In 1988, I think it was, we went out past Ngong to watch the Marlboro Safari Rally. We waited at the checkpoint, where the cars had to stop and register.
I can hear the cars long before you see them, since they always remove their mufflers. It’s part of the tradition. I can hear the roar miles and miles away. Then, suddenly, they appear over the top of the hill, and around the corner, moving faster than I’ve ever seen cars move. They’re driving around 180 Mph, on unpaved dusty roads. Speed limits, such as they are, are suspended for the Rally.
In a mere few seconds, the car arrives at the checkpoint where we’re standing. The noise is deafening. As the car slows for the checkpoint, the people waiting there realize who it is. While most of the drivers these days are foreigners, this is is one of the few Kenyan drivers, and actually favored to do very well this year. The people crush around the car so that it has to come to a complete stop for fear of running over someone. The driver leans out the window, happy at the adulation, and irritated at the delay. He wants to move on, but wants to soak in the cheers of his fans.
The codriver hops out, quickly signs the log book, and gets back in. The driver screams at the people that he must be going, and revs the engine. People scatter, and he can move on. And, as quickly as he arrived, he’s disappeared into a cloud of dust.
The Rally used to be called the East African Safari Rally, and stretch over all three nations of British East Africa – Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. Idi Amin’s reign of terror ended that practice. Then, later on, corporate sponsorship gradually changed the nature of the race. But it’s still one of the most untamed road races in the world.
I remember watching at the Mercedes service stop just outside of Kericho, and watching the cars roar in, have all four tires changed, and a full tank of gas, and roar back out, all under a minute. I remember seeing the famous Joginder Singh drive through there, and feeling that I was in the presence of greatness.
I remember when Suki Drews’ dad brought his race car to Turi, and let us look at it up close, and even get in it to see how stuff worked. I particularly remember the water straw that came down overhead so that the driver could drink while driving. And I remember wondering if he could pee while driving too, and how hysterically funny that seemed.
Every year around the same time as the Safari Rally, we would have the Dinky Safari Rally at Turi. But, of course, that’s a story for another time.