The Sumo
The Sumo

My advanced girth — a serious safety threat

It was a normally lonely Wednesday evening for me as I sat on the couch rapturously gulping down a dozen Castle Lagers in order to be drunk enough to pass out and fall asleep some time before midnight. I have a problem sleeping, you see, and since I think sleeping tablets are the preserve of the emotionally unstable, I choose alcohol as my chosen mode of sleeping aid. It is hardly prescription medication is it?

There is an inherent problem here, I submit; yes alcohol will eventually put you to sleep (hopefully you wake up again the following morning), but it will also leave you feeling incredibly ill, and coincidentally sleepy, the whole of the following day depending on your level of intoxication before dosing off. It’s the ultimate alcoholic’s Catch-22.

I always get carried away with beer talk, my apologies. The reason I needed to get a good eight hours of sleep that night is that the following day I would be out at Kyalami on the Audi Four Rings Advanced Driving Course, which I was really excited about. You see, being a tub of lard from the hood, the only experience I have with cars driving at insane speed is limited to the taxi rides I used to take almost on a daily basis to get to wherever I needed to be and that one time when one of the dudes from my hood saw me walking to the station one Saturday afternoon and gave me a lift.

What he neglected to tell me is that the car he was driving he had recently stolen and so when he saw the cops in his rear-view mirror he took off and I spent the rest of that afternoon being tossed from side to side in the back seat in a high-speed chase — I survived that little incident, but never again took “lifts” from people my age group who had no jobs but drove BMW M3s.

So I was suitably excited about the prospect of doing all sorts of things in a 3.0 TDI A4 around a very technical track like Kyalami. Only when I was picked in the morning by my two accomplices for the day, two Durban (H)indians, was I told of the impending breathalyser test I would have to endure before being allowed anywhere near the cars. My breath was pungent with the stench of old beer, but I went on, hoping they would forget about that little matter and I would be allowed to drive, which they did, lucky for me.

My two (H)indian mates were used to these sort of high-performance vehicles so they were not as nervous as I was, or so I thought. One owns the latest A5 2.0 T and the other has a TT Roadster so swooped up that it was recently covered in a national tuning magazine.

I drive a Nissan Almera 1.6 Comfortline with absolutely no extras. Pegasus looks exactly the same as the day she drove out of the Nissan production line, oh, but with a few scratches added on for character by yours truly.

So you can imagine both my excitement and nervousness at the prospect of handling a three-litre beast with mind-boggling gadgetry designed to propel me along on my journeys and doing so as fast and as economically as possible. I was going to have an awesome day!

Phillip … The legend that is Phillip — a three-time Class T National Racing Champion (or something like that) was to be our instructor. He is a quiet, reserved gentleman who is strictly no nonsense. So you can imagine his disgust when it was announced that he would have us as his group for the day — a heavily built black guy (the only one for the day — black, that is) and two typical Durban Indian drag racers — I think I actually saw a tear come out from under his dark Oakley glasses when he took his first look at the sorry bunch that were to be his students — the most crass, most vocal, most nonsensical of the whole lot during the initial presentation that morning.

Phillip’s vocabulary is classic in its limitation. Not a breath is wasted on such trivialities as light-hearted banter, pleasantries or emotional support for the group of amateurs at his mercy. He only expressed what was necessary in gems like “more power” or “break … harder!”, “90 degrees”, “180 degrees”, “full swing” and his absolute favourite “power! power! power!” and he would also throw in the occasional “don’t be scared, trust the car” just to settle dangerously shot nerves, but either than that he kept quiet or adjusted your gears accordingly if you didn’t get it after the second time he instructed you on a certain section and the required gear ratios.

The day in its entirety was awesome. It way exceeded my wildest expectations in every aspect from the professionalism of the instructors, the accuracy of the information transferred, balanced with the fun elements entrenched in all that was done. And I discovered that I am quite a good driver when the needle passes 160km/h which it almost never does in my Almera, which I think would clunk to a halt if I tried such a stunt. I’m a better driver than at least one of my party who owns a similar car to the ones we were driving, but I won’t mention any names.

One of the exercises that we had to do early on in the day was an obstacle-avoiding manoeuvre which entails driving at high speed, breaking, steering to avoid the obstacle and carrying on in a straight outside the line of the obstacle and all of this in mere seconds. All of us were positively shitting ourselves when our instructor demonstrated the manoeuvre to us as we watched from our seats inside the car, naturally strapped down very tightly. The motion the car made was so violent and scary that I contemplated actually cancelling my participation on the course if this is how we started! But looking at Phillip, I very much doubted that quitting was an option. He looked like he would smack me hard across the face repeatedly shouting “grow some balls, man!” if I tried to pull out. So I stuck it out.

After the demonstration and stern warnings from Phillip to follow his every instruction, our first guy screamed down the home straight with us in the back and pulled off the manoeuvre perfectly. I was to be next. As I slipped into the bucket of a seat, spilling over the sides quite unceremoniously, and took in my cockpit environment with all manner of flashy lights communicating information to me, I realised the gravity of what I had gotten myself into. I was being asked to quickly adjust to a foreign environment, adapt as rapidly and abandon every instinct of self-preservation that I have and “trust the car” as I was reminded by our tame instructor.

My palms were dripping with sweat, but I noted that the steering wheel stayed dry when I lifted my thumbs off the quarter-past-three position to take a peak under them. The leather had soaked up the sweat and kept my hands dry and ready for the challenge ahead. I adjusted the wheel and then the seat for weight, height and distance to the steering wheel. And then I fired her up with a press of the “Start” button and things came to life in a flurry of light and spine-tingling tones from the rear (these were from the engine notes, not my passengers’ flatulence in the rear of the car brought on by fear).

Before I could acclimatise fully, the cold command came from the shotgun position: “Drive, others are waiting behind us.” And then as I pulled off, the call for more power would be the order of the day. About a hundred metres down the home straight and a few metres from the obstacle struggled my instructor’s hushed tones through the grunt of the three-litre “power off” and soon after that and in quick succession he barked “full break! 90 right, 90 left, straight!” and before I knew it I was through the obstacle and had open track in front of me and the car was stationary. In retrospect I remember violent screeching of tyres and girly screams from my passengers in the rear and then as I thought that and waddling in celebrationary hormone overload came the shocking assessment from shotgun position in a voice as calm as you can imagine: “Good. You hit one cone. Your stomach got in the way. You need to lose weight, it is not safe. Drive back.”

There was shock, horror, astonishment from me and an explosion of laughter from my mates in the back. It was out in the open, said by a sober observer who has no emotional investment in me, confirming what I was being teased about the whole morning anyway: “You are too fat to do a lot of things including tying your own shoelaces, running 80 metres and even walking up the stairs, now add on driving. You are a hazard because you are too fat to avoid obstacles on the road.”

I brushed this severe indictment off as I do with all other matters related to my weight, I put in a quick joke which everyone laughed at and enjoyed the drive back to the starting point to try the exercise again. This time with one more click back on my seat adjustment and a new determination to prove everyone wrong.

The rest of the detail is insignificant. I knew a few things before going on that course and now I know a whole lot more, including the fact about my girth being a considerable hazard to other motorists and obstacles on the road. I can now slide a car through a corner at 140km an hour, if the car has ESP of course, and I can sweep through corners at high speeds without breaking, but just knowing how and when to get off the power and stick the steering wheel into it. I am confident behind the wheel, alert and I hope always ready to react correctly and safely. I am now Michael Schumacher’s fat, black cousin three times removed. I am now a morbidly obese beast on the race track and a responsible safe driver on public roads.

I always thought I was just lazy when I hit a rock on Main Road a few months ago, but it turns out that my stomach may have actually gotten in the way of my avoidance manoeuvre resulting in my incident. My fatness is actually costing me money earlier than I thought and before I do something really serious that could have been avoided had I been slimmer; I think it is time to do something drastic about my weight.

Maybe I should go on a diet. Or maybe I should start going to the gym. Oh wait, it’s the holidays now, maybe I should start next year.

Seriously though, I tip my hat to the guys at the Audi Four Rings Driving Experience for keeping it going through a tough financial period where no one feels that such a course is necessary. I advocate that this course will save you money, make you supremely confident and if, God forbid, you need it — save lives.

I rest,

The Sumo