Over numerous decades motorsport in all its guises has been the playground of family racing permutations with siblings following in their father’s footsteps, sons or daughters participating with dads, husbands and wives contesting championships, brothers and sisters teaming up, and the list goes on.
The SA Cross Country Series (SACCS) has irrefutably retained its reputation as a family orientated sport and taking a quick look at the current series and the recent past, a host of distinguished names come to mind.
Former South African champions Neil Woolridge and sons Lance and Gareth, Deon Venter and sons Jason and Dylan, brothers Chris and Jannie Visser, father and daughter Coetzee and Sandra Labuscagne, husband and wife Marius and Yolinda Fourie, Johan Horn Senior and sons Johan and Werner, the van Tonder family of dad Kobus, son Jacques, daughter Lizelle and son-in-law Freddie Kriel, father Naeem and sons Taahir and Thala Moosajee, dad Johan and son Sean van Staden, brothers Werner and Leon Mostert, Rob Gibson and sons Clint and Glenn, Vince Trethewey and son and daughter Lance and Marcel, dad Archie and son Kent Rutherford, Andre Kock, son Malcolm and grandson Frans, and over the years there have been many more.
And in this respect, Fourways based Gary Bertholdt, CEO of Glass Partners, a national glass company specialising in the manufacture and processing of flat glass, safety glass and mirrors for the construction and domestic industry, is no different.
Gary’s dad Bodo started racing at the Roof of Africa in 1970, and more than likely is among the first cross country competitors in the country. “Bodo infected me with the racing bug, Gary chirped.
The 47-year old Bertholdt’s first race was the 1998 Barberspan where he shared a single seater, build by Paul Coetzer, with his dad Bodo. It did not take long before Gary outgrew the single seater and imported his dream car, an American build Raceco, in which he and Bodo contested the regional and national Class A Special Vehicle championships between 2000 and 2002.
In 2003 Gary was joined by another cross country competitor with a rich motorsport pedigree, the fearless Brandon Harcus, son of the late Arthur Harcus, fondly remembered as ‘The mad-man’. “One of my special memories will always be winning the Class A championship with friend and navigator Brandon,” Bertholdt said.
2004/5 were busy years for Bertholdt, establishing a new business did not allow too much time for racing, but much to his delight, he and navigator Siegfried Rousseau won the 2004 Mafikeng 500, their only outing of the season. This good fortune continued, on the Sugarbelt 400, the opening event of the 2005 season, with the team only making a few sporadic appearances during the rest of the season.
The following three years were relatively successful for the competitive Bertholdt, campaigning a BAT and later a Porter, with the best result being fifth overall in the Special Vehicle category in 2008 with navigator Andre Vermeulen.
2009 saw an influx of Special Vehicle competitors to the premier SP Class in the Production Vehicle category which included the former Class A champions Gary Bertholdt/Andre Vermeulen, former Overall Special Vehicle and Class A champion Terence Marsh and Pieter Groenewald and Pieter Ruthven and De Waal Boshoff.
Bertholdt/Vermeulen made their debut in a new Toyota Hilux in Atlas Copco colours, Marsh/Groenewald campaigned a Nissan Navara under the Regent Racing banner while Ruthven/Boshoff made their entrance in an ex Neil Woolridge factory Ford Ranger running in Ruwacon Racing colours.
During the next five years Bertholdt shared the cockpit of his Toyota Hilux with Andre Vermeulen for three year and Ralph Pitchford for one year before exchanging the Hilux for a Nissan Navara in 2013 with Siegfried Rousseau taking over the co-pilot duties. The spirited Bertholdt relished the fierce competition, spearheaded by the works Nissan and Toyota teams, and consistently finished in the top ten Overall and in Class SP.
“ A highlight of that era was finishing fourth Overall in the 2009 Production Vehicle category behind the three works Nissans and earning the title of highest placed privateer. The competition was hectic and the rivalry between racing contemporaries like Hannes Grobler, Duncan Vos, Ivar Tollefsen, Chris Visser, Anthony Taylor and Terence Marsh was intense,” Bertholdt said.
Motorsport is an ever evolving sport and in keeping with new technology, new rules saw the demise of the SP Class and the introduction of two new classes in 2014 . Class T for vehicles with an engine capacity of 4000cc or more with independent or solid axle rear suspension and Class S for vehicles with an engine capacity of 4000cc or less with solid axle rear suspension.
The experienced Bertholdt and Rousseau were invited to join the Neil Woolridge Motors (NWM) Ford Racing squad, to replace young star Lance Woolridge who had been ruled out of action for the whole season after back surgery. The pair did the team proud finishing third in the Overall Production Vehicle and Class T championship.
Back in action, again as a privateer team, Bertholdt/Rousseau in the Atlas Copco Ford Ranger had a dismal start to the season but redeemed themselves on the tough 2015 Toyota 1000 Desert Race in Botswana where they finished third in Class on day two and second in Class, behind Anthony Taylor in the works Toyota Hilux, on day three. Their efforts were well rewarded with a third Overall in the Production Vehicle category and highest placed privateer. “Business duties called and unfortunately I was not able to compete for the rest of the season,” Bertholdt said.
2016 and 2017 Bertholdt campaigned a VW Amarok with well know rally navigator Pierre Arries for three events, Geoff Minnitt for one event and Phillip Herselman for the remaining three events. “Developing and fine tuning new race vehicles is never easy, and we were not too disappointed with our first season in the Amarok where we finished ninth overall in the Production Vehicle category and seventh in Class,” Bertholdt said.
2017 is a year Gary would rather forget, after a solid start to the season the Toyota 1000 Desert Race put paid to his Cross Country campaign. Having qualified well, the team were forced to retire on day two of the event with gearbox problems, but worse was still to come for Bertholdt and Herselman. On the final day of this gruelling event, tragedy struck when they helplessly had to stand by and watch their Amarok go up in flames. “It was a devastating experience, but fortunately we were unscathed,” Bertholdt said.
Bertholdt, reunited with Geoff Minnitt returned to the championship in 2018 in a brand new Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux. The team had an exceptional season to finish fifth in the Overall Production Vehicle championship and second in the Class T championship.
“2019 had its moments, and a mixed bag of results with power steering problems on round two of the championship costing us dearly, albeit we managed to salvage some valuable points by taking the ten hour penalty for restarting loop two. We were also unable to score points on the Toyota 1000 Desert Race when we retired from the event after the qualifying race, as I become really ill on the Friday afternoon.” Gary said. Despite the mishaps the team still managed a ninth overall in the Production Vehicle category and fourth in Class T.
“Cross Country racing is a team sport and it starts with the people behind the scene, these are often family members and without them racing is not possible. The elusive number one plate in the Production Vehicle category has so far escaped me, but the sense of achievement and the enjoyment the sport offers, far outweighs the accolade,” Bertholdt said.
“I was delighted with the results of the 2020 Mpumalanga 400, with Chris Visser and I this season sponsored by the blue-chip company Total Excellium. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has put our sporting season on hold. But when the season does resume we will be raring to go and hope to do our sponsor proud,” said Bertholdt.
Motorsport is an integral part of the Bertholdt family and when time permits Gary and wife Mare-Lize are out there rooting for young Bjorn and Judd who are keen karters.
“We are a close-knit family and for us one of the greatest pleasures is spending quality time outdoors, our periodic getaways to the Kruger National Park, connecting with nature, being amongst the fauna and flora and absorbing the solitude and quite tranquillity, is food for the soul,” Bertholdt said.