DBAYEH, Lebanon – The roar of engines and the smell of burning rubber filled the air of the underground car park as three cars drifted with ease around its pillars. The VQ Riders Lebanon and the Underground, two informal groups of car enthusiasts, have quickly evolved into a close community of people from all walks of life who come together to talk cars and to race and drift, the controlled oversteering that causes back tires to lose traction and slip and slide.
“The concept for the VQ Riders Lebanon was to assemble all of the cars that have a VQ engine,” Leila Nasrallah, the group’s founder, explained. “I tried to create [an Instagram] showroom for all of these cars in Lebanon, and then it progressed to be more like a family.”
Nasrallah further explained, “They [group members] started asking where they can buy parts and wanting to gather and go out.” She also stated, “Then, we started to get to know [Patrick and Even Samaha], and they formed the group Underground. So now we all get together. We do some night rides too.”
VQ Riders gradually expanded online beyond its Instagram origins to also include WhatsApp groups and a Facebook page, where members ask each other questions and share knowledge, particularly on where they can get new or replacement auto parts at affordable prices.
“If you’re looking for used stuff, it is not easy at all,” Nasrallah remarked. “You have to order from eBay, and it takes a minimum of one month to arrive, and it costs a lot to ship to Lebanon.”
Despite the growing number of VQ Riders, Nasrallah remains the only woman who regularly takes part in the group. “They [the men] talk dirty,” she said, laughing. “I got used to it.”
Nasrallah started driving when she was 13, as soon as her feet could reach the pedals. She would borrow her friends’ cars to practice drifting until she had saved enough money to buy her own sports car, which she did two years ago.
“[My colleagues] like to show me off,” Nasrallah said. “They are proud of my knowledge when it comes to cars. I get questions from guys about how to add mods [modifications] and how to solve a motor problem.” Nasrallah's colleagues have nicknamed her “Letty,” after the character portrayed by Michelle Rodriguez in the Fast and Furious movies.
“I’ve been with many groups,” Carl Hokayen, a member of VQ Riders, told Al-Monitor. “It is really fun because you get to see all of these different cars. In the last year, there have been more women. It’s nice. It’s not something that we mind. I was once on the road, and I saw a 370Z Nismo, and it downshifted, and it was a girl. It was fun racing her on the highway.”
Patrick and Even Samaha, the cousins who founded Underground, explained that when they started their group, they wanted nothing to do with hate or intolerance, just cars.
“Most of the car communities here in Lebanon, there is a lot of hate [mimicking Lebanon's sectarian divisions],” Even said. “They don’t know how things really [can be].” Patrick added, “I just wanted to grab everyone who has the same enthusiasm about cars as I do.”
The Samahas heard about people getting together in an underground parking garage, so they went there to see what was going on. They found the gatherings scattershot and disorganized and got the idea to form their own group.
“It was organized more for car enthusiasts,” Patrick explained. “When it is midweek or the weekend, and there is nothing going on, we can check what others are doing and see who is in the area to meet up.”
Underground members gather almost nightly to show off their cars and to demonstrate what they can do with them. This usually involves races or going to a parking lot to drift. When those assembled aren't racing or drifting, they simply hang out, talking, smoking and drinking Red Bull.
When it comes to skills, Nasrallah has a passion for drifting. “It feels good,” she said excitedly. “Yesterday, I was out, and there was a lot of traffic, so I waited for the cars to pass, and once there was enough space, I drifted in between them. … Racing has its adrenaline, but I just don’t like it.”
The groups’ racing and drifting has gotten them in trouble with the police. The punishment usually takes the form of a speeding ticket, the price of which can often be negotiated, but can also be hefty. One member said that he has had to pay $500 in speeding tickets.
Anthony Abboud recently got his first speeding ticket, and was fortunate to only have to pay $60. His friend Ricardo Tannous has not been as lucky, already having received six tickets. According to Nasrallah, as a woman she is able to get away with speeding more than her male colleagues.
Nasrallah remarked, “At first, we would get a lot of speeding tickets, but for me, as a girl, sometimes [the police] will ignore me. They’re happy that I’m drifting in the streets. But for the guys, it’s not easy. It can cost around $1,300 for the ticket, and they might take the car too.”
Both Nasrallah and the Samahas hope to see their groups expand. The cousins would also like to organize large events with other groups in addition to the VQ Riders to race and drift. Until then, they will continue roaring through the streets of Lebanon, sliding in and out of traffic like a blur.
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