Some grow up, dreaming of becoming a racing driver. Others are fortunate enough to have that passion nurtured by parents from an early age. But there are also those who experience a shift point in their life, a realisation that their love of cars can also translate into a love for racing. For Emdad Hussain, that realisation came one night down Green Path, Colombo. “At the time we were challenging each other on the streets of Colombo,” says Emdad. “I remember another driver, Shafraz Junaid, pulling up one night. He came to me and said ‘why are you wasting your time burning up you tyres and your clutch, going in a straight line on the streets? Come and run one Rally and see how you fair’. From then on my perspective on racing changed, and I decided I should listen to Shafraz’s advice!”
It wasn’t long before Emdad was on the hunt for a suitable candidate car to begin a potential career in racing. “The first guy I spoke to was (championship winning racer) Ashan Silva, who introduced me to a garage which had a 1980’s Honda CR-X. After picking it up I entered the Kukuleganga Speed Rally. Frankly there were so many problems with the car, but I viewed it as having four wheels, four tyres and an engine – and to me that was good enough! That said, it was difficult being competitive. The tank had obviously rusted, and so flakes kept blocking the fuel filter, meaning the car was starved of fuel every few meters. But it was fun! Two days of being around some incredible cars and bonding with their drivers; it was amazing.”
It wasn’t long before Emdad decided to upgrade to an EK Civic, a car that has been a proven winner around the local tracks in the SL-H class for years on end now. “The first race in the EK was at the Colombo Night Race. I always enjoy the night races… Well I used to enjoy them,” laments Emdad. “The atmosphere and the crowds we used to get were like no other. Each night race, whether in Colombo or Kandy, was definitely a highlight for me.” But the last night race held (Kandy) was in 2014, and with no plans on the horizon to reinstate the Colombo Night Race either, could it be that we never see another? “I hope it’s not the last,” confides Emdad. “There have been issues with them, such as lighting and the finish time, but they were important to the development of the sport – we could see from the sponsors to the crowds, the sport was developing. When you look at all other races on the calendar you only see Foxhill attracting a similarly large crowd of spectators. At other races you generally see the same faces: mechanics and close friends of the racers. But each new fan is always good to have.”
It’s not just the lack of crowds the Emdad worries about though. With racing getting more expensive year on year, and an increasing dearth of sponsorship money, it’s not always easy to stay competitive. “To give you an example,” relates Emdad, “it would cost easily upwards of Rs. 125,000/- for a set of tyres per race – that is, if you’re looking to be competitive. The top three will always be on fresh rubber, so unless you want to be 0.5 seconds slower, which is a lot in racing, you have to have new tyres.” It’s not the first time we’ve heard how difficult it is, even for the professionals, to run a full a season. “I have considered the idea of joining the SL-GT class [the fastest class currently allowed on Sri Lankan circuits], but it’s incredibly expensive,” says Emdad. “And I haven’t yet achieved everything I want to in the SL-H Class. I want to win a championship, and for me, that’s almost impossible without a sponsor.”
Emdad has already proven how talented he is behind the wheel of the Honda, demonstrated by a win the last time out at Pannala. But it seems it’s still not enough to win the hearts of advertisers. And with anything between 6-10 tarmac races a year, that’s a lot of tyres and preparation to consider!
“Drivers continue to spend a lot, whilst getting nothing in return,” says Emdad. We’ve already seen talented racers look for opportunities abroad, but how many championship winners have been recognised and promoted by the local authorities? There needs to be some kind of motivation here, not necessarily prize money, but something that gives us exposure, perhaps to another series or the opportunity to take part abroad.”
From each and every driver we’ve had the opportunity to interview at T&T, there’s evidently a common theme shared amongst all drivers today: displeasure in the promotion and a shortfall of opportunities in return. Sadly there still appears to be no light at the end of the tunnel. Going in to the his 9th year of competitive racing, Emdad will no doubt be taking another shot at the coveted SL-H championship. But he’ll never forget what got him started. “I owe thanks to Shafraz, for encouraging myself and others to take up racing, and off the streets. I’ve also been supported immensely by my parents, my brothers and of course the almighty, so to all of them I owe my deepest gratitude!”
So keep an eye out for Emdad on the tracks this year, his Blue and Yellow EK Civic is definitely hard to miss!
WORDS: Sam Smith
IMAGES: R2 Studios
A BIG THANK YOU To: Emdad Hussain