Car cruising on Rock Raceway in Brakpan

This Is the East: Rock Raceway in Brakpan

Second in an occasional blog series called This Is the Eastfeaturing 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”.

Welcome Rock race fansA sign welcomes fans to the Rock Raceway.

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.

Cars driving around the trackCars cruising around the track during an exhibition lap in the middle of the day.

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.

Family watching the Hot Rod Championships at Rock Raceway A family watches the cars race by. I envied those little boys for their headphones.

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.

Cars racingCars racing.

Pink and yellow racecarThis beautiful pink and yellow car was driven by a 17-year-old woman.

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.

Cloud of dust after a car slid off the trackA cloud of dust flies up after a car slides off the track.

Cars drive byImpossibly loud cars.

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.

Cars racing at Rock Raceway

Racecar and beautiful light

Read Ang’s story about our visit to Rock Raceway on her blog, Jozi.Rediscovered.

The Rock Raceway is on Main Reef Road in Brakpan.

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  • Reply eremophila October 17, 2018 at 1:41 pm

    I used to go to motor bike races.☺

    • Reply 2summers October 17, 2018 at 4:01 pm

      Ahhhhhh, you get it then 🙂

  • Reply 'Petrol in my veins' – Speed Weekend in Brakpan | JOZI.REDISCOVERED October 17, 2018 at 1:44 pm

    […] Thanks to Jody and Nicola Viana for being so amazing and answering all my weird questions. Also thanks to 2Summers (aka Heather Mason) for accompanying me – we had the best time ever and we’ll definitely be back! All photos © 2Summers; see more on her blog […]

  • Reply dizzylexa October 17, 2018 at 2:16 pm

    With my Dad and my first husband, we spent just about every weekend at some sort of racing event – drag racing, speedway, motor bike and car racing and yes the caravan races were the most exciting.

    • Reply 2summers October 17, 2018 at 4:01 pm

      Caravan races! I want to see that 😍

  • Reply catji October 17, 2018 at 3:06 pm

    I went to Brakpan once, to buy some V8 high-performance thing…it was different. What’s around Joburg, the original old mining towns. Krugersdorp comes to mind – the only other such place I’ve been to, don’t remember anything, except that I was struck by all the quartz, and how dry it was.

    • Reply 2summers October 17, 2018 at 4:02 pm

      Yes, there are a lot of interesting towns like this. Springs is another one.

  • Reply catji October 17, 2018 at 3:18 pm

    That – local car racing and so on – is more “parallel culture” for you. 😀

    The one time I really suffered from the cold when I lived in Joburg…we went to drag racing – I think it was Rainbow dragstrip near Brakpan…wind, open veld…we tried to shelter under the stands, that didn’t work, then we went back to the car and went home. It was unbearable. So I learned that winter iin Joburg is not serious because there’s hardly ever any wind, but when there is – :-s

    • Reply catji October 17, 2018 at 3:22 pm

      😀 They’re not headphones, but now i forget what they are. Essential for shooting.

    • Reply 2summers October 17, 2018 at 4:03 pm

      I need to go to a drag race!

      • Reply catji October 18, 2018 at 8:51 pm

        😀 Yes! You do! 😀 That was to be the next in my comments. 🙂 So, i’m a bike guy. not cars…but either – both…imo, the best motor sport for spectators is drag racing.
        *You must go to Tarlton International Raceway.* Somewhere out west, i think it’s the Ventersdorp road. (Now with google maps it’ll be much easier to find.)

        *You need to go when they run the jet car.* 😀 If they still do, because I know that even like 18 years or so ago, it was becoming too expensive for them. It *chows* fuel. I think it was a Rolls-Royce jet engine, from a big plane. It’s incredible. The SUB-BASS vibrates your rib cage and diaphragm seriously, it pulses.
        But the “funny cars” are also thrilling – they’re the totally modified cars. (As opposed to the “rails”, the archetype long dragsters.) And there’re also the modifed V8’s – 60s and 70s muscle cars.

        I’m sure it is now too expensive for many more people, with the failed Rand… the tyres cost $$$ each, + shipping and so on, and they only last a few races. :-/

        • Reply 2summers October 18, 2018 at 9:55 pm

          Sounds amazing.

  • Reply Nikki Brighton October 17, 2018 at 3:49 pm

    another world… and thanks for the link to Jozi Rediscovered. A great blog.

    • Reply 2summers October 17, 2018 at 4:00 pm

      Only a pleasure! It’s also one of my favorites 🙂

  • Reply autumnashbough October 17, 2018 at 6:49 pm

    Very NASCAR — both the white crowd and the mentality. I don’t know if I could handle the noise.

    • Reply 2summers October 17, 2018 at 10:22 pm

      Yes I kept trying to compare it to NASCAR. Which was hard because I’ve never actually seen NASCAR.

  • Reply John Sneed October 19, 2018 at 8:28 pm

    It seems especially exciting as they are driving the wrong way. I assume this is to keep their sword hand free, or perhaps jousting is part of SA motor sport.

    • Reply 2summers October 19, 2018 at 11:04 pm


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