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Their politics might be spinning wheels, but Palestinians are revving engines on the race track.
NABLUS, West Bank — For a change, the Palestinians gathered on the main street of Nablus were happy to be going around in circles.
Palestinian politics makes a lot of noise, only to end up spinning its wheels, moving no closer to statehood or peace. But the same combination on the race track is attracting growing attention for the Palestinian Motor Sport circuit.
“I love racing and I love speed,” said Suna Aweideh, the 39-year-old driver from Jerusalem who has become known as “Queen of the Car Races.” “It’s exciting for our people.”
The racing association has been holding its meets for a year. Last week’s event in Nablus was the second of the new season. The stretch of the city’s main street closed off for the race was packed with youths in jeans and T-shirts, chanting the names of the racers.
In the baking mid-morning sun, the races got underway. A female announcer called in English, “Three-two-one-Go!” Lebanese trance music began to pump at a volume almost as painful as the screeching of the car tires, as the first competitor burned rubber. His plates were, for the duration of the race, changed to “Palestine 1.”
The races are actually time trials. The drivers slalom through traffic cones and, braking and revving all at once, circle other cones in sliding “donuts.”
The course is only about 500 yards long, running between two of the city’s biggest mosques, and is completed in about 90 seconds. The 49 drivers get two shots at it.
Though the organizers assert that the 400 policemen on duty at the race — armed with Kalashnikovs — and the presence of Red Crescent ambulances and fire trucks make for a safe environment, it’s almost as nerve-wracking to be a spectator as it must be to drive the course.
The cars spin at high speed only a couple of yards from the crowd, which is pressed in behind flimsy crowd-control barriers on the sidewalk. The race was held on a stretch of road beside a gas station, where the large number of cigarettes being discarded on the oily ground was less worrying than the possibility of a souped up BMW ploughing into the pumps.
“You have this in America?” yelled Adly Sharaya, a 42-year-old from the city’s Balata Refugee Camp who was standing on the hood of his car in the gas station. “Only in Palestine!”
It was a remarkably good-natured gathering in a city more renowned for rioting. Last year’s winner (or “Champion Hero” as the motor association calls him) was George Saadeh, a racer from Bethlehem. He had changed his tires before the race and needed to wear down the rubber.
So, as the crowd wandered among the parked cars of other races, Saadeh’s portly father swung his Peugeot around in dramatic donuts, making pedestrians jump out of the way, until he had a mild collision with another vehicle. George took the driver’s seat and raced away.
Behind him, the crowd milled about the pit lane, which was without the supermodels who follow the Formula One circuit but did have a cafe serving cardamom-flavored coffee and pungent sheeshah pipes. Men only in the cafe.