Harare’s Fast and Furious

Emmanuel Kafe
THE smell of burnt tyres fills the air. Souped-up cars line the narrow two-lane Angwa Street. Groups of over-excited youths mill around waiting and watching eargely as the two competing cars pull away on a high speed chase.

Welcome to Harare’s “fast and furious” illegal street racing scene, the underground sport that has gained an unwholesome and noxious reputation. Illegal street drag racing on the streets of Harare has over the past month, become a customary weekend evening’s entertainment. Either they are dicing with death along Angwa Street or in the Workington industrial areas. Spectators congregate at the roadside and watch wannabe racers in modified Subaru’s and Altezza’s (throw in the odd superbike) vie for glory and bragging rights, oblivious of the danger posed by the illegal racers.

Very little money exchange hands during these races as they are meant for fun and street creed, said one racer who chose to remain anonymous amid fears of reprisals from law enforcement agents.Some of the cars are ex-Japanese vehicles that are now being sold at the former “Ximex Mall” along Angwa Street. These speed merchants claim that they would be test-driving their cars, and not drag racing. For those not in the know, drag racing is a type of motorsport that involves two cars or bikes competing to be the first to cross the finish line over a short set distance.

On public roads, drag racing is dangerous because it exposes pedestrians and other motorists to accidents. Last week, The Sunday Mail Society witnessed the so-called test drives. In the queue was a motley of cars: anything from dilapidated BMW’s to lovingly maintained Subaru’s and VW Golf’s.

Waiting for his turn was Khedha (as he is popularly known by his peers), a Subaru WRX owner, and feigning to be a fan, I engaged him to hear what this was all about. “We just get that feeling to race,” he said. “There are many guys that are trying to build their cars, making it better than the next one. Another comes with his car that is faster – then everyone knows about him – it’s all about status and at times marketing our cars, so that they sell fast. “We know it is illegal doing it in the streets and that is why we normally do it on Sunday evenings when traffic will be low,” he said. “Today it is only that there are new arrivals of cars so we are just trying to give our customers “moyo” (street lingo for engine), to lure them to buy.”

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What is so ironic, however, is that the car dealers will be doing their drag racing just opposite the First Street police cabin and the police seem not to be moved by the blurring car exhaust boosters.Illegal “drag” racing is very popular amongst youngsters who often spend a large percentage of their salaries to modify their vehicles. In some instances it would be for financial gain, as many races have bets placed on the winners.

Many illegal dragsters see street racing as a sport with few rules where anything goes. While many people love the adrenaline rush of stomping on the gas pedal of a fast car, the manner in which the locals are doing it comes with a great risk of injury and death. Last year a closed circuit television recording of a car that ploughed into a fuel station along Samora Machel went viral. Fortunately in that incident, no one was hurt.

The drag drivers are increasingly using ordinary roadways for races, putting them and other motorists at a greater risk, as the racers dont stop stop at traffic lights.

Not only do they put pedestrians and other motorists at risk, they also contrubute to pollution, especially noise pollution, as well as to air pollution through the smog that is emitted by burnt tyres.Zimbabwe Republic Police chief spokesperson, Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba, has since issued a warning to motorists who engage in drag racing, especially in the central business district.

“Drag racing on public roads is an offence and such motorists are being warned against engaging in such acts which endanger public safety and flout road rules and regulations. Anyone found engaging in acts which pose danger to members of the public on the roads will certainly be arrested and taken to court to face justice,” she said.

The Sables Dragpro Club Zimbabwe chairman, Mano Zevgolis, said they strongly condemn any form of reckless, or inappropriate driving that endangers other road users and members of the public and/or breaches laws. “The club would, however, at the same time, like to provide clarification with regards to the use of the expression ‘drag racing’ in describing this unacceptable activity of racing on the streets by members of the public.

Drag racing is a competition that takes place on a racetrack, in a controlled environment, in which automobiles or motorcycles compete two at a time to be the first to cross a set finish line, from a standing start, in a straight line, over a measured distance, most commonly a ¼ mile straight,” he explained.

He added that no parallels can be drawn between irresponsible driving by members of the public on public roads and the fully sanctioned form of motorsport called “Drag Racing”.

Drag Racing is an internationally recognised motor sport. In Harare the sport is run by the Sables Dragpro Club, which is a member of the Zimbabwe Motor Sports Federation.

Their events are held at Donnybrook Raceway and not in the streets.

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