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The ongoing conflict in the Middle East is not an area we typically cover here at Autoblog, but for all our love of wheelspin and tire smoke, there's no better reason for spinning your wheels than the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. Diplomats and militants, moderates and extremists have tried for decades to reach some sort of agreement, but their efforts towards achieving peace invariably end up slipping through their fingers like so many grains of sand – at best – or more often blowing up in their faces. While politicians seem resigned to leaving the negotiations for dead, two young ambitious locals have taken the wheel on their own in hopes of showing the world that Israelis and Palestinians are capable of doing more than fighting. They've got this crazy idea in their heads that gasoline can be used to fuel race cars instead of rockets.
We headed out into the desert outside the border town of Arad to see what they were up to.
Photos courtesy of Harel Rintzler.
Silverstone, Modena, Indianapolis.... Among the places you'd expect to find a racing team take shape, Arad wouldn't factor in the Top 100. It sits nestled between the Dead Sea and the Negev Desert, which could very well hold the record for the highest concentration of air force bases in the world. But while state-of-the-art fighter jets routinely take off and land at the plethora of high-tech air bases nearby, Aric Lapter and Rasheed Nashashibi have to test their vehicle and sharpen their skills at Arad's abandoned airstrip, overgrown with weeds pushing up through the tarmac like the grassroots of their endeavor. Founded under fire and enduring under constant existential threat, the bulk of Israel's national resources – both financial and human – have historically been devoted out of necessity to its defense. That's left little room for developing the type of motorsport framework in place across Europe, North America or even across the region in the gulf emirates. While circuits are constructed and renovated on a regular basis around the world, in Israel the Arad airstrip is about as close as you'll find.
That and a handful of karting tracks, which is where Aric and Rasheed met. Born into a prominent east Jerusalem family, Rasheed Nashashibi won the Palestinian Karting Championship and went on to compete in events abroad while coaching a future generation of Palestinian racers. Meanwhile Aric Lapter, after winning several local karting events, completed his degree in mechanical engineering at Tel Aviv University by designing and building a Formula Vee race car in his garage, earned his racing license in Italy and set about getting his car to Europe to race it there. As the two suited up one day for a kart race at Latrun (a former outpost on the road between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv), each eyed the flag on the other's suit. But instead of seeing a pretext for hostility, the two saw an opportunity to collaborate.
Without any established support network, Aric and Rasheed came to a realization that seems to elude their national leaders: namely, that they'd be capable of achieving more together than either could on his own. The two started Racing 4 Peace, a sort of cross between racing team and NGO. Their basic goal is as simple and straightforward as any childhood dream: to race, win and ascend to the top. But to get there, Aric and Rasheed knew they'd have to start small, so they've set their sights on the British Formula Vee Championship, one of the first rungs along the international motor racing ladder. As we reported back in September when we were invited to test-drive their car, Formula Vee offers aspiring drivers the opportunity to compete against one another in rudimentary single-seat racing cars based on Volkswagen Beetle mechanicals that can be built in a home garage and raced on a relatively modest budget.
Unfortunately, even a modest budget in international motorsports can quickly run into six figures. After exhausting the local pool of potential sponsors to little effect, Aric and Rasheed are soliciting donations through their website, Racing4Peace.com. While donations have already started arriving, they're a long way off from reaching their goal, but Aric and Rasheed remain cautiously optimistic.
Formula Vee is a humble enough place to start, but from there, the sky's the limit. If they make it in Formula Vee, Aric and Rasheed could move up to series like Formula Ford, Formula Renault or Formula BMW. Success there could earn them a ticket to Formula 3, which could in turn lead to international racing series like GP2, the upcoming Formula 2 revival or, perhaps most appropriately, the A1GP World Cup of Motorsport. From there it's one big step to Formula One.
Of course that's a long way off, and Aric and Rasheed are focused in the meantime on the task at hand. But while hundreds if not thousands of aspiring drivers around the world are dreaming up the same plans, what sets Racing 4 Peace apart is the message which Lapter and Nashashibi hope to bring with them to countries where the average person knows little more about Israelis and Palestinians than the seemingly endless conflict.
The idea of two individuals with no official mandate pursuing peace by driving race cars may seem far-fetched to some, but the notion is not entirely without basis even in the established schools of international relations and conflict resolution. While negotiations between government officials – known as Track 1 – garner all the attention, the diplomats and statesmen aren't the only ones sitting down to talk. Track 2 (also known as Citizen Track) negotiations take place between academics and professionals from both sides of any conflict who, based on common ground, seek to iron out the details of how peaceful coexistence, once agreed upon by their political leaders, will be realized on a practical level. And while racing drivers may not usually factor into the formula, Aric and Rasheed aren't about to sit around and wait for their invitation.