Start your engines! Auto racing is on track to legalization

Motor sport fans in Israel may find their favorite pastime legal by the end of the summer.

israeli race car  (photo credit: Blake-Ezra Cole)
israeli race car
(photo credit: Blake-Ezra Cole)
The high-speed, full-throttle, adrenaline-packed country that is Israel might finally legalize a sport befitting its fast and furious nature: car racing. Motor sport fans in Israel that currently pursue their interest at illegal events held in secrecy at a number of locations throughout the country, may find their favorite pastime legal by the end of the summer, as the Knesset's Education, Sport and Culture Committee teamed up with the Ministry of Sport, Science and Culture recently to jump-start their efforts to pass legislation designed to legalize the entire racing sector. Even now, estimates Yuval Melamed, the Science, Culture and Sport Ministry's adviser on motor sports, around 500 Israelis are active in the sport. But drivers, he said, "race for themselves alone, doing it secretly without fans. They are concerned that if the spectators come, the police will follow." Around two years ago, one racing aficionado tried to open a speedway outside of the Sharon-area community of Kochav Yair, but police demolished it one day later. "The government cannot turn sports fans into criminals," said MK Rabbi Michael Melchior (Labor), the chairman of the Knesset committee that has given a green light on completing the final parts of the legislative process. The racing involved is not on-street drag racing of the type popularized by teenage rebels without a cause in the middle of the last century, but rather organized rallies and on-track racing. Motor sports have existed in Israel for at least the past 20 years, but it was only when a group of the sport's supporters filed an appeal to the Supreme Court to legalize the sport in December 2005 that a law was passed legalizing it in Israel. Nevertheless, the entire field is still considered illegal, as the necessary regulations have yet to be approved, even though the law instructed that the approval process extend no longer than six months. In mid-May of this year, Melchior instructed the Education, Culture and Sport Committee to devote intensive efforts to the regulations needed to actualize the law as quickly as possible. Sunday's meeting was the fifth meeting on the topic in six weeks. All that stands now between Israeli motor sport fans and legalization are these dozen regulations that are still being hammered out in intergovernmental meetings under the auspices of Melchior's committee. Two of those regulations were approved during a Sunday morning meeting. Yosi Nisan, the director-general of the Athletic Driving Authority in the Ministry of Science Culture and Sport estimated that in another six weeks, the ministry will complete its work on the remaining guidelines. "It is also dependant on other ministries and legal advisors who don't always care - but we are pushing this forward as hard as we can," said Nisan. "Motor sports are much more safe than driving on the road, but the police and the Transportation Ministry don't necessarily understand this," explained Nisan, himself a fan of the sport. "It will take time, but they'll understand." One key regulation was already approved by the committee in a previous session determined the standards for racing vehicles in Israel. Prior to those regulations, the possession of a racing vehicle was itself illegal, and police were technically required to confiscate any such vehicle that they encountered. At least 10 Israeli drivers, said Melamed, have even participated in competitions overseas, including the prestigious Paris-Dakar Rally, as well as races in Italy. As soon as the regulations pass and the sport becomes legal, Melamed hopes, public interest in the field will grow.