Masters of spin

What started as an act of defiance has grown into a celebrated motorsport, rich in culture and community. By Daniel Warren

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They call it the ‘Suicide Slide’. Of all the insane, dangerous, ballsy moves drivers pull off when spinning – South Africa’s fastest-growing motorsport – the Suicide Slide might be the one most likely to have you yelling at the driver while simultaneously hiding your eyes. It involves the driver hanging horizontally out of the car window, their head inches from the ground, and holding a detached steering wheel
while the vehicle spins around in circles at top speed.

And unlike other motorsport athletes, these guys aren’t wearing anything as sensible as a helmet and fire-retardant clothing. They’re in T-Shirts and jeans.
It was one of the moves that won Chadwin ‘Boksie’ Hadjie the top gong in Cape Town last March during the 2024 Red Bull Shay’ iMoto event, defeating two-time defending champion Samkeliso ‘Sam Sam’ Thubane.

The specially created venue in the carpark Canal Walk was sold out and saw a record-breaking 3300 people fill the grandstands. While spinning isn’t traditionally a competitive motorsport, Boksie’s victory in front of an ecstatic crowd in Cape Town should help grow the sport
even further as global drifting stars will be desperate to compete in the hugely entertaining event.

Spinning originated in the apartheid era of South Africa, emerging as a form of resistance and self-expression among the marginalised communities. Initially, it started in the township of Soweto, Johannesburg, during the late 1980s and early 1990s. The sport was born out of funeral rituals, where attendees would perform car stunts as a tribute to the deceased, symbolising their journey to the afterlife. This act of defiance against the oppressive regime quickly turned into a form of community entertainment and solidarity.

Started in the 1980s by South African gangsters as a way to show off their stolen rides, for years it remained an underground hobby. It wasn’t until 2014 that it was formally recognised as a motorsport by Motorsport South Africa. Since then, it’s only grown, with Red Bull hosting a yearly spinning competition in South Africa since 2019.The early days of spinning were marked by a lack of formal recognition and the dangers associated with illegal street racing. However, despite these challenges, the sport continued to grow in popularity, with drivers pushing the limits of their vehicles and their skills in front of enthusiastic crowds.

DEATH DEFYING
The Suicide Slide was a move invented by 27-year-old law student Stacey-Lee May. “My dad actually came up with the idea,” she revealed later. “We were driving home one day, and we decided that it would be cool to hang upside down out of a moving car. And I haven’t seen anybody do it before.”

May has become an icon of empowerment and resilience, inspiring many women to break into the male-dominated arena. May emphasises the sport’s inclusivity, stating, “In spinning, it doesn’t matter where you come from or what you look like. It’s about your love for the sport and your ability to connect with the crowd.”

The preferred cars used by spinners are an unmodified BMW E30 325iS. Released by BMW South Africa in 1990, the old performance car, nicknamed Gusheshe, has a rich history in the country and has grown to be synonymous with spinning. The vehicle’s appeal is its size—because it’s smaller, the pedals are closer together, making it easier for drivers to move their feet.

As spinning continues to grow in popularity, its future looks bright. Efforts are underway to further professionalise the sport, with initiatives to improve safety standards, attract more sponsorship, and increase media coverage. There’s also a push to introduce spinning to a global
audience, showcasing the talent and passion of South African spinners on the international stage. However, the community remains mindful of the sport’s roots, emphasising the importance of maintaining its unique culture and accessibility. As spinning evolves, the focus is on striking a balance between growth and preserving the essence that makes it so special.

Spinning is a testament to the human spirit’s resilience and creativity. What started as an act of defiance has grown into a celebrated motorsport, rich in culture and community. Through the dedication of its participants and the love of its fans, spinning has cemented its place in the heart of South African culture and the wider motorsport world.

As it continues to evolve, spinning remains a vibrant expression of freedom, unity, and passion.