Published: 15th December 2018
How Alisha Abdullah is going to stop people from racing illegally on Chennai's streets
The popular racer tells us that her inter-college racing event is a start of a bigger plan that she has to make racers out of speed demons
Alisha Abdullah is a badass. It would be easy to say that if a girl likes superbikes and speeds in excess of 320 kmph, she's A-grade badass material, but when it comes to Alisha, there's a whole lot more to it. Thousands of laps around some of the country's most loopy circuits at speeds that would make speed guns chafe, the 29-year-old racer is all about responsibility right now.
You read that right. Even people with a propensity for speed have a distinct sense of responsibility. And beyond getting young people to race responsibly and with the right safety gear, South India's most-recognised (and most-podium-ed) woman racer now has a whole new mission - to take reckless street drag racers and put them on the circuit.
Ahead of her inter-collegiate racing championship, we caught with Alisha on life, racing, renegade biking and how she plans to make Chennai's streets racer-free soon. Excerpts from a rapid conversation:
When did this yearning to start a new academy for racing begin? Obviously, the first attempt wasn't quite the way you hoped it would be.
I started a bike-racing academy for women three years back. The Academy was full of women but I couldn't beat the sustainability factor. There were women who took the academy for granted because everything that academy had to offer was free of cost. It was a very difficult phase for me and I had to eventually shut it down. Last year, I decided to open a car-racing academy which solely focussed on youngsters and their passion for the sport. The academy also has a bike-racing team that goes on a talent-hunt for individuals who are passionate about the sport. I also sponsor these individuals who can't afford racing. We will be ending the year with 'The Intercollege Battle' which will be conducted on December 16, to showcase the talent of all passionate college-going racers. We are all super-excited about it. We have more planned for 2019. Our rigorous talent-hunt for bike racers will begin next year.
That's exciting. But will this help bring down the number of illegal racers and speed demons on the streets?
We will be recruiting individuals who illegally race around public spaces and those who systemically indulge in rash riding. We will bring them to the race tracks. We are going campaigning around malls, IT parks, and colleges. After a few rounds of selections, we will be shortlisting the number of riders who will be subject to training for national championships.
Racing has been stereotyped as a male-dominated sport. You've obviously done a lot towards breaking that stereotype. How has that worked for you?
Racing is for men - How often have we heard that phrase? And that phrase is not just limited to that particular sport but in every aspect of life. But I am not one to just keep absorbing sexist statements like this. Now we have a little more than what it used to be, for a woman racer, but the real problem is when women compete with women. We all have to accept the hard truth that men are physically stronger and that is an added advantage in this field, but we as women are mentally stronger. All we have to do is the leverage that mental strength and work on our fitness and then go ahead with competing against men to get better at what we do. I idolise Mary Kom for that very reason. Post-practice, she competes with men in the ring. I always tell my girls to keep the idea of competing with men as a benchmark and that is how that stereotype can be broken.
You got a taste of the track when you were very young. How did it feel to win your first MRF national Go-Karting Championship when you were 13?
It was a long time ago and the most intriguing part of the competition was competing with boys. These boys are now big-racers in India. I started off racing when I was eight years old. All these boys were trying to push me off because they didn't want a girl to prove herself better. It was a mix of drama and crying and being bullied for being a girl. Did that push my self-esteem low? No, it did not. I just learned to deal with it and make myself stronger at that tender age. This has just made me a lot more head-strong now. It definitely is an experience to remember.
Since your father was your biggest source of inspiration and motivation, what was the best advise he gave you?
It's a funny story. My dad always told that me that I was not good and I needed to set a benchmark to get better every time I was on the racetrack. You would think that would pull me down. Instead, it just pushed me to work harder and get better at it by the day. I owe all my achievements to dad and he still never fails to bring out the best in me
With India heavily inclined towards cricket, is racing getting any support from the general environment - fans, sponsors etc?
Cricket has dominated every sport in India and motorsport is a very niche and expensive sport. Competing against cricket would be a massive hurdle to overcome. I am trying so hard on my part raise awareness on the sport, which is why I have initiated campaigns and programmes on the racetrack and have involved school children and youngsters in motorsports. I am doing my part for the betterment and accessibility of the sport and can only hope that we soon build a motorsport community.
That sounds great. Do you have any advice for aspiring racers?
Winning one race on track should not be the end result. One win should be treated as a stepping stone to the next win and it should go on. Don't stop, the sky is your limit.