TEHRAN (AFP) - When behind the wheel, Iranian women have to put up
with all sorts of verbal abuse from the testosterone-charged types that
dominate the Islamic republic's highways -- such as being told to tend
to a washing machine rather than a car.
But Iran's women drivers, most of whom are clearly ill at ease navigating
the anarchic road network, now have a national idol: a young woman nicknamed
Laleh Seddigh, 28, is fast emerging as one of Iran's foremost race car
drivers, leaving the best of the men racers behind in her saloon car.
"Resistance from men does not bother me," Seddigh told AFP
at a recent track race event held at Tehran's Azadi stadium. "Once
I get on the track I like to use my technical skills, take control and
dominate the other drivers."
At the race, the petite woman racer caused yet another upset by beating
off her fellow 12 Proton teammates -- all of whom are men -- much to
the delight of the small group of female fans watching from their part
of the segregated stadium.
"In Iran, whenever there is a traffic jam and there is a woman
in it, the male drivers ridicule her and blame only her," noted
Nazanin, a 22-year-old race fan. "It's a relief to see there is
someone like Laleh."
"It is not only her high level of self-confidence," explained
her trainer Saeed A'rabian, himself a former national champion. "She
is extremely talented and has got a very nice style."
Until Seddigh became a professional driver three years ago, she was
just one of the many relatively wealthy young people who cruise and
race around town -- breaking several bones and earning the nickname
of "little Schumacher" after the German Formula One champion
She learned how to drive at the age of just 13, and admits to having
"snatched the car keys and sneaked out of the house, always in
fear of police" before she got her driving license.
At her day job Seddigh works as a managing director of a trade company
that produces spare car parts, but full-time racing beckons with sponsorship
offers from Proton, Mazda and Hyundai.
But keeping afloat in the male-dominated sport is still not plain sailing
"The last time I won a race, people were gossiping. They said my
victory was fixed. Even some women in the carting and rally scene doubt
my success," Seddigh recounted.
"And every time I want to practice or make a test drive, the track
staff ask me for a letter of permission -- even though I am the captain
of the Proton speed team. Men never have this kind of hassle."
And then there is the conservative state television's coverage of her
wins: even though Seddigh pulls a poncho over her tight race overalls
before taking the winners' podium, pictures of her holding a trophy
are for some reason censored.