Kenya’s motor rallying legend, Joginder Singh, the first Kenya Indian driver ever to win an international rally, and also the first man to win the Safari Rally three times, died peacefully of heart failure in London, aged 81 on October 20, 2013.
Famous as the ‘Simba’ or the lion of Kenya, Joginder Singh Bachu won the world’s toughest motor rally, The Safari, in 1974 and 1976 competing against the best of rally drivers from across the world when this event was part of the World Rally Championship. A much-loved hero of all Kenyans, he died poignantly on 20 October, when Kenya celebrated Mashujaa (Heroes) Day. Fondly known as ‘The Flying Sikh’, Joginder Singh was also a consultant for the Himalayan Rally and took part in this event as well.
Joginder first entered the Safari Rally with his brother Jaswant Singh as the co-driver in 1965 in a second hand Volvo which was earlier driven by Tom Trana in 1963 and 1964 and had already clocked 42,000 Kms. The two brothers drew number one position for the start, considered to be unlucky, but they remained number one position throughout the event and finished it at number one position, making history.
Joginder was outstanding as one of ‘the unsinkable seven’ finishers of the 1968 event in which 74 crews started and only seven finished. The victors were also hailed as “The Magnificent Seven” after the Hollywood cowboy film released around this time. From then onwards, they got plenty of sponsorships and Joginder went on to win the world rally event in 1974 and 1976.
(Leader of Safari Rally Reporting Team, Kul Bhushan, interviews Kenya’s Flying Sikh, Joginder Singh, at the start of the Safari Rally, a world rally championship event, in Nairobi.)
Joginder Singh’s record of 19 finishes in 22 attempts is an unprecedented feat for the Safari Rally in which finishing the event was once considered as a greater achievement than winning other world rally events. He was honored as a special guest at the start of the 50th Safari Rally in 2002, and was appointed a patron of the Safari Classic in 2007. About 10 years ago, he developed problems with his heart and underwent bypass surgery.
A veteran Safari Rally journalist, Shamlal Puri, wrote from London, “Joginder Singh has left behind a legacy that has charmed across continents and his powerful persona and escapades as a daredevil rally driver will probably never find an equal in another century, for none came even remotely close for decades after he hung his driving gloves.”
Joginder Singh achieved the legendary status of a national hero in an African country and remains unmatched as a rally driver who outclassed the best of the world during the Seventies, according to this correspondent who covered the Safari Rally in Nairobi for 26 years from 1964 to 1990.