In clouds of smoke and dust the cars roll out to cheers from the crowd. The performances, a mix of showmanship and skill, are scored at the end of the night to choose a winner, based on the speed of the driving and the angle of the drift. Judges say stunts and crowd reaction also factor into their decisions. Between the acts a DJ blasts bass-heavy Western pop music.
The average car here can costs close to $17,000, while upkeep and parts can total near $1,000 a month, leaving ownership far out of reach of most of the fans. "We admit, it's an expensive sport," says Ziad, a 23-year-old fan. He says for him buying a car like this is just a dream. Most of the drivers come from families with means. Rampant corruption and entrenched bureaucracy in Iraq make social mobility for most young people nearly impossible.
On the sidelines of the arena teams of mechanics tune up cars between drives. While one team is dumping water on an overheated engine, another swaps out tires. Blown out tires are common here. One man says he blew out six in just one night. Despite the high speeds and minimal safety precautions, organizers say they’ve never had an injury.
These same men used to gather out on Baghdad’s city streets along the Tigris River, but after repeatedly being harassed by the police, they were forced to move their operation to this more secluded spot on the edge of the Jadriya neighborhood.
Organizers and fans say the authorities still give them problems, insisting they need permission from the youth ministry to practice their sport. Such an authorization would require government connections to navigate a maze of Iraqi bureaucracy — drivers and spectators say they just want to be left alone.
A driver known as “Tiger” shows off his car, a late model Ford Mustang. He is said to be the best, winning almost every week.
"We just love the drift," says Ahmed, a 24-year-old Iraqi who's one of the organizers. "It’s my life, what can I say?"
-- This story originally appeared at GlobalPost.