Behind every successful man, the adage goes, there is a strong woman.
But Safari Rally legend Patrick Njiru, 70, says his wife was not behind him as he raced machines on his way to becoming an ace. Rather, she was all over him.
“My wife, with whom I’ve lived for the past 45 years, is the critical cog in my success. Racing cars at maximum speed – where sometimes I would do 285km per hour – is a dangerous thing,” he says.
“But she made it look like it was a very safe sport and I would always look forward to returning the monster to the finishing line just to retire to her warm congratulatory hug.”
He recalls how they met. It was 1976 in Mombasa. He was studying at the Mombasa Polytechnic and she was a secretary in a government office.
“I used to ride a Yamaha motorcycle and that was very cool of a guy. I chanced on her along Mama Ngina Drive and something in me ticked,” he says.
“She was in platform shoes and that is how I noticed her. I pulled beside her and asked her whether she minded a ride. She did not mind and we have ridden together these 45 years down our marital lane.”
At some point, he went to Japan to study motor vehicle mechanics, leaving her behind. He came back after three and a half years, speaking Japanese with amazing fluency that he retains to this day.
On their 20th wedding anniversary, Mr Njiru recalls, his wife surprised him with a trophy.
“On the trophy was inscribed: A successful husband is the one who makes more money than his wife can spend… A successful wife is one who finds that husband. That is we!” he says.
Mr Njiru says that the message was so touching that he has kept it as a treasure in his house.
Five years ago, on their 40th anniversary, she was up to it again, buying him a trophy with the words: “My husband and I are doing a workshop…He works and I shop.”
His wife’s great teasing mind, he says, has been the best thrill of their life together and the root of the happiness that allowed him to concentrate on the road ahead as he zoomed past life to take the machine home.
In 1987, Mr Njiru finished the Safari Rally and became the first black man to do so since George Githu’s famed finish in 1979.
He participated in the Australia World Rally Championship in 1991, finishing 18th overall.
With Abdul Sidi in 1994, he won the Group N category and came fourth overall. This was the year for Kenyans, with Ian Duncan winning the overall title and the last by a Kenyan.
In 1995 he became the highest endorsed sportsman in Africa after signing a three-year deal with British American Tobacco (BAT) for the handsome figure of Sh25.5 million. He also used his influence to negotiate Sh108 million for the Safari Rally.
In return, he won three more Kenyan titles, raced in Malaysia and helped the South Africa government in 1992, shortly after the end of apartheid, to promote rallying as a symbol of the black man’s tenacity to deliver results in a white-dominated sport.
He retired in 2002 after 20 years of racing. He says he has remained strong all along because his wife is his best friend.
Two of their sons live in the United States while the third is in Kenya and is showing a keen interest in motorsport and hence guaranteeing the continuation of his father’s legacy.