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‘There’s more to life than racing’ - SA's Andrea Bate

2018-08-21 06:01

Nicole Mccain @Nickymccain

Andrea Bate.

As a young woman, alone at a racing event in a different city, Andrea Bate lay under her racing car with a size 13 and 17 spanner in each hand. She knew what was wrong and what size spanner she needed to fix it, but had no idea where to start without her mechanic father.

And when asked by another driver if she needed any help, she calmly replied, “I’m fine”.

This determination to prove herself has seen the former racer climb her way back from serious injury, which put her racing dreams on hold, ready to take on her next challenge.

By the time she turned six, Bate already knew she “wanted to go fast”. Her attraction to racing had little to do with engines, and everything to do with her love for speed – on a bike, skateboard, rollerblades or boat.

She remembers a family trip in which she learnt to drive a boat with an outboard motor. She had only two speeds: Off or fast. This was naturally not encouraged by her parents, she says, despite growing up in her father’s workshop and business, passing him spanners while he worked, and regular trips with him to the Killarney Raceway.

She fondly remembers how these trips to the race track, where her dad often worked on cars and bikes, were thought of as a treat.

It was only a year or two later when Bate performed what she would many years later come to think of as her first “tactical retreat”. Instead of asking her parents to let her race, she asked for tennis lessons. They didn’t hesitate to say yes, no doubt relieved to think she might have put racing behind her, Bate speculates.

Tennis became the first sport Bate excelled at. From eight years old, she was training with the provincial team and a year later began playing for them. True to her character, Bate gave it her all – training for three to four hours a day most days of the week.

This rigorous training schedule kept her away from the racetrack – until an injury left her unable to train and she joined her dad on a trip to Killarney­.

The trip ignited her love for racing, and by her third time watching motorsport, the then 18-year-old knew she wanted to leave the stands and join the drivers. “I just thought: It must be more fun on the track than in the stands.”

Bate’s first step was to approach a family friend and ask him to mentor her, should she be able to get a racing car. He agreed, and later mentioned it to her dad, who knew nothing about Bate’s plans.

After two weeks of stalemate, he confronted her about her dreams of racing, and agreed to help her find and build a racing car. He gave her two years to prove herself, and they began building her car “from the chassis up”. Her mom was more difficult to win over to the idea of her “pride and joy” pursuing racing, but was standing front and centre to watch her daughter’s first race six months later. Bate came “stone last” in it.

But she bounced back and harnessed that same single-mindedness, along with a determination to be the best, that she had displayed playing tennis. “I was 18 and [racing] was not a flimsy dream. After all, I played tennis for four hours a day, I knew what work was.”

It didn’t take Bate two years to prove herself: At the end of her first season in 2009 she finished second in her class.

                                                               Image: Reynard Gelderblom

She then decided to shift her focus to national events, and over the next few years competed away from home – at first in Port Elizabeth and East London, and later in Johannesburg. Her father wasn’t always able to accompany her, so she often did everything herself, from towing her car to mechanical repairs.

In 2015, Bate found her niche in endurance racing. She had developed a good reputation for not “breaking cars” or being a “hothead” and was scouted to drive for Team Africa Le Mans. The endurance racing brought with it new challenges: racing as part of a team and posting good times while being economical and “light” on the car.

But it was just as she was finding her place in this new world, that Bate lost it while partaking in another sport: During a motocross race, she cleared a big jump but landed upside down, on her head. She shattered her pelvis in four places, broke two vertebrae and a collarbone, and suffered bleeding on the brain. She doesn’t remember the accident and the two months of recovery following it.

She wasn’t initially allowed to drive, and it took two years before she was able to return to work at the family business full time.

"I’m not 100%, but I’m closer to 100 than zero," she says.

"It’s been very hard and very easy [to have to give up racing] at the same time. I don’t know how not to be all in. When you’re not 100%, it makes no sense to chase a dream that requires 100%."

And while she may one day return to racing, for now, Bate is "rebuilding".

"It was hard to accept that I wasn’t missing racing. There’s more to life than racing. I didn’t know it then, but there is."

In the meantime, Bate is taking over the family business and will continue with precision driving for film sets and driver training. And she hopes to start motivational speaking, with her first public address having been at the Queens of Quick event on Women’s Day.

“I’ve been through something that could help other people. I’m apparently a walking, talking miracle. I’d like to do something with my second chance,” she says.

“[And] I’ll never be done with motorsport, even if I never race again. I’ll always be more comfortable in the pits than in the stands.

Read more on:    racing  |  motorsport

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