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Zbigniew ('Nick') Nowicki

While sorting out some of my grandmother's papers, I found a plain envelope which contained a typewritten copy of the eulogy read at the funeral service of Nick Nowicki, my great-uncle. This got me interested - because he lived in Kenya for most of his adult life, I'd only met him a handful of times, but he led a fascinating life...

Nice Place for a Picnic

If there were a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Automobiles, there would be no East African Safari.

The world's most punishing stock car rally, the Safari starts in Nairobi and winds up - 3,130 miles later - exactly where it started. The rules are the standard rally do's and don't's used in Europe and the US. Drivers lose points for passing secret checkpoints too early or too late, for drifting off course, exceeding posted speed limits or hogging the road. They are forbidden to replace parts (which are coated with radioactive paint and examined with Geiger counters as a check against cheating). The provisos are tough enough on paved roads; in East Africa, the rally becomes a rout.

"Something Ate It."

For four days cars lurch through the jungles and over dirt roads that are dusty, muddy, pitted, rutted, and sometimes nonexistent - washed out altogether by Africa's torrential spring rains. Gas stations are 130 miles apart, and road signs warn of bizarre hazards: ELEPHANTS HAVE RIGHT OF WAY.

Drivers equip their cars with extra headlights and elaborate navigational equipment, and pessimists load up with bank bags full of shillings to buy off belligerent natives. But only three times in the Safari's eleven-year history have as many as half the starting cars managed to limp across the finish line. In Nairobi they tell the story, probably apocryphal, of the British-made Mini car that started out and was never seen again. "Something," suggests one competitor, "must have eaten it."

Last week, as 84 cars (including 21 makes) roared out of Nairobi for this year's rally, a sudden cloudburst dumped 3 in. of rain on the road. Officials rerouted the rally around "impassable" Mount Kenya, cutting off seven miles - and 90 hairpin turns - but 25 cars still bogged down hopelessly in wheel-deep mud.

Terrified animals stampeded across the road. Britain's Pat Moss, sister of Racing Driver Stirling Moss, skidded wildly to avoid a lion in the middle of the track. "He looked just like a mound of sand lying there," said Pat, who later flipped her Cortina negotiating a turn, and caused a Volkswagen behind her to crack up as well. Rocks tore into gas tanks, crumpled fenders, slashed tires; swarms of flying ants pulped themselves on windshields. By the end of the 1,300-mile northern leg, 41 cars were out of the race. As the survivors wheezed into Nairobi for an eight-hour layover before starting the southern leg, Sweden's Erik Carlsson, 33, Pat Moss's fiance, looked like a certain winner. Immaculate except for a slight scratch on the radiator grille where a bird had hit it, Carlsson's tiny white Saab was 33 min. ahead of its nearest competitor.

"Boomp!" But no non-African driver had ever won the Safari - and next morning Carlsson learned why. Speeding at 70 m.p.h. through the Tanganyikan village of Meia, he plowed head-on into a giant ant-eater (weight: up to 130 Ibs.) lazily crossing the road. "There was no time to swerve or anything," he complained. "I just saw this thing shining in my headlights, and then - boomp! I hit it."

With Carlsson out, Kenya's Peter Hughes took over the lead in his Ford Anglia. Close behind him, Nick Nowicki, 33, a car dealer from Nakuru, Kenya, floored his accelerator. He was lucky to be in the race: the day before, skidding his No. 65, a French Peugeot 404, around a blind bend at 40 m.p.h., Nowicki had found two stalled cars blocking his way. The road was lined with gaunt "fever trees." Nowicki yanked the wheel over, bounced off the road and through the trees. Said shaken Co-Driver Paddy Cliff: "I'll remember it in my nightmares - winding in and out of those damned fever trees, emerging with our front end decorated with loose bush. Nick just grinned and said, 'Nice place for a picnic.' "

Outside Dar es Salaam, Tanganyika, Nowicki overtook Hughes - his Anglia was stuck fast in a ditch. Ahead by 78 min., Nowicki roared into Nairobi to collect the winner's purse of $2,310. Other prizes went begging because there was nobody around to claim them. In all, only seven cars managed to finish the race.
-- Time Magazine, 26 April 1963