HOW IT STARTED
The Natal Off Road Motor Club (NORMC) & Sugarbelt 400 have come from humble beginnings. Due to the enthusiasm of Neil Hampson & a group of farmers, the very first off road event in the Mid-Illovo area of KZN was planned.
This event took place on the 2nd April,1983 on Neil Hampson’s farm and consisted of 10 laps of 30 kms each. Any type of vehicle was eligible to compete – Rally cars, Bakkies, Beach buggies, and believe it or not – even Sandmasters. These “state of the art” machines were really something to be seen! 32 Cars started the event with only 3 finishing. Needless to say a great time was had by all – the “bug” had bitten.
Later that month a meeting was held at the home of Vince & Louise Trethewey in Pietermaritzburg. Attended by a large crowd of interested people. The Natal Off Road Club, under the umbrella of NORMC was formed. Subsequently the NORMC broke away to be a club on it’s own.
From then on the the Club started promoting other events such as Estcourt, Matatiele, Lions River & Mid-Illovo to name a few. All the time interest in off roading and the membership of the NORMC was expanding.
It is of interest to note that a number of the foundation members are still racing and are involved in the club and organising events. The whole area where the Sugarbelt is run was put together by The Late Peter Gurney and now, brother David, – and if it were not for their enthusiasm and drive this event would not have happened.
In 1986 the decision was made to combine the Mid-Illovo and Eston areas and run an event to be known as the “Sugarbelt 300” sponsored by Olympic Toyota. The event would alternate between Mid-Illovo and Eston with the latter hosting the event. In 1991 the Drak Motor Club called it quits, which left the date open for NORMC to organise a national event. The challenge was accepted the 1st NORMC promoted National/Regional event was born, with the assistance of Vince & Louise Trethewey. Staged in the Mbazwana area of northern KZN. This Trans-Tongaland event proved to be very popular with all competitors and was considered to be the best event in the RSA. The logistics of organising an event so far away resulted in the event being brought back to “Home Turf”.
It was thus that on the 5th June 1993 the “Sugarbelt” National/Regional event was run in the Mid-Illovo/Eston region. The Beaumont Eston Farmers Club was chosen as Headquarters because of it’s size and excellent facilities. Needless to say, even these premises have at times been bursting at the seams.
The event has grown in stature since 1993 and has attracted large numbers of competitors – privateers and manufacturer’s teams alike, from many parts of Southern Africa. The organising committee of Sugarbelt and NORMC, hope that the Sugarbelt 400 continues to grow and remain the premier event on the calendar.
Along with the Sugarbelt 400 the club hosts 6 other events during the year. These events are scattered throughout KZN and will change from venue to venue to offer a change to drivers, co-drivers & spectators.
In 2007 it was decided to give the Eston Area a “break” and the race was moved to the Hluhluwe and surrounding area. The sponsors of the event for many years, NISSAN, the current NORMC committee, and many competitors felt that a new venue would offer different opportunities, and above all a new challenge. The venue was selected, and the race hurriedly “put together” with the help of the local motorcycle and quad club, the WRH of Hluhluwe, became a reality and proved to be a success and thoroughly enjoyed by all.
Once again in 2011, the Eston area was given a rest and the National was held in the Dundee area for the first race time. With a sponsorship from Atlas Copco it proved to be a very enjoyable event with excellent facilities and accommodation in abundance. With the high speeds attained by the top cars (it was a far cry from the sharp corners in and out of the sugar cane lands in Eston) and here competitors could take advantage of the open spaces in places. These days, because of the high cost of fuel and parts as well as accommodation the races are more localized – with the exception of Hluhluwe, most races are held within a radius of 100 kms of Pietermaritzburg.
A Regional race is normally run over two sections: a) A prologue or special stage run over about 25 to 35 kms to finalize starting positions for the main race. b) The main race over 200 to 300 kms then follows. Normally about three laps of a pre determined and well marked route. Racing normally ends at about 2pm, after which the cars are impounded until the results become official. Prize giving follows after which a very social evening is enjoyed by all.
The Natal Off Road Motor Club & members welcome new members and will help novices and newcomers with vehicle parts, advice etc.