Second in an occasional blog series called This Is the East, featuring hidden spots on Johannesburg’s East Rand.
Have you ever gone to a place where you feel like an alien, even though you’re surrounded by fellow human beings? This is how Ang and I felt at the Rock Raceway.
We journeyed out to the Rock, which is in the East Rand town of Brakpan, to watch the SA National Hot Rod Championships. Ang was attending the race as part of a journalism project and I tagged along to take photos. Neither of us are “car people” and we’d never attended an auto-racing event before.
I’ve done a lot of unusual things around Joburg but this felt more unusual than average. Brakpan feels like a remote, foreign place to me. It’s far from downtown Joburg in an area my boyfriend (who comes from the East Rand) calls “Deep East”.
The raceway is located on a barren, scrubby piece of land with nothing much around it. Nearly everyone attending the event was Afrikaans; I hardly heard a word of English, which made me feel like more of a foreigner than usual.
We spent a lot of time wandering around the racetrack and the “pit”, where all the drivers and their crews hang out and work on the cars between races, just trying to take everything in. Ang and I spent much of the day pondering how out of place we felt and why. (Ang will write about this feeling a lot more in her piece.)
But the main thing I want to communicate is the electrifying, gut-churning, eardrum-piercing thrill of watching a whole bunch of souped-up, fire-breathing race cars speed around an asphalt loop.
Hot Rod Racing in Brakpan
There was a lot of downtime between races, when nothing much happened and we felt a little bored.
But during the races, when 20 or so helmeted drivers (some of whom were teenagers, some of whom were women, and some both) dressed in fire-retardant jumpsuits rounded that loop again and again, jostling for space in a tight clump of fluorescent-colored, low-slung, ad-smeared metal machines, Ang and I stared in awe.
The noise. It’s impossibly loud — like standing next to a speaker at a rock concert but way louder than that. The noise penetrated my skin and reverberated through my bones.
The cars collided, slid off the track, sent up huge clouds of dust, caught on fire, and sometimes jumped right back into the race. I saw one car lose its bonnet (the hood, for the Americans among you) — like it just flew off as the car was driving — and keep on going.
I had no idea what was going on. I don’t know who won any of the races or how fast the cars were driving. I didn’t much care and I still don’t.
But I would make the long drive back to Brakpan tomorrow — I’d go again and again and again — to experience that thrilling, bone-jangling, adrenaline-soaked feeling all over.
The Rock Raceway is on Main Reef Road in Brakpan.