by Mitch Lemus
Charlotte Motor Speedway -- At last count, New York City cab driver Farhan Singh had accrued over 30 tickets for speeding and reckless driving. Singh may move fast, but not fast enough to escape the attention of City officials who took prompt action. They hired him to represent New York as the newest race car driver on the NASCAR circuit.
Mayor Bloomberg said the NASCAR sponsorship was designed to promote New York as an all-new tourist destination among southern backwater hillbillies.
In a new campaign to promote tourism, New York City is sponsoring Singh's taxi -- a yellow 2004 Ford Crown Victoria, embellished with "I LOVE NY" decals. The car, complete with broken left tail light and beaded seat cover, will serve as a rolling billboard, exposed to millions of race fans on TV and speedways across the country.
In his arrangement with the City, Singh keeps his meter running during races, charging New York $2.50 per race, plus 40 cents for every 1/4 mile. In addition, he collects a $5.00 surcharge for driving outside the five boroughs. "A 500 mile race make for very very good pay day," he acknowledged during an interview from the track's garage area.
While Singh enjoys the sport's financial rewards, he has been known to become quite impatient with race track proceedings. "When da hell you be inspecting my car, already!" he shouted at a NASCAR official prior to the race. "You want to look at engine or not? Make up you mind! I don't have all day!"
Upon tech inspection, the NASCAR official asked Singh to lower the Punjabi music blasting from his car radio, and to remove the empty soda cans, newspapers, and fast-food wrappers from the back seat of his racing cab. "I no put them there, why should I take them out?" Singh erupted, shaking his fist at the inspector and cursing him out in his native Urdu.
While other drivers wear fire-retardant jumpsuits, Singh is content to race in shorts, a tank-top and sandals. "I don't need no silly helmet, either," maintained Singh. "My turban be protection enough."
Singh became a cab driver in 2002, the year he immigrated to the United States from the Punjab. "I once make it from Wall Street to Zabar's on Upper West Side in four minute and a half ... during rush hour. Driving long time cab in City give me training much to ride race car."
Former Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip says Singh's wreckless driving style may be acceptable on the streets of New York, but does not belong on the race track.
But some of Singh's fellow drivers aren't so sure. Says Sprint Cup driver Michael Waltrip, "Every time I pull along side him, he's blabbering on his cell phone. Like for all three-hours of every race. He doesn't pay attention to where he's going."
"We're all a bit scared of him," added veteran driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. "He drives like a maniac, cutting off cars with complete disregard for safety."
"That's right, I flash Mr. Earnhardt the finger at last race," Singh recalls. "Asshole bump me while going around turn. Who da hell he bribe to get limousine license?"
During last week's race in Talladega, Alabama, Singh was fined for failing to slow down during a yellow caution flag, and for repeatedly honking his horn at slower cars. "No, no, no! I no slow down for yellow traffic light or flag. Time is money."
Singh was running a respectable third during last week's "Craftsmen Tools, Cocoa Krispies, Kotex 400" at Charlotte, when, on lap 79, his luck ran out. While attempting to pull into the pits, he got lost, ending up in the parking lot. Instead of finding his way back to the track, he picked up a fare and headed to Billy Joe Bob's BBQ Pit in downtown Charlotte. But trouble ensued. According to police, Singh called the passenger an imperialist American whore and spat on her, insulted by her "measly 50 cent tip."
"Hey, I just trying to make living and feed family," he said.
Copyright © Mitch Lemus