There are about as many women driving race-cars as there are in the Vatican. The two have a reputation for being classic boys’ clubs.
So when a whole team of women racers emerges from the Middle East, it’s crazy awesome. We’re talking about the Speed Sisters, the Middle East’s all-women racing team, who formed their estrogen-fuelled alliance in 2009. These Arab women call the West Bank home, and are piloting wheels of change through the macho racing scene and the male-dominated culture. They often go fender to fender with men from Saudi Arabia – where women are not even allowed to drive.
The West Bank isn’t the first place you think of for racing cars, unless they’re speeding away from gunfire or bombs. Yet, racing is a way to maintain a type of normalcy and even flout the military occupation. When stopping at checkpoints is a way of life, the thrill of screaming through a rally track is especially delicious.
One of the team’s stars is spitfire Noor Daoud from Jerusalem, who was born in Texas. She speaks three languages and has competed internationally in swimming, tennis and soccer, and loves boxing and motocross. Her ride is a 1998 BMW, and she specializes in drifting.
Another team-mate, Sahar Jawabrah, is the first one to wear the traditional Islamic head scarf, a hijab. But when she’s racing, she covers it with a helmet for safety. By day, Jawabrah is a librarian and mother to four children, but says she’s always fantasized about racing.
Mexican-born Betty Saadeh, 31, is a former beauty queen now living in Bethlehem, who started racing in 2010. Both her father and her brother are race-car drivers, and she was the fastest woman on the Palestinian circuit in 2011.
Then there’s 36 year old Maysoon Jayyusi, who got into racing after a friend, who just happened to be a rep on the Palestinian Motorsport Federation, saw her drive home. She’s now officially retired from racing, and is the team manager. When Jayyusi started to race in 2005, she was afraid to tell her parents – they only found out when her victories made headlines in the local papers. Jayyusi says that the Speed Sisters are proudly challenging the notion of women as kitchen drudges – and the idea that Palestinians can’t live normal lives.
They’ve found both a sugar daddy and mentor with the British Consulate, who has funded a race-car as well as coaching. Karen McLuski, British political consul, discovered the Speed Sisters in 2010, and arranged for them to get driving lessons. Their grit and determination won the respect of Sue Sanders, a senior figure in British motorsports, who saw them as soul sisters and has mentored them.
Not surprisingly, male racers initially viewed the Speed Sisters with disdain and discomfort. However, now that the women have shown their dedication to the sport, their colleagues are more accepting and have even helped out with mechanical issues.
And the women have become media darlings, getting coverage from the BBC to CNN and even Rolling Stone (as well as drivelikeagirl.ca) There’s a movie in the works, by Canadian-Lebanese film-maker Amber Fares. She met the team when she was hired to make a series of shorts by the British Consulate in Jerusalem. Fares recently scored a Sundance Institute development grant, and an Indiegogo campaign of just over $46,000. There’s also (natch) a Facebook page.
The film is set to release later this year. We predict the Speed Sisters will take yet another victory lap.