Monday, November 28, 2005

Anything but a drag race

The locals steered their Landcruisers with a bent foot as they lay back in the front seat and thundered down wide roads. Perhaps it was madness or daring. But back then, we observed Arab boys with the deference due to champion drivers. From childhood, it seemed, they were forever speeding on one set of wheels or another, racing each other, doing wheelies, splitting traffic as they peddled down the center of roads. The Arab’s inner speed demon is cultivated carefully, and is more demonic than most others. He graduates from cycles to motorized buggies that require no license, and then probably to his first car. For staying alive till the next decade, it seems, his reward is something bigger, with more horsepower. He is not lacking for idols: Dubai has rally champions and its Victory team has been a comprehensive speedboat winner. It has even raised a competition that runs parallel to Formula One. This city is a prancing horse at heart.

And then there are the drag races. I had first heard of them through a whisper, as news was often spread then. Now, well now is different. In Umm al-Qaiwain, a few hours’ drive from Dubai, is a drag race operation that was once illegal but now conducted openly. Here large numbers of Arabs gain and lose expensive cars. There are many, many cars. Fancy German automobiles, the Nissan Maxima, Japanese off-roaders. The supply is endless because the money is endless. The sons of the wealthy and influential make appearances here regularly, and boost the currency in these transactions. There are stories about these events being backed by powerful families, and the cars themselves encouraged by nitrous oxide. But at the heart of everything lies the race. Find a way to visit one. Here you find a few things that drive Dubai: speed, power, and money.

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