SMOKE: They Shall Not Pass

Originally published: 15 September 2003

Former formula one commentator Murray Walker used to use the phrase "They shall not pass" in reference to the philosophy of five-time world champion Michael Schumacher, and it's a very sound principle for racing.

Do everything you can to keep those that would overtake you behind you - they shall not pass.

It's a principle that I share in common with the Weltmeister. I am a totally frustrated wannabe racing driver - F1, world rally, champ cars, IRL, Deutsche Touring Masters, NASCAR - I'd give my right leg to race in any of those, and I'd even settle for our Wesbank modified saloons if forced to.

Alas, it will never be and I am destined to fight it out on the streets of Claremont and Kenilworth with Corsa Lites and Datsun 180y's and Toyota Conquests in the battle for urban supremacy.

And it's a nasty world, make no mistake. Schumacher can drive a few laps of a grand prix circuit every few weeks and that's great - but let him come down here and try beating a souped-up Ford Escort fresh from some backyard garage in Heideveld or Belhar, complete with tinted windows, 5000-kw beatbox and 20-inch Bridgestones on mag wheels, not to mention front and rear wings for added stability (useful when negotiating the Kenilworth Avenue Chicane, a couple of blocks up from my house) - let's just say it's not as easy as one might initially think.

I am the Schumacher of Claremont (Claremont lower, beneath the railway line), and in my world - they shall not pass. I've beaten more Beemers than anyone has a right to, despite their significant performance advantage, particularly on the racecourse stretch of Kenilworth Avenue - a one-kilometre dash with two lanes and a bunch of doddling Old Folks turning off suddenly into tree-lined streets off the main drag.

My passengers invariably despair - they try and convince me that nobody is racing me and that it's all in my head, but I know better. I know that the Suit in the Merc SLK alongside me has one thing on his mind - to beat the mad bastard in the blue Kadett next to him. The one with a cigarette stuck to his face and the devil in his eyes.

And I gun it off the start line (at the traffic light), my senses picking up the change from red to green a millisecond before it happens. I get the jump on him across the intersection, getting my nose past the opposite traffic line ahead of him.

My gear-shifting is lightening fast, and while he has more grunt with each inch of pressure on his accelerator my shifts are quicker, and as such I stay just ahead all the way through to fourth gear.

Then it's head forward and gun it to 100km/h, going as far as 120km/h in fourth if the bastard is really pushing me, and then I change into fifth and stick it flat on the floor, eyes focussed ahead for potential turning cars.

He's hauling me in now with ease, but the few car lengths I gained at the start are going to save me, as up ahead some doos in a Beetle suddenly realises his turn-off has come, and puts on his indicator as I'm almost on top of him, slowing at the same time.

A quick glance in my mirror confirms that the Merc is almost upon me - if I brake behind the turning Beetle he's going to pass me, and if that happens I still have to get up to speed again before I can challenge him and all the momentum will be gone.

There's nothing for it but to stick out an indicator and leap into his lane, swerving around the now-stationary Beetle and into the path of the pretender in the Merc.

In one fluid motion I round the Beetle on the inside, swerve around him without forcing the Merc to slow and weave back into my lane once past the filthy back marker.

The Merc driver is pissed and wants revenge, and the tools are there for him to carry it out. I hold on for dear life in fifth gear, but his superior engine and chassis has given him a huge advantage.

But I've been here before - I've won more battles in my head than Schumacher has won grands prix - and I don't panic.

We're approaching the three-quarter kilometre mark and the Wynberg intersection is coming into view, with a stream of cars waiting at the lights. Which lane you choose is crucial to coming out the other side in front - do you take the slow lane, with less cars, or the fast lane with more? The decision must be made quickly.

I try and judge the shuffling of the cars up ahead, to be able to make an early decision on which lane to pick, and notice a car which has no indicator on to turn right, but which I can see is probably going to do so.

The Merc has just edged ahead of me now and he doesn't spot the body language of the turning car ahead, and fatally chooses the right hand lane. I take the left, behind the slow cars, and hope like hell that the bastard in front of the Merc does actually turn.

I am not disappointed and I sail past the Merc as he waits behind the turning car, and am off and overtaking the little guys, putting cars between us. I have won. I am the winner. I am the champion. I am the Weltmeister.

At the next light I end up next to a Ford Escort with tinted windows and the whole bit, and I gear myself up for the new challenge that lies ahead.

Sure - maybe the guy in the Merc wasn't even aware of me, and maybe he's just trying to get somewhere fast, but I think I know better. They want to beat me - they all want to beat me - but they don't know who they're dealing with here. They don't know who they're messing with here.

Amateurs, man.

All Smoked Out,
Luke Tagg
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