In an amusing article, "Drag Racing's Patron Sheik: Speed-Crazy Prince From Qatar Spends Millions in Bid to Dominate Sport; Sushi at the Dragstrip," Matthew Futterman writes in the Wall Street Journal about Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad Al-Thani, 22, a son of the emir of Qatar, and his well-funded love for car-racing.
The most important figure in drag racing this year isn't some good-ol' boy who grew up hot-rodding around the sport's birthplace in southern California. … A drag-racing fanatic since age 12, Mr. Al-Thani has made a long-term commitment to the sport and is spending an estimated $10 million this year to support a team with the best cars, crew, equipment and research available.
Research, Futterman explains, is the name of the game:
While drag racing looks simple, it's really a scientific chess game where engineers play as large a role as the driver stomping on the gas pedal. The trick is to synchronize the engine and clutch during a massive controlled explosion as track conditions change. Intricate adjustments, such as the addition of just a few grams of weight in the clutch, can be the difference between winning and losing, or even a fatal crash into the wall at 300 mph. …Most teams have the same equipment, but more money allows for more research and testing, which makes for smarter decisions on race day about an infinite number of adjustments. Mr. Al-Thani hopes his investment will one day make him international drag racing's dominant owner.
Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad Al-Thani, left, with Al-Anabi team executive Chad Head.
The article goes to explain how Al-Thani's lavishly funded efforts at a moment of recession could indeed help achieve his dream. But the larger question, left unasked in the article, is how Al-Thani reconciles the good-ol' boy culture of his favorite sport with the strictures of Islam as understood in his native Qatar. Put differently, as these two cultural giants, Islam and the United States, face off in one young man, which one will prevail? Will he bring Islam to the track or racing to Qatar? Or some unpredictable mix of the two?
This should be interesting to watch develop. (April 22, 2009)
July 4, 2009 update: If drag racing represents the social low end of the racing market, The Royal Ascot Meeting at Ascot Racecourse, Berkshire, represents its high end. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, 59, the ruler of Dubai, frequents the royal meeting in his top hat while his wife, Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, looks every bit the British lady. This too represents a lure, one that complements the Southern U.S. good-ol' boy culture.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, and his wife, Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, at The Royal Ascot Meeting at Ascot Racecourse, Berkshire.
And here's another picture of Sheikh Mohammed, this time with Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip.
Sheikh Mohammed with Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip.