Tuner Wars: South Africa’s Street Car Showdown
Build It, Race It, Break It

There’s something oddly satisfying about a street car that’s been well built to go fast and make a lot of noise. It’s better than a purpose-built racer, any day.

Let me be honest here for a second – drag racing doesn’t normally entertain me nearly as much as circuit racing racing does. All that prep work, bucket loads of money and lots of breakages, all just to wait in a long line before hitting 400 meters of tarmac for a few seconds.


It doesn’t really sound exciting, does it? But when you get to experience it in person, your mind will be probably be changed. This is especially true when the drag racing’s being done in street cars and there’s no massive pit team sorting everything out for the driver. It’s much more grassroots than that.


With these private racers, it’s all about the crazy passion they have for this sport. They spend countless hours getting their cars ready for these events, then drive themselves and their buddies to the track super early to register and do last-minute adjustments. It’s all in the hope of running a good time, not breaking their prized possession, and just generally having a good time.


Sure, there are some guys that will turn up with a transporter full of gear, spare parts and a pit crew. But they’re still not a full-blown race team, just passionate people who love racing and have some money to spend on it.

Variety Is Life

The variety of cars is what makes Tuner Wars, held regularly at Tarlton International Raceway near Johannesburg in South Africa, so interesting for me. Firstly, you always get a huge contingent of hot hatches from the VAG stable, like Audi S3s and RS3s, and different generations of Golf GTIs and Rs. These cars get driven to the track and home again, and many of them run 11 and 12-second ETs with ease.

That said, they aren’t all that exciting to watch. With the event being timed and not heads-up, it’s even worse. You’ll see these cars line up to start, then sit there forever until they get the launch of their DSG and S tronic gearboxes right. Often, you’ll see one racer take off and almost make it down the strip before the car in the opposite lane has even tripped the start line beam.


Don’t get me wrong, once they launch they go like a bat out of hell. For example, the Audi TT RS above has run a 9.7-second pass, and it’s a full weight car. But even still, it’s never going to be as exciting to watch as a loud and rowdy Supra, or an old school Corolla with a crazy engine swap.

Luckily, Tuner Wars has those too.


On the day there were quite a few crazy Corollas all rocking different engine combinations, and I’ve got a separate story on that aspect of the event coming soon. There were also a few Supras, Nissan 1400 vans, Escorts, Evos, and even a Hilux truck with a 2JZ setup.


Just imagine a fully-built 2JZ, twin-cam or V8 motor with a massive turbocharger slapped onto it, making eargasmic noises, smoking its tyres on the start line, then struggling for traction all the way down the strip. That’s what I call excitement.

The grey R35 GT-R is a full-weight car with added roll cage, that ran 8.86 at 272km/h (169mph). It’s also run 353km/h (219mph) over 1km before.

Making That Power

Opening the hood of any car and seeing an absolutely bonkers engine in the bay always gets me so excited. I love it when I’m surprised, or when I see something that’s built so well it looks like a showroom piece.


At this event my engine bay appetite was definitely satisfied. There was a KE70 Corolla running a 500kW Mazda 13B rotary, a Datsun GX with a turbo Toyota 4A-GZE, an E30 BMW with a Toyota 2JZ, and another two Corollas with Mazda FE engines in them. Some of these packages make close to 1,000hp, which is crazy in a car that remains road registered.


Drag racing definitely isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and although I really enjoyed watching the racing at this event, circuit racing is still my thing.

But that’s the great thing about motorsport and cars in general, though. There’s definitely something for every petrol-head to enjoy in every genre. Drag racing, circuit racing, time attack, high-speed events and even park-offs can be enjoyable, and I would definitely recommend you experiencing every one of them at least one. Thanks to Showtime Magazine for the invite to this awesome event!

Stefan Kotzé
Instagram: stefankotzephoto

Cutting Room Floor


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Awesome coverage from another side of the planet. Glad to see that cars are a hobby over there.

I couldn't help, but noticed that there is a lack of a Black Africans in your photos. I understand that there has historically been an income disparity. Could this be the reason why there is a lack of ethnic diversity in your coverage? Apologies for rustling feathers. I'm from California and there's a huge amount of diversity here.


I replied on another comment, along with another South African, explaining a bit more about this


Apartheid. Have You heard of it?


That's a pretty pointless comment, how long ago did Apartheid end? It's like going to a spinning event, where it's mostly blacks and then also saying it's Apartheid. Certain types of motorsport are just liked by certain people, where other people like other stuff again. Different strokes for different folks


Well, either way it’s good to see people outside of America having so much fun.
Because America is so much fun. Yay.

No sarcastic tone. Strictly LIES.


are there no black people in south africa that cares about racing? lol not a single one in all the pictures


I couldn’t resist commenting on this one...

Perhaps the bigger issue is when people scour dozens of photos counting black people?


I've replied on another comment explaining a bit more about this.


No perana ):


Strangely enough, lots of the Perana's that used to be used for drag racing are now being built into track cars.


South African here to give my opinion:

Stefan's photos are fantastic to get the feel of tuner wars in my honest opinion

As to the lack of Black Africans I think it is down to two factors:
Lack of publicity for events
Lack of interest in drag racing

In South Africa a different type of motorsport has started called "spinning", if you look at the crowds in the below videos you will see it's a very different demographic:


think of it like a mixture of Gymkhana and drifting with less f**ks given

Hopefully that gives a little more insight


I’d really thought I had already seen the worst form of “Motorsport” until I watched a video on spinning. That’s officially the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen.


Thanks for the reply from a local, Michael.

I also think the lack of publicity is a reason for there not being much black Africans at these kinds of events, and lack of interest to a certain extent, but that is definitely slowly changing.

I am seeing more black guys getting involved in drag racing, especially with VAG cars, which is good.

It will probably sound stereotypical but if you had to break it down when I usually go to events it goes like this:

Drag racing, especially when it comes to the older type cars you'll see a lot of white guys, as they've been involved in there forever and they like still playing with the older stuff that you have to build, tune etc.

Then with the newer cars especially the VAG scene, it's quite a mix, but there is a lot of Indian guys in this scene, especially if you go to something like Drag Wars which is a VAG only event. Even in the Tuner Wars coverage, there was some running some amazing cars, like the RMZ Motorsport TTRS. Even the organiser is an indian guy, Ugan, who's really done an amazing job with the growth of this event.

I think when it comes to diversity, something like Campfest, which is South Africa's biggest VAG show you have the biggest variety. You'll find people from every single culture there. This is also true for illegal drag racing, where you'll find a great diverse group of people

Then like you mentioned spinning is very much dominated by the black African and Coloured demographic and what a cool type of motorsport that is. I love it, because it's so crazy, loud and full of culture. I'm already planning to cover some spinning soon.

Glad you like the coverage :)


can't wait to some spinning coverage


Lol im a south african that follows this site daily ...welll shittt im guilty HOURLY! Stefan Kotze is the hero for our fellow south africans and in all honesty you wont see the Black south africans drag racing or At events like this its more of them at a spinning day or the other class of them are apart of the IBV superclub or some fancy lambporghini , ferrari or Vrrrrrr PA day lol


hahaha love this Ihsaan, What software you running bru? Intake, software and downpipe only, hahaha, You know the stories. Don't forget about G-Wagons and Range Rovers now.


Haha! So true brother... Keep up the great work! We're all looking forward to way more local coverage brother


Why is it that certain individuals see the need to turn a South African feature into a social/political issue? Different strokes for different folks (as mentioned elsewhere in this thread). Certainly, nobody is barred from entry, its a matter of culturally influenced preference, that is all. The narrative could be flipped, and the question could be asked: Where are all the Native Americans at North American car-meets – or Aborigines at Australian ones? No need to answer. ;-)


P.S. It's ironic that the vehicle in the title visual hasn't been "appropriated" by 'spinners' (yet). ;-)


If there is one thing I truly miss about living in SA it is the drag racing, at one point if you lived in the Johannesburg area you had a choice of at least 4 legal drag strips to visit virtually every Sunday of the year, never mind the illegal Sunday night drags, can recall the one near Nasrec where there could be a few thousand spectators, made it interesting when the police turned up.

Sadly some of these drag strips gave into the high value of commercial property and sold up. It was a sad day when Wesbank Raceway closed its doors.

Every time I am in SA, I do my best to visit Tarlton for one of their Friday night events, they are truly something to watch as the variety of vehicles is amazing.

Keep the articles coming Stefan, thanks for making me homesick.


Drag racing has unfortunately died down the last few years on a National level. Tarlton has no more nationals, but lately there has been so many smaller events popping up which is great, because it has much less politics. Midvaal also has a pretty good strip now and holds events very regularly. There's even been a whole bunch of crews popping up and they also have top 10 list for JHB, similar to Street Outlaws.

Friday nights at Tarlton is still pretty pumping indeed!

Glad I could remind you of home :)

Zachary Kinley

That Escort is pretty rad! That 2JZ E30 looks like it has no more room in the engine bay.


The bright red one with the wide arches? If you're talking about that one, I was so looking forward to it running, but then on the start line, the traction was too much for it, and the wheelnuts sheered off, taking half the fender with it :(


And people say Christmas is the best time of the year. they don’t know what this is like

Seitlhamo Phefo

Im a black south african . Theres no apartheid in car culture.i personally go to tuner wars and drag racing evens just cause i love the passion that goes into the cars . I prefer drifting but its not that popular here . Stefan is right when he said most of the older guys like older cars and i agree with that sentiment . The other side of a spectrum is just guys who like fast cars but wont really dedicate a full day to go drag racing or even fork out some extra cash for upgrades . Most of my friends just buy ready made machines - amgs , m sport , Audi rs etc . I prefer building and that boils down solely to interests . Its not a racial thing . The car culture is as welcoming as other places . From my experiences that is . Hope I gave some insight


Thanks for your post man. I agree that car culture is actually one of the few things that unites us all in this country. Maybe the EFF should take some land and build a new drag strip or racetrack for everybody. Haha

Seitlhamo Phefo

Yeah dude a big ass piece of land where all forms or motorsport can take part lol im telling you that will fix south africa and thanks so much for giving SA car culture the highlight it deserves.. as a car enthusiast youre doing us a great justice


Anyone else notice the MK2 Golf front bumper on the KE70 corolla?


Do you think it is really? I was trying to figure out what bumper it was, but couldn't come to a conclusion


Yeah definitely, had a few big bumper gti mk2s lol I’d know it a mile off haha


Can't believe how well it fits. That KE70 runs a really nice 1UZ V8 Turbo setup



with love from Cape Town man.


Kwaai dude! Glad you laaaaik it!


South Africa has better car culture than South Korea


Yes, more south african content


Its so sensational to see SA on SH! Glad to see that the rest of the world will get a glimpse into what the ouens do for fun. Looking forward to your next article Stefan, keep up the good work. Aweh!


Awesome post! Anymore info on the white fiat x1/9?


It's runs a Honda VTec motor, other than that don't have much info on it, but I can find out..


Aweh aweh ma se kind!!. Thanks for representing us!!


It isn't that difficult to keep a car road registered in South Africa.


I see plenty non-Whites...
I find it strange and somewhat cool that people are interested in the segregation in racing.. Stefan maybe this is something to touch on and explain. And yes Apartheid did pave way for certain races (not the automotive kind) being involved in different types of racing.

However there are some non_Whites who raced alongside many great White racers in the apartheid era/ transition period. Amien Levy/Farouk Dangor (he had some legit e30 M3's, in a country that never had the pleasure of purchasing them) were testimony to the fact that if you truly passionate about racing you will do whatever is needed to get in.

I have to admit, people at car events dont see colour or profile others as they there to enjoy the cars/racing.


Are we going to gloss over the fact that there is a Fiat X1-9 set up for drag racing? Am I the only one that is both intrigued and terrified by this?