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The first mistake was the four-hour lay over at JFK Airport in New York in the Oasis. They feature a pour your own, open bar. I sat down wearing my Hawaiian shirt and a hat that said Man O War and started reading the book I brought, The Wings of the CIA. After a couple glasses of expensive red wine I noticed the security guards were eyeing me. Perhaps it was the reference on the cover of my book.
In true Burkster-on-tour fashion, when they called us to board the flight I left my hat and the book in the Oasis and followed my guides for this adventure, Kenny Nowling and Jessica Alcoke, to the waiting Qatar Airways 777.
Fifteen long hours later we got off the plane in Doha, Qatar, and were greeted by 95-degree, humid air. I felt at home. It was just like St. Louis or Atlanta on a hot July night.
Things got rapidly better from there. The people in the airport could not have been nicer. They let me though customs without a body cavity search sold me a visa and we were on our way to the track. A nice driver drove like he was channeling Mario Andretti through the maze of roundabouts they have in the country instead of intersections.
It was obvious by the way he drove that eye contact was considered as a sign of weakness, as it is in many European countries. All in all, though, a nice drive and a pleasant and skillful driver.
We arrived at the track, which is a beautiful facility, extremely clean, well lit and with plenty of bite on the track.
There I see virtually every celeb doorslammer builder and tuner I know from Rickie Smith to Rick Hickman to Tommy Mauney to Tim McAmis. It looks like a normal test and tune on a Thursday night before a major race in the southern U.S.
It could have just as easily been Rockingham Dragway as the QRC (Qatar Race Club) except the lighting at this track rivals what they have at Yankee Stadium.
I'm struck by the friendliness of the racers I meet. I meet the Bahain team manager and their team photographer. Just drag racers, exactly as I expected. Al-Anabi's Sheikh Al-Thani is the most down-to-earth multi-billionaire gearhead I've ever met.
The test session went on for several hours with a mixture of Pro Mods, Ten-wides, turbo cars and others. I cruised the pits, stopping to talk and most of the racers speak fluent English and the conversation is always the same.
After the racing is over, I must admit that I'm tired. I want my hat and the book I lost … and a cheeseburger. We're going to the hotel now and maybe we'll stop at McDonalds. Kenny’s last warning to me is not to order room service as a box of tic-tacs can run $100. Also he informs me there is no alcohol for consumption in this country. (Now he tells me. I’m going to strain a bottle of mouthwash through a loaf of bread! Just kidding.)
Tomorrow night (Qatar is about eight hours ahead of middle America) begins qualifying for the Qatar Race Club Championship. There are bad-fast cars and drivers, and the competition is dead serious. I'll check in tomorrow with you readers and hope to send some photos.
So far, all I have experienced is meeting great people, drag racers just like I've met all over the world, and a host that is as hardcore a racer as I've ever met anywhere.
-- Burkster in the desert of Qatar