Stunt drivers strive for official recognition in Zimbabwe

Shannon Mayor, son of Issac Mayor, spins his father’s blue BMW 325 while performing at the Motoring Club’s Burnouts Arena in Mutare, Zimbabwe’s fourth-largest city. This arena dedicated to spinning is the first to be built in Zimbabwe. (photo by Evidence Chenjerai)

By Evidence Chenjerai, Associate Reporter

MUTARE, ZIMBABWE – As he revs the engine, clouds of smoke hide Isaac Mayor’s BMW 325.

In the driver’s seat, Mayor, 53, grips the steering wheel. He is determined to put on a show for the spectators who have gathered around the tire-barricaded concrete slab known as the Burnouts Arena at the Motoring Club in Mutare, Zimbabwe’s fourth-largest city.

At night fall, dust and exhaust fill the air as he spins his wheels while his vehicle remains stationary.

Mayor is a spinner, a stunt car driver who takes part in events known as spinning or burnouts, a popular but unrecognized sport in Zimbabwe. Sometimes spinners hang from their car doors or pose on the roofs of their speeding vehicles — anything to entertain the crowd.

Mayor, known as Fat Cat by fellow spinners and fans, was first drawn to the sport as a teenager.

“With every show, I have changed my spinning stunts by always trying out different maneuvers, which is how I have survived in the game for so long,” he says.

Spinning began gaining popularity in Zimbabwe in the 1980s. And in that time, Mayor says he has seen the sport’s popularity boom. Some shows garner as many as 2,000 people who pay to watch drivers spin at both formal and informal venues.

The 2016 spinner of the year, Rusell Chirindo, spins his orange car with help from his crew, at the Ralyton Sports Club in Mutare, Zimbabwe. The spinner inside the car helps with stunts like hanging out of windows and sunroof, while the crew member outside the car helps with stunts like jumping onto the bonnet or boot while the car spins. (photo by Evidence Chenjerai)

Despite the popularity, spinning is not recognized as an official motorsport by the Sports and Recreation Commission of Zimbabwe. And the country’s weak economy is preventing new drivers for taking up the sport, which requires expensive vehicle upkeep.

Across the country, spinners are working to formalize their sport with recognition and even official training programs to encourage the next generation of spinners.

Spinners, like Mayor, say they prefer to use a handful of older-model cars like Datsuns, Alfa Romeos and BMWs. The most popular car among spinners, he says, is the Gusheshe, a slang term for his preferred car, the BMW 325 model.

Kuziwa Nkomo, a spinner and spokesperson of the Ice Motors spinning crew, says lack of coordination among spinners is the main reason they are still waiting for official recognition.

Ice Motors spinning crew is one of five crews in Zimbabwe that meet up to showcase their skills at competitions held throughout the year.

For formal recognition, spinners need to draft and present a constitution to the commission that defines operations and guidelines for the sport, signifying that it complies with pre-existing motorsport guidelines. Then, the Sports and Recreation Commission will review the constitution. If approved, then spinners can apply for registration with the Zimbabwe Motor Sport Federation.

But that process hasn’t begun, Nkomo says.

Mechanic Kuziva Nkoma pours engine oil into an engine they are assembling to use for spinning at their workshop in Harare, Zimbabwe. (photo by Linda Mujuru)

Other aspects of the sport are formalizing. Last July, the arena in Mutare became the country’s first professional space for spinning. Previously, spinners used public streets and basketball courts to show off their skills.

Properly barricaded arenas like the one in Mutare, will ensure the safety of drivers and spectators, Nkomo says.

Veteran spinners are also working to train the next generation of performers.

A group of veterans, including Nkomo and Mayor, say they are training new drivers to practice spinning and perform safely. They hold training sessions in Harare. New drivers will be given a certification upon completion of the process, Nkomo says.

Training isn’t the only barrier keeping new drivers from joining the sport. With some estimates of local unemployment as high as 95 percent, the country’s economic crisis makes it difficult for many to take up such an expensive hobby.

Workshop manager, Russel Cici (bottom), and assistant mechanic Andrew Wandikani (center), smear oil on the engine block to protect it from rust in Harare, Zimbabwe. (photo by Linda Mujuru)

Spinning requires expensive car upgrades, like adding horsepower to engines and improving tires along with general upkeep, Nkomo says. Spinners can spend as much as $2,000 to prepare a vehicle.

While some spinning shows pay drivers, many don’t, adding to the financial challenges for drivers, Nkomo says.

“What we get from the shows does not cover costs,” he says. “But we do this for the love of the sport and to see it grow.”

Once spinning is registered as an official motorsport, he hopes they will be able to attract sponsors to help cover costs and boost promotion, Mayor says.

“My dream is to try get more people spinning and I am trying to get sponsorship, so we can build an arena in Harare just like in Mutare,” he says.

Evidence Chenjerai, GPJ, translated some articles from Shona.

This article was originally published on Global Press Journal.