Motorsports enthusiast Rubens Junior recalls some early memories in this article from ‘The Classic Machines‘ exploring unique individuals and disciplines involved in the Brazilian racing scene.
The very first time my dad took me to an auto race I was no older than 12 years, it was way back in the early 1980s. It was the beginning of the Lost Decade, in Brazil; a time when the country dived into hyperinflation and economic recession. Naturally, a very expensive hobby like motorsports was not a top priority among the population, but for a bunch of genuinely passionate aficionados, the scarcity of money should not be an obstacle.
The race my dad and I went to see that day was at a dirt track, in the city of Mafra, Santa Catarina, and all I can say is we loved every minute of it. Throughout the 1980s dirt tracks became a massive success in Southern Brazil, it was the most affordable way to get into the hobby. The good memories I have from that time are, the camaraderie among the teams, the smell of strong coffee in the mornings and the churrasco (Brazilian barbecue) at lunchtime, the sound engines, the cars passing by in front of us, the dust and sometimes the mud when it was a rainy weekend. It is called Velocidade na Terra, or Speed on Dirt, and it is amateur racing at its best.
A couple of years ago I found Poeira na Veia (dust in the vein) a website dedicated to preserving the history of the Velocidade na Terra. The author of the page is the journalist and race driver Francis H. Trennepohl, probably the biggest supporter Velocidade na Terra ever had. Francis started in motorsport in 1996, competing in Go Kart, and soon transitioned to dirt tracks. The picture above shows his very first race car, a VW Gol that he bought in partnership with a friend. He never told his parents about the acquisition until the day he brought the car home. He was 16 years old at the time. Unfortunately, in his debut race, Francis blew the engine of his VW. Tough luck. Francis is a Jack of all trades in this field. During his career, he was more than just a driver; he was also a track marshal, mechanic, race director, and vice president of the Santa Catarina Motorsport Association. He went far and beyond to stay close to his passion.
In 2009 Francis created the TCC- Turismo Clássico Catarinense, a special class that brings back to the race track classic Brazilian cars from the past. In 2010, he couldn’t get his VW Beetle ready in time for the first race of the TCC, but his friends stepped in to help. He raced that day with a borrowed VW Voyage. Racing on a budget can be complicated but Francis has been blessed with some truly good friends. In this brotherhood, they are always helping each other, even financially. This is the kind of camaraderie that exists in the Velocidade na Terra.
In 2022 Francis found a structural crack in the unibody of his VW Passat. Since the car was no longer safe for racing (or anything else for that matter), he considered calling it quits. But then again, his friends were there and they wouldn’t let him retire. Led by another TCC driver, Rodrigo Pupo, they teamed up and put together a new race car, a VW Gol, and gave it to Francis as a gift. Since day one the No.2 VW Gol proved to be a winning car. It is a 1993 year model but it is very structurally sound, which is extremely important for any race car. Even if it was not the original purpose of the TCC, it became the entry-level class for many young talent drivers in South Brazil. The class also holds the largest grid in most of the events in the Velocidade na Terra.
To keep the cost low, the rules are strict. The car is very close to what left the showroom 30 years ago. The engine is a 1.6-liter, 4-cylinder, fed by a double-barrel carb. This little mill can produce 135 hp. By the regulation, the minimum weight is 830 Kg (1,830 pounds). The technicians Cristiano and Vithor, from Colodel Racing, are responsible to keep the No.2 Gol in top-notch performance, and then again, a financial boost from friends is much appreciated. With a small donation of 80,00 Reais (16.14 American Dollars), you can have an area of 15×25 cm to display your name on Francis’s car. At the end of the day, it covers a good chunk of each race’s budget.
Most of the pictures of the yellow No.2 VW Gol you see here were taken during the first race of the 2023 Southern Nats season, which happened in São Bento do Sul-SC, on May 20th/21st. Francis won both races in the “Light” class that weekend, proving that hard work, talent, and a little help from friends is a winning combination.
Velocidade na Terra is the most grassroots form of motorsport in the country, and the secret of its success is simple, passion and friendship. I can hardly wait to go back to Brazil and once again watch a race on the ‘dirt’.
~ by Rubens Junior ~
About the Author: Rubens Junior is a car guy who decided to write about his passion. Like many gearheads around the world, he grew up surrounded by cars and motorcycles, going to car shows and races. Check out his website ‘The Classic Machines‘ for automotive content with an international perspective.