before a race and looks forward to it. He’ll be racing again in Bloemfontein in June.”

The need for speed seems to be hardwired into the little guy’s genes. He’s not the only petrolhead in the family – Wian is the youngest of four generations of racing drivers.

“We grew up on the track,” says his dad, Quentin (39), a safety officer at a nearby mine.

In the 1960s, Wian’s great-grandfather raced bumper cars in Bloemfontein and his grandfather, Willie, drove 2L cars on gravel and tar tracks between 1982 and 1994. At one point he held third spot on the SA rankings for gravel oval track racing (a closed-circuit motorsport that’s contested on an oval-shaped track).

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Wian, who started racing last year, has come second and third in several races. (PHOTO: Onkgopotse Koloti)

At school, Quentin raced on tar oval tracks and in 2019 he decided to take up the sport again.

These days he races 2L 16-valve midget cars on a gravel track. Quentin even built his own midget car – a class of racing vehicle with anything from a 150cc to a 2L engine and a very high power-to-weight ratio.

Wian helped him with the project and it wasn’t long before he too was hooked on the sport.

“He was there the whole time Quentin and his dad built the car and he helped them. Wian kept asking if he could drive the car,” Mariska says.

Then came lockdown in March last year and the Mullers, like families all over the country, were trapped in their home.

“There was nothing to do. We sat around at home and the kids were restless,” Mariska recalls.

That’s when his granddad decided he needed a new project.

“The little guy so badly wanted to race like his dad that we decided to build him his own midget car,” Willie says.

They had the car’s frame built in Bloemfontein and completed the rest of it at home, adding a 150cc engine they’d taken from a quad bike.

“We wanted to build a replica of my midget car,” says Quentin, whose own car is larger and more powerful with a 2L engine.

It took them about three months to finish Wian’s car and he drove his first race in September 2020. Since then, he’s competed in several races in Rustenburg, Welkom, Bloemfontein and Kroonstad.

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Wian with his parents Mariska and Quentin and his sister, Mia-Lee. (PHOTO: Onkgopotse Koloti)

“His little car wins hearts everywhere he goes,” Wian’s mom says. “The people at the track adore him. They can’t believe that a little boy of his age can drive a race car.”

Wian’s car engine was built to have a top speed of 90km/h but his dad adjusted its engine so Wian can’t reach that speed.

“He’s very small still,” Quentin explains. “We can’t let him drive that fast yet.”

As the car doesn’t have a speedometer Quentin can’t say for sure how fast it can go but he estimates that the maximum speed is less than 60kms.

And of course all the necessary safety precautions are in place. For instance, in addition to its sturdy bodywork, the car is cocooned by a rugged metal cage to offer extra support if there’s a crash.

Mariska admits it’s nerve-wracking watching her son tearing around the track.

“He’s still very small and a mother’s instincts kick in. You want to protect your child. It’s especially heart-wrenching when he races against the older kids. They have more experience, drive more recklessly and have more self-confidence but Wian isn’t scared at all.”

He fetches all the trophies he’s won and proudly displays them for us on the couch.

There’s a third-place trophy from Bloemfontein’s oval track, a first place in Kroonstad and a second place in Rustenburg.

“It’s not about winning for us,” Quentin says. “He must just enjoy it and learn from the process. When he’s a little older, he can get more competitive but it’s wonderful to see how much he enjoys it and that he’s doing well.”

He’s officially the youngest member of World of Motorsport South Africa (Wormsa) and has an annual licence from the organisation which permits him to race.

But although he’s so skilled at driving and spends lots of time in the company of older kids, he’s still very much a young child.

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“He still plays with his toy cars next to the track while he waits to race,” Mariska says.

A race consists of two qualifier rounds and a final race but it’s hard to get Wian to race in the final.

“The final is always late in the day and then he just wants to nap. Sometimes it’s almost impossible to get him to race then.”

Surprisingly, despite all the time he spends in the driving seat, Wian doesn’t dream of being a professional racing driver one day. What does he want to be? “A firefighter,” he says without missing a beat.

So no next Michael Schumacher or Lewis Hamilton, then?

“He’s too young still to aspire to that,” Quentin says. “But maybe when he’s older he’s going to tell us he wants to drive Formula 1 someday. You never know.”

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