United Arab Emirates: The NASCAR of the Desert

Submitted by Erin Potter on the 2022 winter session program in the United Arab Emirates sponsored by the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering…

One thing that I did not expect to see while in Dubai was camel races. In America, it is common for people to spend their weekends at local horse races so when Professor Small told us we were going to camel races, I did not believe it! I had always thought that camels were slow and relaxed, but I soon learned that they could run 8km (~5 miles) in 10 minutes! When we arrived at the camel races there were hundreds of camels lined up for various heats. Unlike the United States, betting is illegal in Dubai so the people that go to watch the races are doing so for enjoyment. A small robot jockey is placed on top of every camel to encourage it to keep running, multiple cars full of screaming people who control the jockeys follow the camels along the 8km track. The jockeys also have a walkie talkie so that the owners can communicate commands to their camel. The jockeys used to be small children, but the UAE wanted to move forward with technology to make the races safer; the UAE worked with UNICEF in 2002 to become the first nation to ban underage jockeys.

The camel racing track is not a small circle, but rather a long and winding track. We originally started watching at the start, but then crossed over to the finish line; we even got to try camel milk while we watched. It was also surprising to learn how much a camel can cost. A typical camel can cost $55,000, but winning camels can sell for up to $30 million! The owner also must spend at least $1,000 per month to take care of the camel so winning the prize money is super important. This was such a unique and valuable thing to experience!