Andre de Kock
"I have grown old over the years, but luckily, I have never grown up, which would have meant stopping motorsport"
At the age of 72, most people start thinking about a quiet lifestyle, at a relaxed pace, featuring minimal risk and, probably, the medicinal qualities of prune juice.
Ben Morgenrood, on the other hand, races cars, runs a large business and wins motorsport awards. The circuit racing veteran was given a Lifetime Achievement award at Motorsport South Africa’s annual prize-giving ceremony last weekend.
The idea is normally to bestow that award when the recipient has finally hung up his or her crash helmet for good. That, in the case of Ben Morgenrood, will be … well, never. His path through local circuit racing is long and varied, with winning a common thread. It encompasses an extraordinary wide range of vehicle.
At the age of 20, he owned a Mini, which he entered in the Krugersdorp Hillclimb. “Problem was, I won a trophy and my life was never the same again. Racing just had to be a major part of my existence from that day on,” Morgenrood remembers. He still has that original trophy.
In 1972 he built an Alfa Romeo-powered slingshot dragster and ended up clinching the South African championship – “because I often won my class – a valuable lesson about consistency”. He took to the Wembley oval track in 1974, level-pegging in the year’s title chase behind the wheel of a Midget. In 1976 he entered a Ford Capri V8 and became the season’s title holder.
Long circuit racing beckoned and Ben bought a Chevy 2,5-litre in 1979, which was destroyed in a huge crash during that year’s Kyalami 9-Hour race. A Chevrolet 4100 followed in 1980 and was fast, but fragile. “In 1981 it blew its engine just before the Esses at Kyalami, and the resultant crash saw about half a dozen other cars also hitting things as they arrived on the spilt oil – the full catastrophy”.
Morgenrood shifted to rotary power the next year and ran a Mazda Capella in the then Group One championship.
Mazda noticed his efforts and signed him to drive a Mazda RX7 in the 1983 title chase. In 1984 he finished second in the championship, and Mazda switched to the Modified Saloon Car title chase the next year.
“In 1989 an unlimited Manufacturers’ category was born and I built a triple rotary Mazda 323 – dubbed the “Mazdarati” by the local press. “It was a fantastic car – noisy, incredibly fast and a huge crowd favourite. I managed to trace it recently and bought it – it resides in a place of honour in my garage,” he says.
The triple rotary engine found its way into a Mazda MX6 during 1993, to eventually be replaced by a Ford V8 unit in the same car. “When the Manufacturers’ title chase died in 1995, I switched to the WesBank V8 Supercar category with the Mazda, to be replaced by a Sasol-sponsored Ford Falcon in 1996.
“I won the championship that year, decided to stay in the category and bought a Ford Mustang in 2000. In 2002 I developed back problems and retired from active racing, but I soon realised that I was never really cast in the role of a motorsport spectator, as opposed to a competitor.
“So, when Legend Historic Car racing took off at the Zwartkops Raceway in 2005, I bought a 1966 Ford Mustang and dived right back into the fray,” he recalls. Morgenrood also raced a Mazda RX-8 in the 2008 and 2009 Production Car championships, before returning to the WesBank V8 jungle with a Jaguar in 2010.
Being a Ford dealer, he swapped the Jaguar for a Ford Mustang in 2011 and he has won the V8 Supersaloon title three times since. “I also have an enormous amount of fun, sliding a V8-powered Flexi hotrod around the Randfontein dirt oval – that is like returning to my first love.
“There have been lots of titles, but it is all about having real, basic, balls-out, sideways sliding adrenaline – all the stuff that made me fall in love with motorsport in the first place,”
This year Morgenrood has started racing a Lexus V8 in the G&H Transport Extreme Supercar championship. “The car became available as a project in the making and I could not resist turning it into a competitive vehicle. It has been giving us trouble with all sorts of things, but I believe I can make it a podium taker in the category,” he says.
Though officially retired – “I have excellent people running my businesses” – Morgenrood still spends every day at the Ben Morgenrood Group, which includes dealers in Ford, Mazda and Mahindra, plus the Randfontein Panel Beaters and a property developer concerns.
“I have grown old over the years, but luckily, I have never grown up, which would have meant stopping motorsport. That will not happen while I have any say in the matter,” he concludes.
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