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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.

Hyundai Atos after car accident

Five Tips for Dealing With a Car Accident in South Africa

There I was, minding my own business at a red robot (robot means “traffic light” in South African). Suddenly — crash! — a sickening crunch from behind, and I sat helplessly as my car slid into the Jaguar in front of me. Car accident. Aaaarrrrggggghhhhhhhhhh.

Hyundai Atos after car accident
My beloved little car, Henrike, with a very sad dent.

car accidentThe guy who hit me probably sustained the worst damage, although he was able to drive away and I wasn’t. Incidentally, the front of my car had no damage and Jaguar guy’s car had only a tiny scratch.

I collected myself and got out of the car. Jaguar Guy was already berating Nissan Guy. “Really, boet?” said Jaguar Guy to Nissan Guy. (Boet means “dude” in South African.) “Do you have insurance?” Nissan Guy looked sheepish and shook his head.

And thus began my journey through the maze of South African car insurance and auto body repair.

Things I Learned When I Had a Car Accident

Although I’d had a couple of minor dings before, this was my first time dealing with a multi-car accident and South African car insurance. I learned a few things that I think are worth passing on.

1. Don’t expect the police to show up.

Cops don’t come to the scene of minor car accidents (i.e., nothing is on fire and no one is hurt) in South Africa. No one even bothers to call them. Instead, the people involved are expected to exchange details, take lots of pictures, and go to the police station nearest to the accident (in this case the nearest police station was Hillbrow — I tried to go to Parkview but was turned away) within 24 hours to file a report. Be sure to get the other drivers’ full names, license numbers, and car registration numbers, and take note of exactly how the accident happened, where the cars were positioned, what street you were on, etc. You will be expected to provide all of this information in your police report.

I didn’t take very many pictures. It didn’t occur to me to do so since the accident clearly wasn’t my fault. Ha! See below.

2. Don’t expect “the other guy’s insurance” to cover your damages.

Liability insurance is a legal requirement for all automobile owners in America. If you get into a car accident in the U.S., and the accident isn’t your fault, then your repairs will almost certainly be covered by the insurance company of the other driver. This is not the case in South Africa. Insurance coverage is a choice here, not a law. So if you get hit from behind and the driver who hit you isn’t insured, then too bad for you. I suppose you can sue for damages but again, this is South Africa, not America. Small claims lawsuits really aren’t a thing.

My insurance company has informed me that Nissan Guy agreed to pay back my damages in installments and there’s a chance I’ll get my excess (excess means “deductible” in South African) back eventually. But I’m not holding my breath.

3. Don’t leave ANYTHING in your car before it’s towed.

I initially thought I could drive my car away from the scene. But the dented rear bumper was scraping against my back tire. As I got into my car to (try to) drive away, a tow truck driver magically appeared outside my window. My accident occurred at an intersection where tow trucks camp out waiting for hapless people like me. “This car isn’t drivable,” the towing guy said, knowing he was about to get lucky. He was right.

I had just come back from my fine art printer and had a bunch of delicately printed photos in the car. I was so worried about getting those out safely, and so shaken by the whole incident, that it didn’t occur to me to empty the car of everything else. Big mistake. When I got my car back two-and-a-half weeks later, it was missing its car stereo face plate, a set of jumper cables, and an e-toll tag. In other words, everything in the car that had any value whatsoever.

I suppose there are several people who could be to blame for this theft, but I blame the towing company. I know the stereo face plate was already stolen before it reached the panel beater (more on the panel beater below).

4. Don’t expect your insurance company to actually fix your car.

Nissan Guy doesn’t have insurance, but I do. I’ve been faithfully paying my monthly premium for the last three years, secure in the knowledge that my insurance company will cover me if anything goes wrong. What a relief, right?

Well, sort of. Two days after the accident, I received a report from Outsurance informing me that my car was a write-off. (Written off means “totalled” in South African.) “What???!!!” I yelled, inside my own head. How could my Henrike be totalled after such a minor fender-bender? (Literally, it was only a bent fender.) Outsurance estimated that my car would cost R22,000 ($1500) to fix and the value of the car was only R31,000 ($2100), hence the write-off. I knew this was outrageous and told them so, to no avail.

Outsurance offered me two options: 1) they keep the car and pay me out for the full value (R31,000); or 2) they give the car back to me and pay me “the value of the car minus the wreck value” (R10,300), and I can do what I want with the “wreck”. I went with option #2 because, duh, I love my car, I don’t want to buy a new car, and this car is still perfectly fine.

So I got my car back and Outsurance gave me some money to go toward the repairs. But I had to do the legwork myself.

5. Take your car to Doller’s Panel Beater, because it’s the best.

In their defence, Outsurance was quick to process my payout and they offered to tow my car to the panel beater of my choice for free. (Panel beater means “body shop” in South African.) I called Lucky, whose brother Walter works in the panel-beating industry. Lucky and Walter recommended I take the car to Doller’s Panel Beater and I took their advice.

Doller’s (not a typo) turned out to be the only ray of sunshine in this process. Adam and Denzil, who I dealt with at Doller’s, are the two loveliest people I have ever met in the automotive business. They were honest, polite, and got my car fixed quickly (less than a week!) at a reasonable price. I paid only R2000 more than my payout from Outsurance, and the car looks and runs exactly the same as it did before the accident.

Doller’s Panel Beater is at 17 Hubert Sttreet, Johannesburg. The number is 011-834-7828.

Adam and Denzil at Doller's Panel Beater'sAdam (left) and Denzil (right) with my car at Doller’s Panel Beaters.

My car with stickersI realize this is the wrong side of the car. But check out the awesome magnets that Ray got me for our two-year anniversary.

Bonus tip: If your insurance doesn’t cover a rental car (mine doesn’t) and you want a super-cheap replacement, hire a car from Apex Car Rental, aka Rent-a-Wreck. I’ve written about Rent-a-Wreck before and nothing has changed, except the office has moved from downtown Joburg to Orange Grove and the cars are even crappier than I remember. (I guess my standards are higher than they used to be, but I like my headlights to work and my sideview mirrors to stay in place.) But you get what you pay for with Rent-a-Wreck and I’ve yet to find another company anywhere near this cheap — rentals start at about R100 a day, including insurance. (Car insurance doesn’t carry over to rentals in South Africa. But that is the subject of another post.)

Rent-a-Wreck hire carMy rent-a-wreck. I think I rented the same car a few years ago. The staff were fixing a burned-out tail light when I shot this.

I realize now that I was lucky. No one was hurt in the accident, I didn’t have to pay a huge amount out-of-pocket, and I found an excellent, trustworthy panel-beater. I just wish my insurance company had been more accommodating and the towing company (or whoever) hadn’t stolen my stuff. I’ll know better next time an hopefully you will, too.

A Major Shift

If you read 2Summers regularly, you know I have transport issues. I’ve been living in car-centric Joburg for two years and have never owned a car. I get around by walking, cycling, begging rides, and borrowing cars from friends. When I get really desperate, I call Rent-a-Wreck.

Rent-a-Wreck is exactly what is sounds like: a place where you can rent old cars for cheap. I’ve written about Rent-a-Wreck before  so I won’t go into detail. I’m one of Rent-a-Wreck’s best customers.

I’ve got a new (old) Wreck this week — a fire-engine-red Ford Laser. Let’s call him Flash.

Meet Flash. For some reason, Rent-a-Wrecks look nicer in photos than they do in real life.

Flash’s interior light is broken. His radio barely works. He takes several tries to start in the morning. In other words, Flash is pretty much the same as all the other Wrecks I’ve rented. Except for one notable difference.

Flash is a MANUAL. That’s a stick-shift to you Americans.

You Americans might not be aware of this, but the rest of the world still drives manual. In South Africa, automatic-transmission cars are nearly impossible to come by. People often look at me as if I have two heads when I say I don’t drive manual. Either that, or they give me the patronizing, “Well, that’s because you’re A-MER-i-can” look.

I can’t say why it has taken me so long to address this situation. I know many other people who have come here from America and learned to drive manual without serious incident. I realize that I’m perfectly capable of learning too. And there are very few things in life that scare me anymore. I can take pretty much anything that’s thrown at me.

Yet I put off driving manual for months after I moved here. The months became years. I developed a total complex about it. I did try driving manual once or twice last year, when Jon had a manual hire car for a few days. It didn’t go well. Jon got so tense that he actually put on his seatbelt. It was the only time in five years of knowing Jon that I saw him buckle up.

My non-manual driving situation reached the height of lunacy over this past month, when I was traveling a lot for work and needed to rent several cars. I had to remind my client repeatedly that I needed the rentals to be automatic. It was embarrassing.

This weekend, when I returned from my last road trip, I ran out of excuses. I bemoaned my shifting phobia to a friend over lunch. She offered to give me a lesson; I reluctantly agreed. We went for a spin around Melville and it wasn’t half as bad as I remembered. Two days later, I called Rent-a-Wreck and got Flash.

It took me an hour or two to work up the courage to drive Flash after he arrived at my house. I had never driven manual alone before. I was tortured by images of myself stranded inside Flash on a steep uphill, with angry drivers honking (that’s hooting to you South Africans) and giving me the finger as they drove around me.

I erased those images from my mind and stepped purposefully into Flash. I thought through all the steps I’d learned. I turned the ignition and Flash spluttered to life. I pushed in the clutch and shifted into reverse. In a squeal of burning rubber, Flash lurched from the garage. It took a few tries, but I got him into first gear. We were off.

That was two and a half days ago. I’ve driven all about town since then — to meetings and coffee dates, and even to boxing training in Hillbrow. It hasn’t been pretty and the ride hasn’t been smooth. I’ve stalled out many times, including two separate instances on the hill in Melville outside the Service Station, in which the traffic light changed at least four times before I was able to get through it. (If you’ve ever driven in this area, you know the hill I’m talking about. It’s a manual-learner’s worst nightmare, and it’s just around the corner from my house.)

I’ve been honked at a few times, and people have driven around me. But you know what I realized? I don’t care. I’m way too pleased with myself to give a sh*t what others think. And to be honest, most drivers are way more patient than I expected. Even in Hillbrow.

George, my boxing coach, helps me celebrate Flash’s arrival in Hillbrow this morning. (Photo: Anita Powell)

This might sound silly considering everything I’ve been through since moving here. But learning to drive Flash has been one of my greatest accomplishments in South Africa. I’m sure I’ll stall out again tomorrow, and probably again the next day. But that won’t make me any less of a bad-ass.

I love you, Flash. Although I wish your rear-view mirror would stay in place. And please, please stop dying on me in front of the Service Station. Thanks.

The Car Spa: What Every Jozi Car Needs

Life is hard for a Jozi car. Parking spaces are small here. Street lanes are narrow and sometimes unpaved. Potholes are ubiquitous. Road rage rules. Cars share the road with minibus taxis – mighty behemoths with inconsiderate drivers, which hem cars in from all sides. Jozi summers bring heavy rain and hail; winters bring dust and pollution.

Fortunately Jozi has the Car Spa, a sparkling oasis for downtrodden cars (and their owners).

The Car Spa.

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An American Girl’s Guide to Driving in Johannesburg

I put it off for as long as I could.

I let my boyfriend chauffeur me everywhere, even though it didn’t feel right. I bought a bicycle. I called taxis. I accepted rides from friends. I walked. Sometimes, when I really wanted to go somewhere, I just stayed home instead and pretended it didn’t bother me.

If you want to be independent in Joburg, you have to drive. And I had developed a serious Joburg-driving phobia.

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