Student keeps track of South Africa stock car races

Spinnaker

The Republic of South Africa has a lot to offer all the way from the savannas to the extreme wildlife, and because of Patrick Huth, the country can now add stock car racing to its list.

 Huth, a UNF mechanical engineering senior, traveled to South Africa for almost two weeks at the end of January to help plan and officiate the country’s first-ever American-style stock car race that took place at Phakisa Freeway Circuit in Welkom, Free State, South Africa. 

 The event was part of the American Speed Association’s Transcontinental Series Free State 500, which attracted more than 10,000 fans including U.S. Ambassador to South Africa Donald H. Gips and Free State Premier Ace Magashule.

 “South Africa is really big into racing,” Huth said. “It’s an untapped market.

 Although this was the first American-style stock car race in the Republic of South Africa, the country already had the track in place. Construction of the Phakisa (“hurry up” in Sotho) Freeway Circuit was finished in 1999, just in time for a Motorcycle Grand Prix.

 The track resembles the Las Vegas Motor Speedway in Nevada, and now it’s attracting some big names from NASCAR because of the Free State 500.

 The event included six racers from South Africa, one from the United Kingdomone from Australia and 16 from the U.S., including former NASCAR star Geoff Bodine and Winston Cup driver Rick McCray.

 United Kingdom racer John Mickel won first place followed by U.S. racer and Rick McCray’s daughter, Toni McCray, who took second, said Kevin Ramsell, a spokesperson for the American Speed Association.

 Although Huth himself didn’t drive in the race, as a tech official, he was responsible for making sure the cars and the Jan. 31 race ran according to plan in South Africa.

 Huth said being a tech official is a very rigorous thing at it involves preparing and inspecting the cars and the playing field and making sure the garages are set.

 Huth also went alongside his family, including his father Dennis Huth, who is the owner and president of the American Speed Association in Daytona Beach, Fla.

 The American Speed Association is a sanction body that owns racetracks and is responsible for officiating about 800 racing events all over the U.S., Dennis Huth said. They make sure everything works from the moment the race cars arrive on the track until after they cross the finish line.

 Huth has been officiating races as president of the association for four years now, but he is especially excited about the effort his son put into the race in South Africa.

“Patrick had been training really hard,” Dennis Huth said. “He applied a lot of it to checking other cars and making sure everything ran smoothly.”

 In addition to all the work he put into the Free State 500 at the Phakisa Freeway Circuit, Patrick Huth said he did have time to enjoy the beauty and traditions of South Africa.

 “The beauty of South Africa was just like a movie,” he said. “It wasn’t just grasslands and mountains. There were gold mines everywhere, and I really enjoyed the local culture.”

 During the week and half Huth was in South Africa, he learned about the Zulu traditions by watching local dancers and drummers. He also visited The Savannah Cheetah Foundation and went on a safari.

 Huth described his trip to the Republic of South Africa as the opportunity of a lifetime, but he had to come home eventually and is now thinking about where racing will play out in his future.

As a mechanical engineering major at UNF, Huth said he either wants to build roller coasters or go into business with his dad at the association.
“I enjoy both the business and engineering aspects of racing,” Huth said. “I see guys tinkering with cars on the track, and that fuels my desire to go into engineering, but there are so many little things to racing. There’s really a mix of what I want to do next.”