Despite being too young to have a drink, acquire a driving license, vote or shave, Gitau Munene is a boy on a mission to go places.
The remarkable achievements of this child prodigy at 11 were some of the highlights of the 2023 KMSF Gala night last Saturday at the Moi International sports Centre, Kasarani.
It was a night full of glitz and pomp, bringing together the crème de crème of motorsport in undoubtedly the most colourful annual awards ceremonies in Kenya in recent times.
Karan Patel rightfully won the Motorsports Personality of the Year award from his efforts as Kenyan champion, second best in Africa and now self-packaged as a sellable commodity to sponsors and fans.
And, as former US president John F. Kennedy once said, “Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future,” he was sure he didn’t mean they’d be running the world as kids.
Not Munene, Kenya National 4×4 Championship Beginner category winner, without any competition in sight. Instead, he battled it out with Wazee, many of them, five times older than him.
Such was the boy’s pulling power that he received a standing ovation from the packed dome.
He is minding his own business with remarkable success as he continues to build his own fan base with a strong social media presence even without trying.
This pupil of Johari School and a conservationist with his father’s NGO Jumbo Charge, which plants trees in Mount Elgon, has his own Facebook page with many followers. But it is on Instagram where he is a hit.
His picture, navigating a Range Rover through a mud hole at Twisty Corners ranch last October reached over 200,000 views, 14,000 likes and counting.
These are the sort of figures that show a social media influencer in the making.
He is active too. The same night he won the KMSF award, he quickly updated his Facebook page with words of the jewel: “Never cease to thank God, my folks, Team Gitau crew, my sponsors Ruiru Mabati, Pembe Flour Mills, Roto Tanks, Prymatech, Peach Cars, my fans, and followers for the honour. My dad and I are humbled.”
Munene cites Oliver Solberg as his hero. The boy is like Solberg who was already an accomplished rally driver before he was 20.
Kenya is not without child prodigies. On the same night, Eann Bengi, the 2022 Kenya National Autocross Championship Class 10 –Peewee Category champion, Bambino champion Bixente Rio Wyles, Shane Chandaria (Cadet class), Walt Alobo (Rotax Junior Max class) shared the runway with the best adults at the KMSF awards.
The stars of tomorrow dominated the night with McRae Kimathi awarded as the Africa Champion Rally 3 class and Hamza Anwar (Africa Junior champ).
These youngsters, together with Rio Smith, Jeremiah Wahome and Kush Patel are in the right place time.
Remember, Tiger Woods was an accomplished golfer before he was a teen and won his first major (1997 Masters) at 21.
Yet it seems that the future is now, as child prodigies are blossoming around the globe faster than a grey-haired maid chasing a bridal bouquet.
Serena Williams made her pro debut at 13 and won her first Grand Slam singles title (1999 U.S. Open) at 17.
World rally champion Kalle Rovanperä was tearing up frozen lakes in his native Finland when he was just eight years old.
Tom Cave was one of the first foreigners to exploit a special loophole that was plundered by Rovanperä aged 14 in Latvia, the first country in the world to allow young rally drivers to take part in events even if they were underage, provided the co-driver did the road sections.
The KMSF awards came off age by introducing motorsport activities like drifting to usher in the night which was just that, having fans away from work.