The LURE Guide to: Spinning, the South African Motorsport
SPINNING EVOLVED FROM A GANGSTER SALUTE INTO A RESPECTED NATIONAL PASTIME.
It's hot. The blazing sun is hiding behind a haze of dirt and smog. Eager spectators push against a couple of fragile barriers flanking the sides of a makeshift arena. A flame-red BMW rushes in, engine revving aggressively. The driver hits the brakes and the car starts rotating on its front wheels. Smoke fills the narrow dirt pit. Suddenly, the driver clambers out of the front window and hangs upside down out of the whirling vehicle. BANG! The tires burst into pieces and the smell of well-done rubber fills the air. The crowd goes crazy.
Shakhumuzi Mzantsu – Shaki for short – jumps out of his seat. “Yes! This what I love about spinning! There's always an element of surprise. What will the driver do next? You never know!”
The 49-year-old is not only a passionate spinner himself but also editor of Spinners Gear Magazine. There was no platform for spinners to connect besides Facebook, so he created one.
Spinning has its roots in the gang culture of early 1980s apartheid-era Soweto, Johannesburg. Stealing cars was a funeral ritual in Soweto, at the time one of South Africa’s largest and most dangerous townships. Young guys stole vehicles and burned them out spinning to honor their fallen soldiers. Classic drifting techniques of blocking the front and back wheels were combined with unexpected stunts and dangerous maneuvers.
“My passion for spinning comes from my love for the BMW325i,” Shaki says.
The motorsport revolves around this vintage German car. It’s the spinner’s Holy Grail due to its heat resistance, stable rear-wheel drive and, of course, that crowd-pleasing engine roar.
“The feeling that you have when you are in control of that beast,” Shaki says. “That’s why I love spinning. Even if I am not paid, the crowd pays me with their smiles.”
Today, successful spinners are township celebrities. Spinning has become a big-budget pastime, gaining popularity across Africa. Competing is expensive. Parts for the BMW325i are becoming scarcer – plus you need new tires and tune-ups all the time, according to Shaki.
“There are some individuals who take advantage of spinners,” Shaki explains. “Some are making millions from spinning. Some [spinners] are getting exploited each and every week. Some end up quitting spinning because it becomes too much for them and their families.”
Stacey-Lee May, the Queen of Smoke, one of South Africa’s only female spinners, and her family also fight to make ends meet. To fly to America to compete on the Netflix racing series Hyperdrive, May’s father even had to sell his tow truck.
“Every day, when your car needs fixing, you need to run around for parts,”says Stacey-Lee’s mother and manager, Lizel May. “Some people make huge amounts of money from spinning and yet, we, the spinners and their families, are still struggling.”
Spinners like Stacey-Lee May and Shakhumuzi Mzantsu are calling for their passion to become more institutionalized and so it can be better funded by corporate sponsors. In 2014, spinning was recognized as an official sport with the founding of a government body called Motorsport South Africa (MSA). But spinners and their vehicles must fulfill a host of procedures to compete, street spinning is still illegal and there are cumbersome organizational issues, according to Shaki.
“It’s a challenge for the MSA because they don’t know who to talk to. At the moment, to be recognized as a spinner, you are not registered under the association of your region. You are registered under MSA. MSA doesn’t know whom to call because there is no formal structure. [The association] would handle all matters around spinning, including rules and regulations.” Shaki pauses and grins. “But they've been given a mandate to not take the excitement out of spinning.”
So Shaki and others are determined to form a national association called Car Spinning South Africa to work hand-in-hand with the MSA.
After all, spinning is a uniting force in modern day South Africa. Fans from all races, ethnicities and cultural backgrounds come together in townships on the weekends to watch the events – a powerful symbol for a country that has been so divided historically.
“They all come for the adrenaline,” says Shaki. “Spinning is like drifting on steroids.”
“And next? We’re gonna bring it to Europe,” he promises.