Victor Karuga, Founder – Little Grey Notepad
There are flower pots along the outside courtyard at Java Junction Mall. Medium-sized vases with green flowers in them. They remind me of vineyards I read about on old, tattered wine books that had too many words and not enough pictures for a ten-year-old. I’m here early because Evans Kavisi, seasoned architect, and autodidact rally driver, is both as knowledgeable and interesting as a white-haired sage, and more people than attended the rally and followed #FeelTheRoar on socials need to know about him.
A few days back, about 95 kilometres away from Nairobi’s coffeehouses, he was roaring into the dusty plains of Soysambu and Kedong’, deep inside Kenya’s expansive Rift Valley, harnessed into a bucket seat that is as secure as the over 400-year-old documents in the Vatican Street Archive in Rome.
To the thousands of spectators on-site, local or foreign, phones in hand, and anticipation on their faces, he was a source of fascination, pride, thrill, patriotism even. A young man (only 35), self taught, and now taking on a sport steeped in awe and nostalgia in Kenya. Navigating steep corners and lengthy stretches at speeds that are illegal on all roads except the ones he and his competitors are allowed to use, all while wearing fire-retardant suits because of how risky the sport can get.
His story reminded me about the farming process for grapes in dry areas. Essentially, grapes whose roots must work harder than watered ones produce grapes with more flavour and character. He’s had to have a laser-like focus and sacrifice on rallying to get front-page spreads, just like merlots or pinot noirs in parched soils have to dig deep to earn their character. The farming process starts with harvesting, then crushing and pressing, followed by fermentation, leading to clarification, and finally aging and bottling. Evans, like an award-winning vintage, has gone through all the processes.
In the early 90s, the version of the Safari Rally that spectators enjoyed then was very different than the one on display now. Cars would race across bustling towns, sleepy little villages, and deserted highways across Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania.
That’s how a young Evans got his first sighting of a sport that would consume, and affect, every aspect of his life. A driver’s car broke down in front of him in his village in Matuu, Eastern Kenya and he got to watch the entire team, chopper included, fixing the car. It probably helped that it wasn’t the Instagram era, and he watched instead of recording.
He watched on, and after he had raced home (pun intended), after what to most people would have been just another amazing moment, it got him so excited that he spent three days in hospital fighting a full-on panic attack, (complete with muscle spasms and temporarily losing the ability to talk). Later, in boarding school in primary, he would read the back pages just to get rally news and clippings, and his love for rally racing was born. A sticker, and a story at a time.
CRUSHING AND PRESSING
Life is a series of events and decisions. Events and decisions that make us laugh, cry, curl up in numbing pain, recoil in shock and hurt, and experience a whole range of contrasting emotions. Most of them, up to adulthood, are made for us. Then we must make the decisions that will define where we will end up.
After high school at Moi Forces Academy, he knocked on as many doors as possible, so he could add to what he had learned in the news and clippings about rallying. His refusal to take no for an answer found him at Azar Anwar’s garage along Ngong Road, and it remains hallowed grounds to date, going by the reverent way he speaks of it. A garage that he sought out himself, and made his home.
A noisy, oily, and busy home. Where he learned, and honed his craft, during his days at JKUAT (Jomo Kenyatta University Of Agriculture and Technology). While studying what was a demanding course in architecture, weekends were even more punishing, financially, mentally, and physically. Learn about pastiches (imitating the style of other creators) in class over the weekday, and scrutineering (ensuring compliance with regulations) over the weekend. The little money he could spare was channelled into learning as much as he could, theoretically and practically, all he could about rallying and all that it entailed.
The lessons from Anwars’s garage, and the networks created there were essential to understanding the physical and mental discipline needed to race at a high level; tight schedules meant little, or no time for nights out, alcohol, and distractions away from the end goal; getting rally-ready.
All these sacrifices were done at no compensation and even out of pocket most times. I ask him how essential KCB’s support has for the growth of motorsport in the country, “As much as they are sponsoring, they also do the marketing side of things” he says appreciatively.
Having a budget to build hype in addition to sponsoring the team, ensures there’s a limelight on the sport and the drivers, which gets more people on the racetracks, attracts more corporates, grows the sport and the healthy cycle continues. Everyone is happy, the drivers, the enthusiasts, and the sponsors.
He adds that KCB understands motorsport, and that has to do with the fact they have already sunk a staggering Ksh 1.2 billion into motorsport in only 19 years (a separate investment has been made in football, rugby, golf, and volleyball). To savour the sweet aftertaste of an impressive showing and finish, there’s a preparation that is needed in motorsport that can only be achieved when sponsorship is achieved in time.
“KCB came in in March, which enabled me to complete my tests in good time”, he says. Testing for the WRC is strict, and to pass scrutineering, there’s a long list of things that need to be checked off; vehicle, driver and codriver safety, seat mould specifications, helmet, suit and tire standards. He add that “It’s a rigorous, expensive process and the presence of a partner that understands the fine parts of the business, and not just having their brand on my car is important”.
Finding partners that understand that rally is a big, and special part of his life is important. His eyes light up every time he talks about his crew, a twenty-person team that involves logistics, mechanics, finance, reconnaissance, and co-driving. Yet, to most of the public, an unseen, yet crucial part of his success. He speaks about his team like a proud parent would about a well-behaved, responsible child.
“Taking entire engines apart to find out why a gear function is slow or unresponsive, and sacrificing sleep while at it, is something my team has done routinely”, he says. That’s in addition to the hours spent at the training range, the service bay, and as support in case they are needed. That’s passion and dedication. To the team and the sport. There’s a lot of discipline needed in the sport, and Evans says it rubs off into daily life. Having tunnel vision. Being obsessed with the goal, but being flexible with the route to achieving it. Ingredients for a race he and his team would be proud of, and also for a full life with as few regrets as possible.
AGING AND BOTTLING
Evans and his team, (he’s very particular about not doing it alone) have done 19 races in Kenya and Tanzania, and they’re just getting warmed up, (pun intended). Racing in Dakar, which would involve a step up in levels of logistics, preparations and machinery is a dream that remains alive, as is hopefully having his own school one day. To pay back to the sport what Azar, his team and supporters have given to him. Because even if KCB gave him a blank cheque, it wouldn’t be enough to repay their above-and-beyond passion and dedication, almost bordering on obsession.
Evans during the interview
There’s plenty of life lessons to be picked up from Evans and his team. Hard work. Ambition. Discipline. Meticulousness. Loyalty to those we love.
The best wines are good for up to 20 years after they were bottled, proof of their distinction and character. The partnership between Evans and KCB brings only the best to spectators and enthusiasts. A platform for a success story to be heard and seen, on the biggest of stages by a bank that exists to make a difference, across sports, industries and countries.
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