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Palestinian Women Behind The Wheel, And Ahead Of The Pack

Noor Daoud holds a trophy after she won third place in the first day of Formula Israel's women's race, in Eilat, Israel. Daoud went on to take the women's title at the event.
Uriel Sinai
Getty Images
Noor Daoud holds a trophy after she won third place in the first day of Formula Israel's women's race, in Eilat, Israel. Daoud went on to take the women's title at the event.

Palestine might not seem like a breeding ground for race car drivers. After all, the area is dotted with checkpoints and roadblocks, hundreds of obstacles that can cramp a driver's ability to explore a car's limits.

But that hasn't stopped a group of Palestinian women from driving very fast, winning races and making a name for themselves along the way.

"'In Saudi Arabia, women are prevented from driving - here in Palestine we have women who drive race cars," says an official in the Palestinian Motor Sport and Motorcycle Federation.

That's a quote from a feature article by Ruth Pollard in The Sydney Morning Herald, focusing on two members of Palestine's Speed Sisters, Betty Saadeh and Noor Daoud. The drivers are also a hit on Facebook.

In fact, Daoud has had her right to drive taken away before — in 2009, after Israeli police caught her going around 125 mph, she says. But she still drives her modified and stripped-down BMW at the track:

"'I like to go to Betunia when it is quiet on a Friday, throw down some cones and practice my turns. Every time I am mad or stressed I just go there and take it out in my driving," Daoud says.... 'They cannot believe that a girl has been driving that way. I love it.'"

And in December, Daoud raced in Israel's first (legal) car race in the coastal resort of Eilat, featuring Formula cars and a grand prix format. She was able to compete because her ID places her residency in East Jerusalem. Daoud also has ties to America, having been born in Texas and studied in Florida.

Saadeh, 31, also has international ties — she was born in Mexico, where her father was a pro racer in the 1980s. Now she's the top female driver in Palestine.

'I have Israeli fans'

In a recent article in The Jewish Chronicle, Jessica Elgot writes:

"Despite her glamorous image, bright blonde hair and make-up, Ms. Sa'adeh is a serious competitor, who has raced across the West Bank and in Jordan, winning four out of five races. 'I'm ranked in the top eight in Palestine, including the boys,' she said proudly.... 'I have never had any negative reaction from anybody. I have supporters from all over the world. I have Israeli fans, but they can't come to watch my races, because they take place in Palestine.'"

The Speed Sisters were featured in a story on NPR in 2010. Now they have their own website, and a film about their exploits is slated to enter production this month. Last week, they were invited by Britain's motorsports association to visit the famed Silverstone track, home of the British Grand Prix.

That's all fine with the head of the Palestinian motorsport federation, Khaled Qaddoura, who has been trying to return motorsports to prominence in Palestine.

Pollard writes, "Seemingly nonplussed by having a team of glamorous, talented Palestinian women moving up the rankings in his sport, he says: "I have no problem with it - they love to race and they are good at it. We are proud to have them."

You can read more complete profiles of the other Speed Sister racers in an article over at The National.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.