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Inside the East African Safari Classic

As an adult, Eric Bengi leads a double life. Most days he’s a lawyer in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. But on others he trades in his legal pad for a jumpsuit and crash helmet. That’s when life comes at him fast. In a car older than he is, Bengi is willing to race for thousands of miles across some of the world’s toughest rally driving terrain, pushing himself to the very limits in the name of motorsport glory. “It’s just about you, the road and your maker,” he says. Rally driving is in Bengi’s blood as it is for many Kenyans, where the sport has deep and abiding roots. But drivers behind the wheel have not always reflected the sport’s audience. This year Bengi and his navigator Mindo Gatimu became the first all-indigenous Kenyan team to compete in the East African Safari Classic, one of the nation’s most celebrated rally events. The race has its origins in the inaugural East African Coronation Rally in 1953, in honor of Queen Elizabeth II, when Kenya was still part of the British Empire. In its current incarnation, the East African Safari Classic, the country’s longest race, has a distinctly old-school ethos. Cars must be built before 1985, with only limited tinkering permitted (changing the suspension is allowed, but replacing the gearbox or engine isn’t, for example). With no prize, drivers compete solely for bragging rights. As a result, the event attracts motorsport legends looking to test their mettle.