In this series titled Most Memorable Motoring Moments we highlight those memories that are etched into the minds of some famous names in the South African automotive arena. In Most Memorable Motoring Moments Part 4 we hear from Clare Vale. Ms Vale is considered the first lady of SA motorsport with a long and distinguished career in circuit racing. More recently she turned her attention to drifting. She is also a regular competitor at the Simola Hillclimb. But Ms Vale started her racing career relatively late, and in an unusual manner which she recounts below.

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In Part Two of this series we featured seasoned journo and motorsport commentator Chad Luckhoff. Let us know whose Most Memorable Motoring Moment you’d like to read about and we will try to make contact. 

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Many memories to choose from

When Double Apex Managing Editor, Sudhir “Banzai” Matai, invited me to write about my most memorable motoring moment, so many momentous events came rushing into my head: my first race win in Cape Town, a WesBank V8 podium in East London, the Soweto Street Race, and so much more. When I sat down and thought about it, though, my most significant memory was the day that I first drove a car on a racetrack.

A chance encounter

Back in the early 2000s, I bought a BMW M3. At the time, you received a free high-performance driving course when you bought a new M3. As a keen motorsport fan and spectator, I couldn’t wait to book my course. A few weeks later I arrived at the BMW boma at Kyalami, sweaty palmed with excitement.

We were a mixed bunch of trainees, some older, some younger, all men. I joined the group at the coffee machine, nervous anticipation levels rising as I listened to all the testosterone-fueled talk around me – it sounded like these guys clearly knew their way around a racetrack! I slunk into the back row of seats for the introductory lecture. The driving instructors looked like fighter pilots or game rangers, young and super fit, joking between themselves and clearly on an entirely different operating level to the motley crew seated in front of them.

First foray

After reading us the riot act and laying down the track rules, we were divided up into pairs and handed over to the instructors. I was lucky – because my own car had an SMG gearbox and I was allocated to the only SMG car available. I did not have a driving partner so I had an instructor all to myself. He introduced himself as Basil Mann, looking singularly unimpressed with his pupil for the day. By this stage, nerves had overcome excitement by a sizable margin, and I had visions of making a complete fool of myself to a chorus of “typical woman driver”…

Learning curves

Even in the passenger seat, driving out on to Kyalami for the first time was spine tingling. Basil drove first, showing me the racing lines with the help of strategically placed cones on the corners. I was star struck, sitting with a stupid grin on my face, trying to absorb all the instructions as we flew around the circuit.

When the moment of truth arrived and we swopped places, the grin soon disappeared. Basil was on a mission, telling me not to drive like ‘Miss Daisy’, so I shut up and drove. And like magic, I started to flow with the track. Each lap was smoother and quicker than the one before. We started to pass the other cars, and the grin came back – by this stage, Basil had stopped barking at me.

A fortunate series of events

Of course, it was all over way too quickly, and at the end we sat quietly in the car for a moment. I asked Basil, “do you think I could ever be a racing driver?” He thought for a moment, and to his eternal credit, he replied: “It would take a lot of practice”. He could have easily laughed at me, told me I was too old or that it was too late. Instead, he recognised that I had some talent, without having had an opportunity to use it. By encouraging me, he helped me find the opportunity.

I will always be grateful to Basil Mann for that first experience on the track at Kyalami. The grin was back, made even broader when one of the other drivers greeted me and muttered, “you’ve done this before, haven’t you?