26th of January - Season 1
The moment that Tendai Mathemba stepped out of the uber, he had expected to be immediately recognised. After all, even if he wasn’t a celebrity by normal circumstances, he was a multiple-time continental open-wheel champion and he was in a crowd of motorsport enthusiasts. But when he realized that absolutely no one recognised him as he walked through the people towards his front row seats in the stands, he began questioning whether these people were racing fans at all.
In hindsight, Tendai shouldn’t have been surprised. He’d heard all about Formula-X and its weekly show, Monday Night Fuel. It was all the rave across not just South African social media but Zimbabwean social media as well, along with Mozambique and Botswana. In fact, it was even starting to get the attention of main stream media as Tendai had learnt that reliable newspapers were giving the series the time of day. And that really bothered Tendai… more than any of the thousand people in attendance could know.
“Tendai? Tendai Mathemba, is that you?” Tendai had turned around to see a man he knew very well. Glenwood Jacobs. “It is you. Damn man,” he said walking over to shake his hand. “How the hell are you?”
Tendai gave the man a smile. “Just happy that someone recognises me.”
“How could I not after all these years? So, what brings a three-time Auto One champion this far south?”
“You know I live just around the corner.” While Zimbabwe wasn’t ‘just around the corner’, it was still very far from where most of the Auto 1 grands prix took place as almost all of them happened north of Central Africa. “But I heard about what you and Moodley had started down here and I figured I’d check it out.”
Glen raised his eyebrows in delighted approval. “Well, if you gonna check it out,” he said gesturing him away from the stands, “then you should do it right. Come on. I’m giving you the V.I.P. treatment.” Tendai followed his old colleague as he led him to the pit stall area. While he appreciated the backstage pass, Tendai was secretly judging Glen for this abomination that he’d created.
PENNY, DUCHESS OF DRAG VS. TOUCH MKHIZE
Tendai watched as a young Caucasian lady carrying a shiny albeit plain-looking golden helmet walk to a green and gold race car, followed by a young Zulu man who walked to a navy blue car. They were quickly introduced as Duchess of Drag, Penny Potgieter and challenger, Touch Mkhize with their race being a drag race. At this point, Tendai had given Glen a look which led to Glen explaining their entire backstory leading up to this race. That led to Glen explaining some of the other rivalries which led to him explaining the rules (or mythology as Glen called it) of the series starting with how the Duke or Duchess was the champion (or monarch rather) of the Drag division and ending with the title of King.
“So, what do you think?” asked Glen, noticing Tendai rolling his eyes at the abundance of exposition put down before him.
It was an interesting question as Tendai was thinking a lot of things, unfortunately none of them good. Luckily for him, the race started, giving him about a minute to put it nicely. In his mind, Tendai wondered how in the hell any of this could be considered motorsport? Kings, Barons, Dukes, Duchesses. It sounded like Game of Thrones to him. And why did the race cars have to have names? This wasn’t an anime.
When the drag race came to an end and Penny’s hand was raised in the air, Tendai finally spoke his mind, trying to remain light-hearted about all of it. “So this is what an Auto One racer does after he retires, huh?” Tendai immediately knew that he’d screwed up the light-hearted part.
Fortunately, Glen didn’t seem eager to create tension either. “Hmm,” he said managing a smile, “someone’s not impressed yet.” Glen was taking Tendai’s disapproval in his stride. “Well you’ve only seen one race, so maybe I still have a shot at impressing you. Let’s wait and see.”
LONGITUDE & LATITUDE VS. PENNY & DIME
Tendai was initially caught off-guard by seeing the Duchess of Drag remain on the racetrack to be joined by another racer as Touch Mkhize was replaced by a pair of racers who were obviously brothers. Glen quickly explained that Penny was playing double duty, (really triple duty since she’d be competing again later) and that the race he was about to see was a relay race.
Seeing actual teams take to the track made Tendai feel more hopeful that this series actually had proper formula racing on its card. But when the race started and he saw the racers take each other on one-on-one and basically tag their teammates in every other lap, Tendai’s face fell. Fortunately, his spirits were about to be picked up when they were joined by another familiar face.
“I’d heard that we have an Auto One racer in the house.” Terrance ‘Moodswing’ Moodley walked up to them, smiling proudly. “Tendai Mathemba,” he said shaking his hand, “at a Formula-X pay-per-view, as I live and breathe. You should have called. I could have arranged the best seats in the speedway.”
“Don’t get too excited,” said Glen. “Tendai over here is not exactly impressed with what we have to show.” Glen’s words earned a clenched jaw from Tendai.
Moodswing gave Glen a disappointed look. “Really. Well perhaps you haven’t given him the proper tour.”
“Oh the tour has been just fine,” said Tendai. “It’s the racing that’s thrown me off.” When Tendai saw the look that both Moodswing and Glen had given him, Tendai elaborated. “This isn’t racing,” he said pointing down to the track. “This isn’t how formula or open-wheel racing works.” Tendai took a breath before he went on. “This isn’t motorsport.”
While Glen, having finally lost his light-heartedness, wanted to jump in to defend his hard work, it was Moodswing who answered, managing to avoid any tension altogether by smiling smugly. “You’re damn right it’s not motorsport. It’s sport entertainment.” Without missing a beat – ever the smooth-talking businessman – Moodswing showed how he’d become so successful damn-near overnight by talking confidently and with passion. “You see, Tendai,” he said, draping an arm around his shoulders like he was an old friend, “motorsport down here, as in anywhere below the equator, it’s not that big. It hasn’t been for a long time, my friend which is why, employing traditional open-wheel racing styles just wasn’t going to cut it.
“No, if I was going to get butts into seats here in South Africa, let alone on this lonely island province of ours, I had to do something radical. I had to do something that no one had ever, and I mean ever, seen before.” Moodswing then explained that after researching the kinds of programs that most South Africans were watching on television (being soapies), he set about finding a way to combine motorsport with the drama of soap operas. In the process, he also became known for inventing an entirely new genre called sports opera.
There was something about how Moodswing explained it that somehow made the series seem more palatable. Unfortunately, as a man who was a driver in a legitimate racing series that was slowly being noticed by the world, Tendai was not ready to turn his back on decades upon decades of motorsport history to support this abomination… at least that’s what the other Auto 1 racers were calling it. All, except one.
KING THAWN OBERHAUSER VS. MANDLA XULU
After Longitude and Latitude retained their titles, Moodswing offered to take Tendai down to the paddock where all the racers had set up shop which Tendai graciously accepted. Tendai knew that he’d run into him down there. And he was looking forward to it. However, he hadn’t expected him to be the first face he saw when they got there.
“And just what the hell are you doing here, Mathemba?”
Tendai smirked. “Magubane,” he greeted Solo. “Or should I say 'The Franchise' ,” said Tendai, overemphasizing Solo’s nickname complete finger quotes. Tendai saw the look in Solo’s eyes which made it clear that he wasn’t happy to see him. “What’s wrong? You’re not still upset over what happened back in the dessert, are you?”
Tendai knew the answer to that. From Solo’s perspective, it was a betrayal. From his own perspective, he’d simply traded up to advance his career. After being teammates for over a year, Tendai had signed with another team and quickly won himself the Auto 1 Championship. Tendai really didn’t know what Solo was upset about since he’d started winning grands prix shortly after. Of course, Tendai was aware that it probably had to do with the fact that the deal with his new team was meant for Solo and Tendai had effectively stolen it.
Solo ignored Tendai’s quip. “I asked you a question, Mathemba,” he said harshly.
“Chill, alright. I just came here as a fan. You know, to watch the racing.” Tendai pointed at one of many big screens in the paddock where a Caucasian man with curly brown hair walked onto the racetrack wearing a much better looking and clearly, very expensive gold helmet, embellished to the nines. He was clearly the King. He was followed by a Zulu man who got a notable cheer from the crowd.
When the announcer made an elaborate show of introducing the race and its contestants – something that wouldn’t be out of place in a boxing contest – Tendai rolled his eyes once again. This time, instead of commenting to Moodswing, Tendai decided to pick on Solo. “I cannot believe you’re involved with this circus.”
These words struck a nerve with Solo. “Excuse me?” Tendai had just stared at him, instead of repeating himself so Solo went on. “I’ll have you know, this is the most exciting motorsports show south of the equator.”
“But it’s not a motorsport show at all, is it? No, its 'sports entertainment' right?” said Tendai, once again using finger quotes. The words silenced Solo temporarily. “Argh, I cannot believe you would soil your name by racing on this show.”
“I’m not soiling anything, Mathemba. I’m bringing much needed attention to the sport that we both love, whether it’s called sports entertainment or otherwise. Say what you will, but people in this country are now much more aware of open-wheel racing than they’ve been since the eighties.” Solo then put a single nail in the coffin just for his own satisfaction. “What have you done for your country, lately? Huh, Mathemba?”
This time, Tendai’s stare became hard, his jaw clenching up again. How dare he? Solo was not about to make himself out like an Olympic hero at his expense. Tendai was about to jump him when Moodswing – anticipating what was about to happen – jumped in front of him.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. That’s not how we settle things here, Tendai. You want a piece of Solo, you do it on the blacktop. You do it out there.”
Was Tendai hearing him right? He was offering to let him race Solo one-on-one. While Tendai wasn’t sure what to think about this, he looked at Moodswing and immediately knew what he was thinking. He was thinking that this race had gold written all over it: two Auto 1 teammates going at it: one-on-one in Formula-X. How could he not be thinking it? Their history-infused race alone would sell out a pay-per-view. It was something Auto 1 fans had wanted to see for a long time. But Tendai wasn’t interested.
Tendai shook his head. “No. I’ll race Solo when he comes back to his senses in Auto 1. Until then, he can enjoy being a big shark in a small pond.” Solo, having heard enough, finally turned around and walked away. But Tendai called after him. “But as I hear it, you’re not the biggest shark here at all, are you?”
Tendai had not been lying when he said that he was not interested in racing for this sports entertainment franchise. He wanted no part of it. Despite anything that Moodswing had said, there was nothing that Tendai had seen that was enough to convince him that being here was worth it. Although when he heard the crowd become unglued as the race came to an end and the announcer said that there was a new Formula-X King, he did get goosebumps for the first time. He would give anything to hear that sound after winning an Auto 1 Title.
THE SCRAMBLE RACE
When it finally came time for the race that Tendai had been waiting for all along, Tendai felt he’d been there forever. It wasn’t because the races had been that long, but rather because he’d been through all sorts of emotions, all before the headlining race of the night. A part of Tendai realized that that was all part of the sports entertainment experience.
As Tendai watched the familiar sight of a dozen race cars go onto to the speedway, instead of feeling like he was finally seeing something he recognized as formula racing, all Tendai was thinking was that a lot of things had happened tonight. He’d seen a woman compete twice, winning one race and losing another. He’d seen a new King being born and had found himself rooting for someone in every race. How had that happened? Looking at the racers on the grid now, Tendai realized that he didn’t have a favourite yet. But, in the previous three races, after Glen had explained the so-called storylines, he’d immediately sided with one or the other.
Suddenly it made sense to him. Even though the race in front of him was what he came to see, he now realized how this so-called abomination to motorsport could be a hit that could attract what now looked like two thousand people. It was because it engaged them from more than just the perspective of motorsports. Unfortunately, there was still a part of Tendai that was struggling to let go of the long history of motorsports that had made IndyCar a national past time in America, Formula One an international hit all over the world and Auto 1 a growing, continental franchise in Africa. No, he owed it to Auto 1 and Africa to stick with his continental series. Surely it was doing more for Africa than this series.
The Scramble Race itself was thrilling. In the race, despite starting from pole position, Solo was struggling against the racer who had started the race from the number 2 position next to him: Darcy Stevens. Her bright pink vehicle (called The Candyfloss according to the info bar on the screen) was giving Solo in The Abominable Seduction a run for its money. But Tendai’s money was on the guy looking to surpass both of them from third place: John Kloof, riding in The Big Boot.
Tendai noticed how the crowd cheered every time Kloof tried for an overtake. He couldn’t help but feel a little jealous. There were rarely any pops like that in Auto 1. Even in IndyCar and Formula 1, it only happened when an established racing star did something like that. But this series had only been around five months. So how was Kloof generating that much positive crowd reaction already? When the racer named Jim Kieck tried to overtake Kloof to take third place, Tendai remembered Glen briefly explaining their rivalry from earlier in the season and it dawned on him why the crowd was loving Kloof.
So, by the time Kloof finally managed to overtake both Solo and Stevie to bring The Big Boot into the lead, Tendai found himself rooting for the family man as well. Tendai was surprised by this turn of events. While this was definitely the race that brought him here today, he had not expected to feel this way about it. He had not expected it to be the list of one-on-one races in the past few months that would inform who he’d be rooting for right now.
When Kloof managed to hold on to the lead and capture the win, the crowd went crazy and Tendai was right there with them. While he was still resolute in not budging from wanting to place his name in the long history of true motorsport, he now understood why Formula-X was important and had a role to play in getting exposure to open-wheel racing. So when he went to shake hands with Moodswing and Glen as a sign of respect for what they’d accomplished, it was not a lie. He was really rooting for them to keep growing as a franchise. And despite opting not to join the series as a racer, Tendai had settled on joining the fanbase as a supporter.