The other side of rallying

So you though that being able to compete in and enjoy rallying was only for the moneyed few. Who could afford a “real” rally car. Well you are wrong, very wrong.Bonita Blankenberg is blind. She has a degree in journalism, but is currently working in the customer service division of Nestle

Jerry Paice and Bonita

She and her regular sighted driver, Jerry Paice, have won more trophies and championships that they would care to remember as regular competitors in the Blind Navigators Northern Regions Rally championship.

Blind navigators rarries, run as sealed-odo regularity events over a distance of about 300km, have been going in South Africa since about 1980 and South Africa was the first country in the world to have a blind navigators rally championship.

Total was a longtime sponsor of the ralies that was much more than just another motorsport event, but made a major contribution to the quality of life of the blind people. But since Total has withdrawn its sponsorship, the Blind Navigators Rally Club, has had an uphill strugggle.

So Rallystar asked Bonita what it was like to compete in an motorsport event, and being blind. And this is what Bonita, who was adjudged Gauteng Disabled Sportswoman of the Year in 2011 wrote:

““I am sure you have heard many blind people say that the most frustrating thing about being a blindy is the fact that you cannot drive! No, don’t worry, this is not going to be a one page lament about the horrors, suffering and irritation of being blind, so you don’t have to reach for a glass of something much stronger than water!


“What I’m trying to say is that as a blind person, driving is probably the one thing we all wish we could do, some of us more than others, I mean, fast cars and bikes are my passion, and just because I cannot drive either of these, it doesn’t mean I don’t like the feel of tires on tar, preferably taking bends at breakneck speeds. What a pity we do Regularity riding and not racing!

Jerry Paice and Bonita in the 1984 Alfa Romeo with which they won the 2011 championship
Jerry Paice and Bonita in the 1984 Alfa Romeo with which they won the 2011 championship

“The sport that is Blind Navigator rallying is a unique opportunity for blind people such as myself, to compete with our sighted counterparts and to get a taste of the outdoors. Ok, so in most cases the towns and landmarks pass in a blur of distances and speeds, but the camaraderie, the excitement, the rush of adrenaline when you have to make up time and your driver puts the pedal to the metal is totally priceless! Oh yes, it’s a sport that encourages healthy competition and blends together a melting pot of individuals, who are all slaves to the same maddening rhythm!

“This sport is an important entry within the social calendar of its participants, and old friendships are cemented and many new ones made at each rally. The preservation of this team challenge goes a lot further than just rallying throughout the year, it’s an institution, a day of fun and friendship where we as blind people are part of the action, where we have an opportunity to compete and win! It has definitely changed the lives of many blind competitors in the past, and hopefully will still do the same in the years to come!

” Oh and by the way, it’s quite a good feeling to know that as the blind navigator, you have the route under your fingertips! Who said blind people aren’t power hungry? Yes, the driver may have the key to the ignition and the eyes to spot potholes and stray dogs, but the blind navigator has the golden compass! Sounds like justice to me, don’t you think?”

What she did not mention is that she and Jerry are also regulars on the annual RFS Motorcycle Economy Run and have also competed in the annual Economy Run.

Is there a lesson in this for some of us?

Bonita and Jerry are the current Blind Navigators Northern Regions Champions, and not for the first time!