by Michelle Gumede
NOS foggers, split mags and dropped suspension are staples for drag racing in Mayfair; the subculture keeps local police busy and the costs are exorbitant. But the guys, and the girls, love it anyway.
“Neh hond, I’m going to jigga, this truck driver naai is wasting time,” Smiley says as he changes into reverse gear. Big G, sitting in the passenger seat, just nods like a mafia don.
It’s a busy Wednesday afternoon in Mayfair. People are pacing up and down the sidewalk on Mint Road and shop owners are sitting outside their stores trying to escape the heat inside. There’s a big soft drinks truck parked vertically across the road, causing drivers to honk their horns in frustration.
Smiley is among those stuck behind the truck. There’s a sense of urgency in the lanky 22-year-old’s body as he revs his 16v DOHC engine. He makes a U-turn and speeds down the road in the opposite direction to meet up with a client before he leaves the neighbourhood and heads for Soweto.
“We have to catch this ou before he vias to the kasi so we can get our cash,” he says.
Smiley needs money, fast. In order to make it to the finish line first at the upcoming drags, he’s going to have to come up with a small fortune. The Pioneer AVH-X7550BT 7” in-dash sound system with Bluetooth and USB that he wants costs R5 500. A new NOS fogger, to boost his speed, goes for about R500. And the 17” alloy wheels he wants will set him back R5 400.
He is not about to let speed limits slow down his efforts to get to the race prepared. Speeding down the back roads of Mayfair, he accelerates over huge speed bumps and takes a left turn at the sight of any traffic jams on the road before finally arriving in Riverlea after a bumpy 10-minute drive.
A black BMW 325is flickers its headlights signalling to Smiley. He parks his white Honda Ballade behind the sleek Beemer. Known as igusheshe, the BMW 325is has been a symbol of gangsterism and cool in South African townships for years.
The two drivers simultaneously get out of their cars and sit on a bench where they discreetly exchange parcels. After a brief conversation, they each return to their vehicles. Back in the car, Smiley reclines his seat and fires up his engine. He lets out a sigh of relief.
“Dis duidelik,” he says with a killer smile.
His infamous bright smile, known to knock any lady, young or old, off her feet makes a brief appearance. His friends reply “Salute”.
Smiley turns up his ageing Pioneer sound system and Drake lyrics start to pump through the speakers.
“Started from the bottom, now we’re here, started from the bottom, now my whole team fucken here.”
On the way to the drag races near FNB stadium, the glow of lit cigarettes peer out of half-rolled down tinted windows. An evening breeze blows and brings much-needed relief to the three pals –Smiley, Big G and Corbin.
“I just wish we run into that clown – Jumpstar. I want to wys him that ek is nie bang of his dom modifications,” Smiley says frowning.
He has an angry and competitive energy about him whenever he talks about Jumpstar – his arch nemesis. The guys compete about everything, clothes, girls but most of all cars.
Big G explains that Jumpstar and Smiley went to nursery school together. They were inseparable and their love for cars and girls developed over a long time. But their relationship turned sour when the boys fell for the same girl in high school. The lady known as Lynne was blown over by Smiley and they had a fast-paced teenage love affair, for a short while anyway, until Jumpstar came along.
“He slept with Smiley’s medie [girlfriend],” Corbin adds.
Annoyed with Corbin’s interruption, Big G says Smiley and Jumpstar will face off again, at a race that weekend—if Smiley can get some money together.
“They’re racing on Sunday and this ou needs at least ten grand by Friday to sort his car out if he’s gonna slat a win,” says Big G.
Using his skinny fingers, draped with golden rings, Smiley grabs a cider and gulps it down.
“Ja and my ou Big G is going to help me out with a nca [great] job next Thursday,” Smiley responds.
The winner takes the bragging rights, money and girls. Word on the streets is that Jumpstar has added some mean modifications to his car, including NOS and a new sound system. Just the thought of it seems to put Smiley in an uncomfortable mood. He grinds his teeth and bites on his thumbnail.
There’s almost a narcissism about the pride the guys in these parts of town have about their cars. Your car is a symbol of male pride, creativity and individuality. Motor heads across Mayfair and Fordsburg fight for status and quench their need for speed on the makeshift racetracks in open fields in the Johannesburg south. Battling it out on the racetrack like Smiley and Jumpstar is no unusual feat in these circles.
“This racing thing, it’s in my blood,” Smiley says.
Flashy guys have a lot of exterior modifications on their cars. Bright red paint, window stickers, big bumpers, shiny spinners, personalised number plates and mean grilles while “silent assassin” types disguise their powerful engines and ear-piercing sound systems in ordinary-looking sedans that are deceivingly powerful. Smiley fits the latter description.
The atmosphere is buzzing in the open plot that serves as the racetrack every Wednesday night. The open field is nestled inconspicuously across the road from the iconic FNB Stadium. Although the gathering is illegal, this is not the most discreet of crowds.
Music pumps from every other car and the girls — dressed in sexy summer shorts, long weaves and skirts — dance and congregate around the more expensive cars. Vodka and beer flow as the guys size up each other’s rides.
The only thing that can stop the drags are the blue lights of the police. However, Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) officer Coetzee says that there have been very few arrests made but there is a R1 000 fine if you’re caught.
But few people do get caught. Coetzee said JMPD hires its cars from a rental agency and they come standard so it’s difficult to catch up with these cars that have modifications that allow the drivers to hit high speeds fast, leaving JMPD in the dust.
“Instead the crowd disperses whenever they see us coming,” he laughs.
There are a number of legal drag races in the Johannesburg area but Smiley and his crew prefer living life on the edge.
In a circle demarcated by old tyres, a Honda Civic revs its engine and does doughnuts. The driver keeps running out of the car, dancing to the medley of sounds blasting from the different vehicles, leaving the car to continue circling on its own. The crowd roars with excitement and the other drivers look on nervously. The guys try to keep their cool by talking smack about the sound the Civic exhaust makes but the girls keep on screaming as if they just saw Michael Jackson.
Half an hour later, another Honda Ballade, this one hot red, arrives and catches the attention of Smiley and his crew. The car has been pimped out with dark-tinted windows, yellow lamin-x on its fog lights and a super, low suspension. The driver revs his engine and parks in front of two drunken girls dancing and groping each other, forming sultry silhouettes in his lights.
“I’ll go scout it out now, now,” Corbin reassures Smiley. He disappears into the darkness.
For the rest of the night, young and old guys’ cars continue to compete in the art of spinning and racing while crowds roar and boo at competitors. Smiley’s crew keep their eyes on Jumpstar. He’s chilling cheekily with his boys across the tyre-barricaded race area, just waiting for Smiley to make a move.
Of the more than 25 auto body shops that can be found in the Mayfair and Fordsburg area, there are only two that Smiley trusts to take care of his transie (car) – Autostyle and Domingos.
“It’s a fucking expensive interest or hobby; cars break all the time and parts don’t cost the normal prices anymore,” Smiley says.
Solly Domingos opened the doors of Domingos on Mint Road in 1941. His son Joe Domingo was the first “coloured” driver on the racing circuit during apartheid. According to website Hood Ride SA, between 1960-1975 Joe’s father spent about R2.9 million on Team Domingos racing as the team had no sponsor.
Autostyle, owned by the Mohammed family, has been a part of the Mayfair business community for 18 years. Autostyle started out as a small parts shop and now towers over the busy Church Street with two sister shops in the same area.
“You get from the oldest 80-year-old guy who still wants to pimp his car up and still looking for the accessories,” Zak Mohammed, a sales representative at Autostyle, says.
Both of these family run businesses have earned fierce reputations for their expertise and products. Smiley insists, “They have the sickest accessories in this part of Johannesburg.”
The day after having seen the improvements and modifications on Jumpstar’s ride, Smiley strips down most of the interior of his beloved Honda Ballade. It’s supposed to make the car lighter and faster.
He removed his sound system and mags that are due for replacement before Sunday’s race. “Eish, it’s standard and ugly,” he says with a sigh.
Zak recommends adding stance to any competition car. The stance is used mostly at shows and is not an everyday scene in Mayfair, but the motor heads love it as an added creative effect that can be installed on most makes. “Stance is like the new in-thing,” Zak explains.
It’s about modifying wheel alignment in an unusual way with your back wheels slanted out. “It’s a new modification where you put your back wheels to go into negative camber,” Zak says.
The inside of the tyre gets eroded while the outside retains its shine. Drivers usually have their own wheels for everyday driving when the negative camber goes back in and alignment is restored to normal.
Zak warns against even trying to do this on a daily basis as it’s not practical. “Your alignment’s going to go off and you’re gonna have vibration on your steering wheel.”
Manufacturers don’t care much for modifications to their vehicles. VW brand specialist Mpho Sebitlo says it’s not advisable to modify your car beyond those provided by the factory.
“The warranty of the car parts is compromised and the car devalues even more than a standard car would,” Sebitlo says.
Smiley spends the next week working hard, making money with pick-ups and drop-offs to pimp his ride. Inbetween, Smiley makes time for his two girlfriends. The cute young girls don’t seem to mind that he comes and goes between them. Smiley moves between both girls, kissing and casually slapping their bums as if to assert his dominance over them.
It’s Thursday, the day of the big job, and the usually talkative Smiley is rather quiet, distant. He’s making a chicken mayo sandwich in the kitchen and playing more Drake from his phone.
“I want the money, money and the cars. Cars and the clothes. The hoes, I suppose. I just wanna be, I just wanna be, successful.”
Smiley and his crew are vague about how they make the money that funds their expensive lifestyle, except that it involves a lot of pick-ups and drop-offs.
Smiley and Big G leave town at six in the evening. He boasts on Whatsapp that they made the four-hour trip to Limpopo in three hours. Then, they wait and wait for the delivery vehicle on a deserted road outside a small village in Phalaborwa. Forty-five minutes later, their client arrives with a large package from Zimbabwe. The exchange is made silently.
The morning after the big job is tense. He needs to sell the goods in the package quickly if he is going to pay for the accessories and labour on his cars by race day.
It’s Sunday evening. After all the preparation, Smiley doesn’t race against his opponent. He says it’s been postponed to the first week of December. Smiley insists he doesn’t fear his opponent and the delay is strategic.
“There’ll be more people then ‘cos its mos the festive season, then I’ll crush Jumpstar in front of everybody.”
The delay may put his street cred on the line for now, but Smiley’s passion for speed, money and girls will keep him in the fast lanes of Mayfair.