BOOK REVIEW: Supervan and I
IN HIS acknowledgements in Supervan and I, a book that is modestly subtitled "The memoir of South Africa's greatest driver and his alter ego", Sarel van der Merwe says: "I suppose I should apologise to all the people who might be insulted, threatened, hurt, defamed or just generally pissed off by this book. Not that I give a s** t, but it just seems like the right thing to do."
This is Van der Merwe to a T. By the way, Van der Merwe's the man; SuperVan is the racer.
Van der Merwe starts by describing his qualifying lap for the Le Mans 24-hour race in a 956 Porsche. First time he's driven there, racing down the 7km Mulsanne straight - in the dark. He qualified the car. He then relates "borrowing" his parents' cars in his younger days, crashing his father's pride and joy, a Porsche 356 Speedster. That got him into big trouble - his father let him sit in jail for a couple of days. SuperVan then starts his rally career, first in his own car, then a standard Datsun SSS, progressing through Ford to end up with the 4x4 Audi turbo that simply scampered off into the distance. It was also the start of his track-racing career, which he preferred.
In 1982, while he was still rallying, Danny Chauvier, the inventor of the Kreepy Krauly, got him to drive a Porsche 935 in the Wynns 1000km endurance race at Kyalami. He came fifth against far superior, more modern racing cars. That opened up the opportunity to race in the US.
With the help of Kreepy Krauly, the team bought a Porsche-engined March and, with the help of Graham Duxbury and Tony Martin, the South African team won the opening race - the prestigious 24 hours of Daytona.
SuperVan had arrived in the US. It was a huge boost to his career. He did quite a bit of racing in the US, competing in four Nascar races. He was jetting back and forth between the US and South Africa because he also raced here. Eventually politics intervened and, as it became harder to travel from South Africa, he returned home. And managed to beat the Audis in a Ford, which gave him great satisfaction.
The first half of the book deals with his racing career. A later chapter is devoted to the ladies in his life. Lots of them. Then he deals with the great cars. Next comes a SuperVan swipe at Motorsport SA, especially over adding weight to race-winning cars. A chapter on how to try to drive like SuperVan is followed by how to crash like him.
That brings us up to date. He still enjoys driving a racing car; he uses Peter du Toit's Ford Galaxie whenever he can.
Van der Merwe reckons he's been fortunate with his multiple rally championships, winning the Daytona 24-hour, racing at Le Mans, winning saloon car championships, all the friends he's made over the years and now being employed by Volkswagen to run the Spirit of Africa event. Is he South Africa's greatest driver? Read the book and you be the judge.
TITLE: Supervan and I
AUTHOR: Sarel van der Merwe with Steve Smith
PUBLISHER: Random House Struik
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