It’s ten minutes past two o’ clock and I’m already late for my interview. While sweating and rushing into a cute little sushi diner, called Lemon Butta, I eventually meet my interviewee. ‘Hi, I’m Nina,’ she says with a warm smile. Very politely, she shakes my hand while I ramble off some excuse for being late. She waves it off while the waitress saves me with a fresh bottle of water. “Catch your breath,” she said. I thank her profoundly and I start easing up. Was it nerves? Maybe my expectation fabricated an image of a staunch leather lady ready to run me down with her Max 125cc two-stroke. But at first glance, Nina didn’t strike me as a hardcore motor racer at all, but in fact, she was!
SPICE contributor, Anton Pretorius, recently spoke to 23-year old speed queen, Nina Becker about her ambitions as one of South Africa’s very few female race car drivers.
I notice her well-groomed appearance; her beautiful neat blonde hair and her eyes’ sparkling like the diamond studs in her ears. She reminded me more of a beautician or runway model than one of South Africa’s fastest women on a motor-racing track.
Hailing from the quite suburbs of Durbanville, Nina’s obsession with speed and cars came at a very young age. While her unsuspecting parents were taking Sunday naps, naughty eight-year old Nina would tiptoe to the family’s Opel Astra and take it up and down the driveway. Years later, her cousin Andrew would take her to the Wesbank Super Series motor racing event at Killarney race track. He organised her a ride in one of the production BMW vehicles and the rest is all history. Nina’s been hooked on speed ever since.
Nina has been zooming around the go-kart race track for nearly two years and already she has shown remarkable promise. While assembling the whole family as part of the racing crew, Nina says she relies a lot on support from family and friends. Her boyfriend, Jason Neeleman, also a part-time racer, acts as her technical advisor and her dad’s business Cape Irrigation Systems has been her loyal sponsor for the past two years. Nina’s brother and cousin are just as enthusiastic about racing and offer lots of advice and support during Nina’s races.
Her most recent motor racing moment came at some stage in the Rotax Max Challenge final at Killarney race track. Nina started off dead last, but her sheer determination and concentration saw her finishing in 5th place, jumping nine positions. Even she would admit that racing with the boys isn’t easy. Upon asking Nina what the intensity is like, she says: “It’s very intense. Being the only girl on the track kind of makes you a target and some guys race uncompromisingly on the track. I just keep my cool and race to the best of my ability”.
And how dangerous is go-karting for the average women? ‘It not that bad,’ she says with a grin, but adds that it’s not for the faint at heart either. “With go-karting your sense of gravity is low, which makes the driver more prone to accidents. ‘You literally race one centimeter off the ground, and your wheels have no protection shields. So when two cars collide, the wheels actually spin one car onto another,” says Nina. By now she’s pointing out her swollen hand and winces at a recent accident on the track that left her with a bruised hand and a damaged car.
The attention Nina receives at the tracks is astonishing. “Many people with their kids are constantly staring at this ‘girl’ (Nina) racing and working on the mechanics of the car. I mean, it’s not something you see everyday: a girl on the racing circuit. The sport is so male-dominated”.
The level at which Nina competes (karting) is considered as the baby steps in any serious racer’s career. F1-legends like Michael Schumacher, Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost were all zealous go-karting racers. So, any plans on becoming the next female F1-champion? Nina laughs. ‘No, I doubt that!’ On a more serious note, Nina aims to race main circuit production cars like BMW soon. “Those races are much more intense and your level of fitness and mental toughness must be superb”. Nina is actually more interested in becoming the ‘face of female motor-racing’ in South Africa and hopes to inspire younger girls and women in pursue their dreams.
By now we’re both hungry and Nina proposes that we indulge in some sushi. The waiter brings our six pieces of Maki and Californian Rolls and we eagerly grab our chopsticks. Thing seems more relaxed now and we start talking more openly. Nina’s quite a trendy chick and a ‘spur-of-the-moment’ kind of girl. To Nina, racing is her passion. Not just another expensive hobby or pastime. With this kind of passion, it’s clear that Nina is destined for great things to come.
With a mouthful of raw fish, I ask Nina: “So, what would be your message be to the women of South Africa who are eager to pursue their dreams and reach the same ideals?” Nina pauses for a second and says with confidence: “Preparation is the key. Not only in your fitness levels, but your mental fitness should be sharp. Don’t be scared! Don’t let the judgment of others’ cloud your own and if the passion is inside you? Then nothing will stop you from doing it!”
We nearing the end of our interview and for a moment we are both staring silently into the open. I jump straight to the point with her final question about female representation in the motorsport world. “There is still only a handful of female interested in the sport. The men outnumber us by far and we need more women in the sport to make it more competitive and less male dominated,” said Nina. That’s been her attitude throughout the interview. A no-nonsense chick that’s not afraid to speak her mind. Nina displays strong signs of leadership and hopefully many other female racing enthusiasts would step up to the plate and take on the men at their own game.
I greet Nina goodbye and whilst leaving the restaurant, I suddenly feel an urge to get into my car and do four laps around the traffic circle. Her passion for the sport certainly inspired me and by the look of things, so will many other young South African girls, who seem to be finding competitive motor racing more and more interesting. She is most likely to become the face of female motorsport racing in South Africa over the next couple of years. So, in the words of Nina, “watch this space!”
5min with Nina:
What’s playing in your car right now? A compilation of the latest songs. Nina’s hits!
Favourite guilty pleasure? Taking my dad’s car for a spin, without him knowing!
Favourite junk food? Pizza
Favourite holiday destination? St. Francis Bay
Favourite television shows? Grey’s Anatomy, Ugly Betty
If you were hungry and you only had R20, what would you buy? Steers Burger
If you were stuck on a deserted island, what five items would you take along? Bed, pillow, generator, television and my boyfriend!
What makes Nina laugh? Casper de Vries