History

Mick Van Rensburg

Mick van Rensburg grew up in a modest home in Lichtenberg before moving to Johannesburg in the late 50’s where he qualified as an electrician. A few years later he joined his brother’s fledgling electrical business, buying him out in 1966 to become the sole owner of VR Engineering, which he turned into a massive heavy engineering business. Mick’s first car, after +/- 16 bikes, was a 1952 Oldsmobile Super Rocket 88 complete with 4 speed auto box, 323 V8 engine, plenty of muscle, but no stopping power. After that came a 1958 Oldsmobile Rocket that was his pride and joy. He began cruising the streets, looking for the odd dice, in the process meeting up with people like Billy Becker (1957 Chevy Bel Air), Mel Miller (1957 Ford Galaxy and Peter Manellis (1958 Oldsmobile Rocket). The noise of finely tuned engines in the early drag years shattered the once peaceful streets of Eloff Street extension, Jules Street in Malvern and Plantation Road in Westdene, although a private mine road in Benoni remained a favourite venue. One day, spectating at Kyalami, Mick spotted a ’67 Chevy Corvette with a 427-cube motor and a six-pack – 2x2 barrel choke carbs on a special manifold. A few years later, while driving past a used car lot in Newlands, he saw the car again, now looking rather sorry for itself with a smashed front end. The owner turned out to be Johnny van Niekerk, a deal was struck and Mick claimed his dream. In 1986, Mick felt the show needed a new spark. He decided to travel to the United States and learn how to pilot these cars. Mick successfully completed the training course that is compulsory before the Americans part with this sort of awesome machinery and with the training stint behind him, he bought a Jet, with a second car ”donated” on the grounds it would be used by American drivers when they visited South Africa. Getting the two cars into South Africa proved to be somewhat difficult as the arms embargo, which prohibited the sale of military goods to the country, was still in full force. The cars, powered by Westinghouse Jet engines taken from McDonnell F2H-3 (Banshee) fighter aircraft were, therefore, classified as military apparatus. In order for the cars to leave American shores, special dispensation had to be granted by the U.S. Senate. Mick had to lodge a large deposit and sign an affidavit to the effect that the engines would not be used for military purposes. As an aside, the F2H-3’s were in service with both the United States and Royal Canadian Navies and were decommissioned in 1962. The Tarlton Jets originated from the US Navy. The cars, which push approximately 11,000 horsepower and utilize diesel rather than aviation fuel, were soon the main attraction at Tarlton. Mick trained Ray van Zanten locally and over the years, apart from being piloted by both men, personalities like 1984 Daytona 24 hour winner, Graham Duxbury, Grant Brackenridge, Theuns van Wyk and the late Johnny Peters have also been fierce Jet competitors. Today of course, Mick’s younger son, Nico pilots the second Jet. The first time Mick produced a burner pop, family and friends gathered round for the spectacle. As he lit the afterburner, the gigantic explosion emanating from the burner pops sent everyone running for cover. Stan Wesson ran face first into the fence. Son, Nico, not waiting around to see his father blow himself up, vanished into the toilets along with a few friends to hide out. What made it even more amusing was the arrival of the police who were determined to locate the clear and present danger of dynamite. During 1990, Mick began gearing up for the World Jet Finals in Palmdale in the U.S. On 6 October 1990, he finished 3rd in the finals, one of his proudest achievements. At the beginning of 2000, it was decided with the help of the late Joe Graça, to incorporate the 4,6 and 8 cylinder street legal cars that had previously been running on their own since the late ‘80’s. Mick and Joe’s vision paid dividends with more and more streetcar contenders entering each event. The family still owns a Top Fuel Dragster, numerous drag cars including two supercharged, alcohol Dragsters, the two Westinghouse Jets and four six-second alcohol Funny cars. There is also an amazing collection of American street cars, including a couple of original Pontiac GTO’s, 2 Boss 429 Mustangs, a 65 Thunderbird convertible, complete with wire wheels, a ’67 Plymouth Fury, a ’69 Plymouth Road Runner, a delectable ’57 Chevy and a Chevy Bel Air. In addition, there is an awesome collection of engines, including two 2.0 litre aluminium V8’s used by Bruce McLaren in the Can Am series in the late ‘60’s. Drag Racing is the most extreme division of motorsport in the world and Tarlton International Raceway can rightly be referred to as South Africa’s Premier Drag Racing Strip. It stands as a testament to a remarkable man and his family, who despite the many obstacles being placed in their path over the years’, have kept the dream alive through an iron clad optimism. Reference: Motorsport

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