- Special Pages
By Fazeena Saleem
Speed is his passion. Being on the edge of the wheels is the thrill he looks for and awaits.
A burnout to heat the tyres and lay rubber down on the road to improve traction is what he enjoys most.
Whenever he gets an opportunity, he lines up at the starting line — to be the first to cross a set finish line and come winner.
For Mohana Mohammed Al Naimei, distance never counts. Be it a drag race or just driving around for fun. If he could, he would go on and on.
Al Naimei experienced the first thrill of drag racing when he was 13. He first drove his father’s Chevrolet Camaro 68 down Doha roads.
‘‘Yes, I started to drive my father’s car for fun. It was because of the love I have for speed. So I can’t stop racing, it’s something I love,’’ Al Naimei said, while his car was being examined by technicians for some minor problems soon after an event of the Arab Drag Race League at the Qatar Racing Club.
The drag race veteran’s sponsor is the club’s President Sheikh Khalid Al bin Hamad Thani.
Al Naimei is the youngest among five siblings — three brothers and two sisters. And it was not easy for him to convince his family and become an active member of the club, considering all the danger and risks drag dashes involve.
“I told my father to let me race on the tracks or I will race on the road, anyway,” said Al Naimei after finishing a dash at the League during the weekend.
It was not his day; he couldn’t give his best on Friday evening.
“My best was 3.77 seconds to pass 200 metres last year in Houston.
‘‘It was a great experience to drive in different states like Florida, Houston and California last year. I had my best as 3.77 in Houston,’’ he recalled proudly.
Although fast driving and speed scares Al Naimei’s family, he argues that a drag race on a proper track is safe, but he rules out street dashes.
‘‘People still race on the roads. I too did it when I was young, but it’s not safe. It’s not the same as professional racing, where we have many safety measures, so it’s exciting and safe.”
After a race on the tracks, he chills and chats with friend, Sultan Al Zaabi, an Emirati racer.
Al Zaabi has claimed top honours in the Pro Mod category four times, clocking a record 3.830 as his best. He drove a Suzuki at 13, his first experience.
‘‘There were no strict traffic rules at that time. I just took the car and drove around, have done it so many times. The thrill I had while speeding around pushed me into professional drag racing,’’ he said.
Al Zaabi, too, is a full-time drag racer, like his colleagues from neighbouring countries.
‘‘I do only drag race,’’ he said. The Emirati has been diving for 11 years — on roads and tracks.
Generally, passion for speed starts at a very young age for would-be racers. Speed they cannot resist.
Take Salim Al Thamimi, for example.
He has come from Kuwait, for the League, with his Willys 1941. The batman graphic on it reflects his passion for speed.
He first hit the roads, on his brother’s car when he was 14.
‘‘I drove on streets in my area, hiding from police and people,’’ Al Thamimi chuckled.
‘‘Words can’t explain the excitement, the thrill and the fun I always have.”
He doesn’t depend on a sponsor for his expenses unlike many of the drivers.
He has taken part in several competitions in Qatar, Bahrain and the UAE and recorded a best 4.5 seconds to reach 200 metres.
Cars are most precious for racers and they bring them, covered and attached to pick-ups to ensure their safety.
A team of technicians and others accompany the driver and his car to across the border and enter Qatar.
In Al Thamimi’s case, however, his brother, who was a drag racer until a few years ago, accompanied him as an exception.
‘‘Drag racing is crazy, it involves lot of money, it’s fun as long as things are fine. But if something goes wrong, there could be a big loss,’’ said the brother.
Another racer, Mike Castellana, an alumni of LaSalle Military Academy, now race for the Al Anabi Club. He has added many victories to his cap over his 30 years of career as a racer. He enjoys challenges drag race throws to him.
Challenges, fine. What about standards?
“It’s pretty much the same. Here the tacks are even better,” Castellana said. Standards in Qatar are same as in the US.
“I have been coming here since 2007 and can see a good development in the sport,’’ he said.