Backstory: Spinning their wheels
Hot cars spinning doughnuts - a metaphor for freedom in South African townships.
SPRINGS, SOUTH AFRICA
From the first screech of his tires, it's clear that, on this course, Jeff James is king. He revs his gold 1993 BMW Alpine. This is his baby, his chariot, hand-painted and jury-rigged to perfection. "Don't Call the Police" is its nickname, from the letters on his license plate - DCP 105 - and from Mr. James's inclination topractice doughnuts on public parking lots.Skip to next paragraph
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The crowd pushes closer to the circle of smooth tar, about 120 feet across, built like a small, cement skating rink in the large asphalt courtyard of Jazi Bootleggers Pub & Restaurant.
The people know James, and they know this will be a show. That's why hundreds of them are here on this late Saturday night at a $2-a-head entrance fee.
Hazard lights blinking, James slowly steers his baby just inside the four-foot wall around the rink, custom built for James's unique sport - spinning. It's the new craze in South Africa's black townships. There are no points, no teams, no final score - just one man in a car, doing doughnuts as fast as he can, sometimes jumping out of, and back into, the car while it spins.
The windows of James's BMW are down. He's the picture of cool, elbow resting on the door frame. He puts the car in first gear, then slams on the accelerator, twisting the wheel 180 degrees. Tires scream, around and around the car spins - rubber burning, smoke billowing - first in small circles, then larger ones at 15, 20, 25 miles per hour. He slides across the rink, a whisper away from the brick wall and serious time in the body shop.
Women screech, echoing the tires. Men yell, and punch the air. Cellphone cameras blink, capturing this local hero - a South African black man with a BMW, a black man who can drive wherever he wants, however he wants.
James slows the car, yanks up the hand brake, and hits the accelerator again. The car squeals but doesn't move. The front tires are still, the back spin crazily. Acrid smoke billows from the back tires, rising with the volume of the crowd. He drives the car around the rink again, and then stops altogether.
James gets out and, without glancing at the crowd, moves his floor mat with showy nonchalance to the back seat. The crowd roars - they know what's coming. James gets back in the driver's seat, and stomps on the accelerator, bent so it will stay depressed without his foot. He twists the wheel right as far as it will go, opens the door, and jumps out. He runs with the car as it spins, positioning himself between the open door and the car frame. He keeps a hand on the car, working to stay in the same arc. Periodically, he steps onto the running board, rides for a few seconds, then jumps back off and runs again.
This is when you have to listen, James explains. The RPMs slow as the accelerator slowly sneaks back into place and the wheel creeps out of its turn - this is when you dive back in and pull the accelerator back with your foot and seize control.
The crowd is frenzied as James finishes his act. Women reach toward him. Men jump the wall to collect scraps of rubber from his brutalized tires. By day James is a businessman who owns two minibus taxis - by night, he's a rock star.