Drag racing will grow fast

Sell-out crowd at Yas Island and the good standard of the vehicles could be the catalyst to bring more investment in sport.

ABU DHABI // Tommy Johnson Jr, one of the two drag racing drivers who wowed crowds at Yas Marina Circuit with their exhibition runs in Top Fuel Dragster cars last weekend, is optimistic of the sport's future in the UAE. Johnson, who raced against Rod Fuller all weekend, said he was not only impressed by the standard of other vehicles in the first Yas Marina Drag Racing Festival, but also with the interest and enthusiasm of the public.

Drivers from the region were going head-to-head in their methanol and nitro-fuelled modified cars and bikes throughout the festival and their passion and wheels drew admiration from Johnson, who has spent the last 21 years racing dragsters and funny cars. "To my amazement, there's some very, very nice race cars here," said the American, who will be driving the Yas Marina Circuit's Top Fuel Dragsters throughout 2010.

"I didn't know what to expect. I didn't know they had race cars, what the quality was or anything. "So to see how good the quality of cars are and the enthusiasm, I am kind of blown away. It's a real shock when you go 'wow, they actually know what's going on here'. That's so cool." Ali al Kaabi, an Emirati driver, hoped for further investment into the infrastructure of the sport. It cost around US$400,000 (Dh1.46 million) to build his RSG racing teams car, which was done with very little sponsorship support.

"It's been very difficult to find people willing to support us, so far we have been funding all of this by ourselves. We hope as the sport grows in the UAE we will get more support," he said. The sell-out crowds of 5,000 on both nights have given al Kaabi hope of finding greater investment in the near future. "I was delighted to see people coming round asking questions, and taking pictures. We hope that the competition just continues to grow bigger and better," he said.

With the new drag racing centre, Johnson hoped those who get their kicks on the country's roads will leave them to commuters and get their dose of adrenaline in a safer environment. "They had the same problems in the US years ago. They organised races to get them off the streets and come and do it in a safe manner, and not endanger people that are innocent," he said. "I am really glad that's what they are trying to do here - give them a place to go racing, get them off the streets, don't endanger other people, don't hurt yourself out on the highway and have a safe place to go racing.

"You can come out here and race your buddy, and still have bragging rights even though it's on a racetrack. It's actually more official - you get a time, you know how fast you went, you can tell somebody how fast your car is all day. "You also get a chance to make more of it than just a hobby. You can make a career out of this. Instead of just racing on the streets, you can come out here and hone your skills, get good and somebody will pay you to do this.

"So there's a real reason why you need to be on the track, more than just safety. The guys can make a good career out of this." @Email:sports@thenational.ae