The International Reporting (and Life) Adventures of Vivian Salama

Auto Racing Roars out of Elitist Niche

Posted by vmsalama on February 3, 2009

Vivian Salama, Correspondent

The National

LAHORE // As far as the eye could see, leather jackets flaunting such names as Ferrari, Honda and Corvette coloured the crowd. Cars roared past, their engines sending vibrations through the ground. Young men cheered and high-fived with every passing car.

This is not Nascar or the new Grand Prix track in Abu Dhabi. This is Pakistan and these are a new generation of South Asian men looking to break free from old sporting traditions. 

Thousands crowded alongside the runway of Lahore’s old Walton Airport on Sunday for Pakistan’s first official drag-racing competition. Nearly 60 men tested their engines down the quarter-mile runway-turned-racetrack.

Car racing is not new to the streets of Pakistan, well known for cricket and field hockey. For years, young men, stemming mostly from the country’s elite, have gathered on Sundays in Lahore and Karachi to showcase their vehicles and put their speed to the test. 

Until recently, drag races were discouraged by the government and local communities because of to the dangerous nature of the sport. However, persistent nudging from the country’s racing aficionados persuaded the government to sponsor the event.

From Corollas and Datsuns to the Nissan R35s and Mazda RX-8s, cars were allowed two runs each in an effort to clock the fastest time. 

“Our main objective is to show that race car drivers here in Pakistan are just as good as those in the West and across the Middle East and we want to keep pace with them,” said Mian Waheed ud Din, the managing director of the Tourism Development Corporation of Punjab (TDCP), which organised the event.

“We are promoting it and giving a forum to our youngsters to showcase their skills, as well as to allow the public to come out and take part in this unique event.”

Dressed in everything from jeans and biker jackets to the traditional salwar kameez, men, young and old – and a few women too – jostled around cars, snapping photos with their mobile phones and quizzing drivers about paint jobs and engine tune-ups.

“I work on my car myself so it is basically my hobby,” said Asem Rana, 25, a computer engineering student who raced his Nissan 350Z. “An event like this will bring more exposure to the public.”

A far cry from the rickshaws and decorated buses cramming the streets of Pakistan, these cars, from their sleek finishes to their roaring engines, offered a portal into a world inaccessible to many.

“These people have been lacking this kind of sport for a very long time,” said Syed Raza Ali Gillani, a Pakistani MP and drag race contestant who wooed the crowd with his fire-red Corvette C6.

In recent years international automakers such as Porsche and Mazda have entered the Pakistan market, giving those who can afford it access to a world of high-speed, high-end racing beyond their borders. As for the vast majority of Pakistanis who do not have the money to indulge in the costly sport of car racing, Mr ud Din said events such as this give them the rare opportunity to play a part. 

“If the sport gets organised, then sporting clubs will come up and events come up and, in many ways, those who cannot afford their own car will still benefit,” he said.

Beyond the promotion of motor sport in Pakistan, officials said image control is in high gear. The recent wave of violence in the Swat valley and scattered terrorist attacks across the country have dealt a blow to the country’s tourism industry. According to the ministry of tourism, revenues in 2008 stood at 14 billion rupees [Dh651 million], down from Rs16bn in 2007. 

However, officials said plans are in the works to build Pakistan’s first racetrack in Lahore with the hope of drawing attention from fans worldwide.

“The concept in the world today is that going to Pakistan is dangerous, especially places where there are a lot of people,” said Malik Nadeem Kamran, the Punjab minister of tourism. “We want to change this concept in the minds of people around the world.”


2 Responses to “Auto Racing Roars out of Elitist Niche”

  1. i dont agree with you

  2. I have to say, I could not agree with you in 100%, but that’s just my IMHO, which indeed could be very wrong.
    p.s. You have a very good template for your blog. Where have you got it from?

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