A family pastime

OFF ROAD RACING A FAMILY PASTIME There is an old saying that the family that plays together stays together, and off road racing in South Africa provides plenty of evidence that belting around the countryside in performance race cars is very much...


There is an old saying that the family that plays together stays together, and off road racing in South Africa provides plenty of evidence that belting around the countryside in performance race cars is very much a family pastime.

A glance through the entry lists for this year's Absa Off Road Championship provides for some interesting reading when it comes to family participation in what is one of the premier motorsport championships in South Africa. At the last count there were eight father/son combinations, seven teams of brothers, two brothers-in-law and two husband and wife teams competing in this year's series.

And, it does not end there. Behind the scenes a whole gamut of moms and dads, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters-in-law and siblings play a role in terms of team managers, service crew and general dogsbodys.

In terms of father and son combinations Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn, Nick and Ryan Harper, Bes and Etienne Bezuidenhout, Cliff and Louis Weichelt, Drik snr and Dirk jnr van Reenen, Rob and Gareth Wark, Rob and Clint Gibson and Ernest and Mark Corbett have all competed this year in either the Production Vehicle or Special Vehicle categories. Only Ernest and Mark Corbett have not been paired together, but have teamed up with other co-drivers.

The case of Nick, 44, and Ryan Harper, 25, tells its own story. Nick started racing more than a decade ago with Andrew Chalupsky doing the co-driving. Ryan took over as crew chief at the age of 16 and oversaw car preparation.

"Because of business commitments Andrew could not commit himself to a full season of racing this year, so I commandeered Ryan as co-driver," said Nick. "It made a lot of sense to bring in Ryan and it has been enjoyable and a lot of fun.

"The cherry on top, of course, was to score my first win in 10 years on the Lesotho Sun 400. That was special."

The set up in the van Reenen family is also typical of the family spirit running through off road racing. Dirk snr's wife Elaine and daughter Dilene are also involved. Elaine and Dilene serve not only as pit crew but as catering staff.

The bottom line is that we are in a sport that we can enjoy as a family," said Dirk. "It is not a case of the boys going out there and having fun.

"Elaine and Dilene help with the preparation of the vehicle, and on events we have a huge amount of fun as a family."

Rob and Gareth Wark take the father/son relationship a step further. Not only do they race together but they are partners in the family paving business.

"Gareth and I share the driving/co-driving on events," said Rob. "We combine youthful exuberance with experience and are great mates.

"Through off road racing we have built up a terrific relationship and it is one which we treasure as a family."

On the brothers-in-law front Gerhard du Plessis and Ferdi Seegers share a drive as do Terence Marsh and Michael Whitehouse. In the case of Marsh and Whitehouse it is also very much a case of all family hands to the pump.

"My wife Sharon and I both come from motorsport families," said Marsh. "Sharon's dad raced cars and boats and Sharon raced off-road bikes and still competes in the Porsche Supercup.

"I also race in the Porsche series but off road is my first love. We involve grandmas and grandpas as pit and catering crew and the grandchildren are also part of what is a real family scene."

Of the brother combinations involved in off road - Stuart/Mark Moffat, Pierre/Rudi van Graan, Jurie/Andre du Plessis, Hendrik/Louis Fourie Alistair/Hamish Stubbs, Bevan/Gary Bertholdt and Mark and Gavin Cronje - only the Cronjes and Bertholdt's do not share a drive.

The Moffats, from Heidelberg, carry family involvement to extremes. While brothers Mark and Stuart handle the driving and co-driving, mom and dad Alex and Adeline and wives Adri and Natasha serve as pit crew and run the catering.

Also involved in the Moffat team are sister Tracey and husband Marius van Vuuren who raced together for six years and are contemplating a comeback. Marius and Tracey are involved on all events along with a collection of brothers and sisters-in-law.

"It's a whole family affair and off road racing has brought us closer together as a family unit," said Mark. "Dad is retired so he gets to do most of the donkey work, and that makes all our lives a bit easier."

The Cronje brothers are both members of the Castrol Toyota team, and have grown up racing together in karts and saloon cars. Both are former World Rotax Max kart world champions with a great deal of sibling rivalry between the pair.

"Gavin and I are very close and give each other a great deal of support," said elder brother Mark. "But I can't see the two of us sharing a car at this stage.

"That would probably be taking brotherly love too far. I don't think either of us would fancy co-driving for the other."

Alistair and Hamish Stubbs, however, are quite comfortable with sharing the driving and co-driving duties. The pair has been racing together for four years and their love for off road racing comes from their father who sat alongside Klaus Degener in days gone by.

"We are not sure who is the better driver or co-driver so the best solution is to alternate," said Hamish.

"We are comfortable with each other, get on well and off road racing is a common interest we can share. Winning our class on the Toyota Desert Race in 2004 was a big achievement for us."

The husband and wife combinations of George and Sharon Barkhuizen and Zelda and Gerhardt Niemand also profess to get along well together on events, and leave family arguments to less mundane matters like who is going to do the washing up after dinner. In the case of the Niemandt's they have also carved a small family business out of off road racing with Zelda running a motorsport website from home, and daughter Luze Jacobs working as a freelance photographer on events.

"The website is our way of trying to put something back into sport, and Luze has her work published nationally," said Zelda. "We help Gerhardt with the preparation of the car and racing has helped bring the family together."

The next round of the Absa Off Road Championship is the Toyota Dealer 1000 in the Lydenburg area of Mpumalanga province on October 13, 14 and 15.


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Series Other rally
Drivers Gavin Cronje , Mark Corbett