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Spinning: Cleo Quickfall puts a new twist on an emerging sport

Spinning is one of the fastest growing motor sports in South Africa. It involves dangerous stunts with names like “suicide slides” and “crazy flips” done at high speed on a large pitch until one or more tyres burst. Cleo Quickfall, one of the few female spinners in the country, would love to see the sport grow. But inadequate pitches in Cape Town are one of the greatest obstacles to the sport and, if illegal spinning continues, many more people are likely to get hurt. By LEILA DOUGAN.

This feature netted Leila Dougan the Vodacom Journalist Sports award for the Western Cape Region at an awards ceremony held in Cape Town on Thursday. 

On a cloudy day in Strandfontein, a suburb just outside Cape Town, supporters remove cold beers from cooler boxes and huddle around a mobile braai stand where chops and sausage cook over hot coals. Laughing can be heard in between engine revs and tyre bursts on a makeshift spinning pitch nearby. Heaped tyres make up the only barrier between a high-speed car doing do-nuts and popping tyres and the spectators who’re crowded around to see the action.

Modified BMWs and Fords roll in throughout the afternoon, covered with stickers, their insides ripped out, engines rebuilt, trailers packed high with second hand tyres in tow. This is the world of spinning, where tyre marks stain the pitch and the smell of petrol and burnt rubber lingers in the air.

Cleo Quickfall watches spinners on the pitch, where clouds of smoke are emitted from loud exhausts. She looks relaxed but aware. This is an illegal spinning event and at any moment traffic officials could break up the gathering and impound the few spinning cars that take turns on the pitch, with a hefty fine of up to R20,000 for the release of each vehicle caught spinning.

Photo: Clarens November, also known as ‘Crazy Rasta’, spins at the Diaz Festival, in Mossel Bay, 1 October 2017. Photo by Leila Dougan.

Cleo is 27 years old and the youngest of three siblings. Her two older brothers are Marc, 28, and Pedro, 39. She lives in Cape Town and has been spinning cars for the past four years. She is one of only a handful of female spinners in the male-dominated sport.

“The guys tease you. they’ll come and tell you for instance, ‘you can’t do a tyre bounce’ and then I’ll be that female, I’ll show you I’ll do a tyre bounce. I’m not scared for anything,” she says.

Cleo’s signature move is getting out her car, a BMW five series 2.8 multi-valve, while it’s still spinning around her, and taking a selfie. “People go mad for that,” she says.

Photo: Cleo Quickfall, one of the few female spinners in South Africa spins at the Diaz Festival, in Mossel Bay, 1 October 2017. Photo by Leila Dougan

Spinning was decriminalised over a decade ago and drivers and fans have grown by the thousands all over South Africa, Africa and now internationally.  In 2014, spinning was recognised as a motor sport and is now accepted by Motor Sport South Africa (MSA), World of Motor Sport (WOMZA) and the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC). The sport was born in the urban townships of South Africa during the apartheid 80s, where it became a ritual for gangsters to steal cars from the suburbs and spin at funerals of their fallen brothers.

Back then spinning came to represent more than simply stealing vehicles from the rich “whities” who lived in the leafy suburbs, it was a middle finger from the black slums to the deeply oppressive white establishment.

Today it represents something very different: A way for petrol heads to show off their skills behind the wheel. With hundreds of spinners in Cape Town alone, and thousands around the country, the motor sport has an gained international legitimacy and is a major crowd puller.

Cleo’s older brother, Marc, was the one who introduced the entire family to the sport. After completing high school he bought used cars, fixed them up and resold them. But a five series BMW back in 2012 that he was supposed to sell ended up taking him past a spinning pitch in Strandfontein one afternoon and an adrenaline seeking Marc decided to have a go on the pitch.

That first spin was a game changer and Marc turned the BMW into a spin car. After a few practice rounds his older brother, Pedro also got hooked. A few years later the boys taught their younger sister, Cleo, to spin.

“That’s an insanely daring driver that one,” Cleo says referring to her brother Marc. At an event in Pretoria last year he continued spinning after the motor caught alight. There’s a fire extinguisher kept in the car for those kinds of incidents.

“There were flames, people were stopping us, fire extinguishers, but Marc didn’t want to stop. He went on. That’s the joys of spinning — nothing will stop us. That one’s really insane. But that’s how Marc drives,” she said with a shrug and a chuckle.

Photo: Justin Vergotinie hangs out of the window as Marc Quickfall (Cleo’s brother) spins at the Diaz Festival, in Mossel Bay, 1 October 2017. Photo by Leila Dougan.

“He’s also known as the Kitchen King. He just goes full force, like at high speed into the kitchen he’ll flip that car and roll back. If you knock the car the crowd goes mad. If there’s anything dangerous or anything that could put your life in danger the crowd goes insane. So obviously we can’t stop, we just go on,” said Cleo.

Their father, Jeremy Quickfall, is no stranger to speed and used to race in the 80s. In between drags on a cigarette, sitting beside his wife Devenia in their family home, Jeremy talked about his spinning days as a young man. “Back then there was no BMW’s, it was the Datsuns and the Fords. I was a Ford owner at the time, we used to live in Ocean View and there was no pitch there of course. One would go in between the flats, on the gravel, even at the cemetery,” he said.

He was a sports journalist at the time, one of the few who would report on township sports during the apartheid era. Spinning was a way to relax, blow off some steam and have fun with friends.

Photo: A spinner on the pitch at the Diaz Festival, in Mossel Bay, 1 October 2017. Photo by Leila Dougan.

Cleo’s mother Devenia was not terribly enthusiastic about her husband spinning back then and even less so about her children getting into a spin car.

“I saw what they were doing, and it was totally nerve-wracking. The minute (Marc and Pedro) got off from the pitch I gave them a hit over the head. And then I heard Cleo was doing it as well,” she said, her eyes large.

But over time, Devenia changed her mind. She saw just how much her three children enjoyed the sport and has even tried a donut or two herself. But the most important aspect for both parents is that spinning time is family time. Their grandchildren, Marc’s son and daughter, Jayden and Phoebe, both no older than seven, can often be seen climbing on the front tyres of Cleo’s spin car, which makes them just tall enough to peek under the bonnet as their dad works on the vehicle.

“In today’s time, it’s difficult to keep kids in the home. There’s lots of families that we know that are battling with the surrounds that they are living in with their kids, and we’ve always been quite close as a family and now we know that because all three of them are involved in the same sport, we know exactly where we will find them. You know you’ll find them on the pitch,” said Jeremy.

Both parents have high hopes for Cleo as a spinner. But one of the greatest challenges for the Quickfall family is being able to practice the sport in a safe and legal environment. Killarney Raceway, a facility in Table View, has a dedicated spinning pitch, but many who practice the sport insist that the pitch is far too small for the stunts and tricks that they need to perfect.

Cape Town-based spinners who want to practice in a legal environment which provides an adequately sized pitch are forced to drive for at least two hours from Cape Town, either along the west coast to Paarl, or four hours along the east coast to Mossel Bay.

Photo: A spinner on the pitch at the Diaz Festival, in Mossel Bay, 1 October 2017. Photo by Leila Dougan.

There are also very many inexperienced spinners in Cape Town who are not willing to make the journey and who use public roads and empty parking lots to try out their skills.

Without any safety personnel, medical assistance or barriers between spectators and spinners, accidents can happen. And they do. There are a number of videos online, which show spinners accidentally driving into a crowd or private property. In 2017, Wheels24 shared a video of a man who was knocked down by a BMW in an unnamed township in Cape Town.

Pedro has been advocating for a legal pitch in Cape Town for the past three years. Internal politics in the spinning fraternity, money and lack of government support have all been obstacles. But he maintains that there are only benefits to having a Cape Town pitch that spinners can call “home”.

“Illegal places are not cordoned off properly. There’s no security, no disaster management, no fire safety, no traffic control. And also, most importantly, no medical. So it becomes an issue because you have kids from five years old up to adults to 65 years old coming to watch — spinning spectators, and it’s extremely dangerous,” he said.

JP Smith, Mayoral Committee member for the City of Cape Town is all too aware of the dangers caused by spinners who use public spaces. The problem is that many of the participants prefer informal venues. Part of the allure is the illegal nature of the event,” he said, including that, with any motor sport there is the “risk of injury”.

The higher the speed and the more reckless the action, the higher that risk. Daily, South Africans manage to wipe each other out in substantial numbers on our roads, and any event where the speed limit is succeeded or a significant speed is achieved… or where the driver might not be equipped to handle it, even if he or she believes they are, then the risk is there,” said Smith.

Smith is concerned not only about the drivers and spectators when illegal spinning is practised, but also innocent bystanders who are at risk of being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

When you combine uncontrolled audiences and spectators that intrude into the sporting arena, you have a recipe for potential injury. So we’ve seen loss of life, we’ve seen incredibly bad accidents, and we’ve seen road users, unrelated to the sporting activity, neither participant nor spectator, injured and killed as a result of reckless behaviour,” said Smith.

“This begets a great deal of anger.”

Pedro believes this is all the more reason to have an adequate legal pitch in the city. With hardly any sponsors available, spinners dig deep into their budgets for vehicle repairs, travelling and accommodation costs.

“I’m not saying that you’ll be able to pull all the guys off the streets,” said Pedro. “There will always be that minority that will mess around and that’s something that I cannot prevent. But if you can at least take just 10 spinners from the street and put them into a secured area, where they know that they’re safe and they can practice their sport, that’s what I’m fighting for,” he said.

Safety is the main priority. Anything can always happen at any time so we always want to take care of you, our children, our families — us as competitors as well,” says Monde Hashe.

Hashe is the MSA commissioner of spinning in the northern region and for Southern Africa. He also runs an arena in the south of Johannesburg. He acquired the over 10 hectare arena back in 2011, which was originally a motor cross site, and converted it into Wheelz n Smoke, complete with a 1,600 square meter spinning pitch. Every Thursday evening the site draws hundreds of motor sport fans to watch daredevil spinning stunts. It’s become one of the few purpose-built spinning arenas in the country.

“(Spinning) is a black sport. It comes from the townships. Back then we were practising illegally, we were spinning in the streets, we were spinning in any tennis court, shopping centres. We used to run away from police, we would be arrested or get hurt. So safety became a priority and for that reason Wheelz n Smoke abides by all Motor Sport South Africa rules and regulations,” said Hashe.

Photo: A spinner on the pitch at the Diaz Festival, in Mossel Bay, 1 October 2017. Photo by Leila Dougan.

The Wheelz n Smoke Thursday events can attract as many as 3,000 people over the summer. Over 1,000 tyres can be used at a single event. “We use second-hand tyres or used tyres at the cost of about R50 a tyre. One thousand tyres, at 50 bucks? That’s R50,000 for tyres only,” said Hashe.

It costs well into the millions to put on a spinning event. And the most costly are often the fees for the spinners themselves: the “crowd pullers”.

“When you want to promote a spinning event you want to make money and you will invite spinners from far, pay them a lot of money because you want your event to be a legitimate event and a well-supported event,” said Monde. His arena hosts spinning crews from all over the country, as well as the big figures of spinning, like Eddie Rasta and Stacey-Lee May.

“In Soweto there are various crews. In Ekuruleni there are various crews, there’s crews in Thembisa, there’s crews in Alexander, there’s crews in Daveton. It goes as far as Pretoria…spinning is big, very big,” said Hashe.

“Not having a legal pitch in Cape Town just simply means that we have no training,” said Cleo. “So we have a car that just basically stands there, and we have to travel to better ourselves.”

Cleo’s next competition falls over the Easter holiday. It’s called The Ultimate Battle of the Provinces, hosted in Kimberley, where spinners from all provinces compete in teams for the Provincial Championship Title. It’s a weekend affair, a good 10 to 12-hour drive away. But the Quickfalls view it as quality time together. The family will bundle into Marc’s combi, a family friend will drive a bakkie with the spin car loaded onto a flat bed trailer. The car will be meticulously covered with stickers and piled with second-hand tyres and a fire extinguisher. Devenia will pack boerewors rolls and a cooler box full of fizzy drinks for the little ones and energy drinks for the adults and they’ll set off to Kimberley, to Mossel Bay, to Namibia, to Joburg, to Uppington.

It’s a lot of fun when they are performing and we’re in the stands, especially if they are performing well, you know?” Said Devenia. “They have hiccups. Cars will break down, knock into this, knock into that, but it’s all part of the fun. And especially if you see how their fans behave — it gives you also a boost and you feel even more proud,” she said.

One of their biggest little supporters is Jayden, 7, Cleo’s nephew. When his dad spins, Jayden insists on being in the front passenger seat with Cleo, on her lap, her arms curled around him for safety. His feet don’t touch the pedals just yet but he’s definitely the next great spinner in the family.

“When I started drag racing and car clubs a few years ago you always had these guys that did up their cars and you go to them and you speak to them and you say to them, listen I just want to check out the car and see what’s happening and they were very closed minded. They would close their bonnets because they didn’t want you to see what they’d done. And I always vowed that I would never be like that, said Pedro.

“We go to events, we see a kid coming, especially children, show them, tell them what’s happening. Let them get in the car, make like they’re driving and afterwards they will also think to themselves, I also want to do this. I want to be like that guy,” he said.

“But (be) positive, show positiveness.”

“Cleo, she’s encouraging other young girls to be interested in spinning,” said Devenia.

“She’s making waves with that big car. It’s amazing, really it is amazing.” DM

Photo: Cleo Quickfall, one of the few female spinners in South Africa, spins at the Diaz Festival, in Mossel Bay, 1 October 2017. Photo by Leila Dougan.


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