You don't race for money or fame," Saeed Gazzar explains as he steps into his single-seat race car. "You do it because you love it." Slipping into the narrow seat, Gazzar snugs on a yellow-and-black helmet, waits for his mechanic to buckle him in tight, and then, engine brumbling, rolls slowly out of paddock 13 to the pit lane at Lime Rock Park, Connecticut.
The first Saudi Arabian to race professionally in the United States waits tensely for the signal. With a flash of the flag, the race begins. Engines roar and tires screech as 24 sleek Indy-style cars pull onto the track, passing and dodging one another as each driver vies for the lead in the 30-minute nonstop sprint.
Lime Rock Park is the fourth of 12 races for Gazzar, who is competing in the 1992 Zerex Saab Pro Series championship, sponsored by SABIC Marketing America, a subsidiary of Saudi Basic Industries Corporation. Previous test races in England, Germany and Belgium during the last five years prepared him for his first professional races in the United States.
A native of Riyadh, 32-year-old Gazzar has loved racing ever since he first sat behind the wheel of a car. Already driving at age eleven, he began racing stock cars in Beirut when he was 16. Gradually he advanced to single-seaters.
Eager to sharpen his skills and qualify for the professional racing circuit, Gazzar attended the Jim Russell racing course in England in the winter of 1988. During one of the rigorous practice sessions, his car lost its front right wheel, and Gazzar was seriously injured. He reluctantly decided to put his racing career aside, and returned home to his computer business in Riyadh.
"I discovered, however, that I couldn't stay away from racing," recalls Gazzar. Determined to reenter the sport, he began a long search for a Saudi sponsor. Less than two weeks before the Miami Grand Prix in February, 1992, SABIC agreed to sponsor him in the Zerex Series. He packed his bags - and his videotapes of every Formula One race dating back to 1971 - flew to Florida and began to train all over again.
Recognized as a leading entry-level professional single-seater championship, the Zerex Series is a challenge for Gazzar, who acknowledges he "has a lot of catching up to do with other [more experienced] drivers." Rick Rosso, media relations director for the Zerex Series, comments that Gazzar "needs work, but he has all the basics down. He's a very smart, very safe driver. Furthermore, he's great for the series. He gets a lot of attention."
A quiet person, who loves racing because it is a "one-man sport," Gazzar is surprised by all the attention. "As soon as I get out of the car, I have kids lined up wanting to take photos of me," he says. And when they discover he served in the Saudi army during the Gulf War, "they want to know all the details."
Gazzar hopes that his entry into professional racing will open the door for other talented young Saudi racers - and he includes them in his own future plans: He would like to start a racing school of his own in Saudi Arabia. But, for the time being, Gazzar is just looking forward to slipping behind the wheel of his racer -and heading for the next finish line.
Piney Kesting is a frequent contributor to Aramco World from her base in Boston.