My project looks at an evolving subset of the auto culture in the United Arab Emirates– young men who drift modified SUVs in a new type of event which has emerged in the wake of a crackdown on illegal street drifting known as "hajwalah."
Unique to the gulf region, hajwalah (also called "tafheet") is a stunt wherein drivers reach high speeds and then spin seemingly out of control on a strip of straight road. Deadly accidents are all too common and in recent years governments have strictly enforced new road safety campaigns, vowing to clear the streets of these scofflaw youth.
As a result, drifters have largely moved off of public roads and onto private strips of asphalt tucked away in more rural parts of the desert. There, free from the increasing threat of prosecution, the community is developing more formal structure as drivers compete to display the greatest apparent recklessness.
I became really interested in these guys after following some of the drivers on Instagram and eventually we arranged to meet. I visited a number of garages and private tracks mostly in two emirates east of Dubai, Umm Al Quwain and Ras Al Khaimah. Auto accidents were among the leading causes of death in the UAE only a few years ago before a national road safety campaign made it illegal to modify cars in many ways. As a result, a number of these garages I went to are unlicensed and hidden from plain view. Police have even arrested some of those behind the social media accounts posting videos of illegal drifting. The crackdown has by and large forced these guys to build their cars as "sleepers" (modified under the hood, but stock in appearance) if they're drifting on the street, or otherwise they drive on the private lots where the contests are held.
The transition to private tracks has enabled these guys to really grow their community and legitimize their style as a real form of motorsport. It's definitely not like the drifting born in Asia and now also popular in the west. There's no technical proficiency involved and no curved course to compete on-- it's more like watching a carefully choreographed car accident that doesn't end (hopefully) in a wreck.
View more of Peter's work on his website, www.petergarritano.com