Qatar Airways Flight #778 out of Miami, one of three flights out this evening that carried United States-based offshore racing to Doha, Qatar, for the inaugural Qatar Cup was packed with racers that—even if you’re a marginal fan—you probably recognize. Billy Glueck of Twisted Metal, George and Micheal Stancombe of Peppers Racing, Ryan Beckley and Tanner Lewis of DoublEdge Motorsports (Beckley’s teenage son, Chris Economides is here as the team’s crew chief), Gary Ballough and Grant Bruggemann (who will run Chris Schoenbohm’s 32-foot Doug Wright catamaran, Daniel Lawrence and Rob Nunziato of The Hulk, and Randy Sweers, his wife, Kim, and their son, Chase, of Racing For Cancer.
The Miami group headed to the Qatar arrived at the airport in Doha an hour ago. The Qatar Cup adventure begins.
There were others, of course—42 Qatar Cup people such as Scott Porta, a Stock-class racer who came with his wife, Cindy, to support his fellow racers and Miss GEICO’s Marc Granet, who came to support his fellow racers and our host for the Qatar Cup, Sheikh Hassan bin Jabor Al-Thani. Standing in a check-in that moved at a glacial pass before we board, Rebecca Fogg, my girlfriend, and I even met a couple of diehard offshore racing fans, a lovely husband-and-wife, who made the trip from the Bahamas to catch this flight to Doha.
Shortly before midnight, I strolled the aisles of the Boeing 777 aircraft that carried us on this 14-plus-hour journey and asked those folks still awake one simple question.
Why are you here? There were no right answers, only their answers, and they inspired me to write this before I drifted off to sleep.
What follows are their answers.
Dan Lawrence: “This is a tremendous opportunity. Sheikh Hassan extended his hand to us. It’s a great thing for offshore racing.”
Marc Granet: “I’m here to support my friends and fellow offshore racers and help with the media. Sheikh Hassan has done a tremendous thing in raising awareness for our sport and he deserves every bit of help he can get. He doesn’t have to do this.”
Burgess Haussermann (The Hulk’s crew chief): “The Sheikh has provided us with a great opportunity to race with the best boats in the world and I am here to support The Hulk boat and continue our success in offshore racing.”
Scott Porta: “A couple of years ago I was supposed to do this but the race didn’t work out. I was going to come do it this year, but I raced in Key West and couldn’t afford to do both—I broke a lot of stuff on the boat and I owe my wife a house (laughs). But I wanted to be here to see everybody. We’re a family. We hang out together. In Stock class, we have all the same equipment so we’re always borrowing parts from each other and wrenching on each other’s boats. That’s just the way we are.”
Cindy Porta: “I’ve fallen in love with the sport. You get into the racing, and you get into the people.”
Ryan Beckley: “It’s a chance to race overseas and take my family, all courtesy of the hospitality of Qatar. And it’s a chance to hang out with all of my best friends for the past 20 years.”
Kim Sweers (Deep in slumber, Randy was unavailable for comment): “We’re here to support Randy. As a racer he will go to the ends of the earth for racing, and we are here to support him as a family. We’re also here to spread the word about cancer and early detection.”
Micheal Stancombe: “My father and I are here because we wanted to be part of the best international field of boat racers ever assembled from the United States.”
Tanner Lewis: “I am very positive about the sport. This is always something I’ve wanted to do, and it’s dream come true to take the international stage. Ryan has been a great mentor. Driving with him is a new world for me.”
So why am I here? Because I’m a storyteller.
Everything about the Qatar Cup, even the plane bouncing hard around the night sky right now, is great material. We will be strangers in a strange land full of language barriers and unfamiliar customs. For the next week, our home will be Doha, a modern city full of high-tech, ornate high-rises on the fringes of one of nature’s harshest and most unforgiving environments. And on Doha Bay, many of the racers above will slug it out in a day of pole position and two days of racing against not just their fellow Americans, but against an international field of competitors from Australia, New Zealand, Turkey and more.
If storytelling/journalism is your path, you just don’t miss a story like this. You have your neighbor collect your mail and take down your garbage, fill your dog’s bowls with water and food and in a stern voice tell him to “ration,” and head for the airport.
Time to crash. (OK, maybe I shouldn’t write that on a plane.) Time to sleep. Then down to the Qatar Cup reception.
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