Babur Zia: Professional drift racer of Pakistan opens up about his journey
In 2008, Babur Zia took his custom-made car to the streets of Islamabad to participate in a drag race. The car, which he had built himself, importing parts from around the world and assembling them for two years, met with an accident in the race. Following the crash and the ridicule he faced from the racing community, his passion for the sport died.
Photos by Zain Jafar
“I was sad about the car that I had built, investing years of struggle,” said Zia. “But the thing that struck me the most was the comments and the discouraging response from the racing community. Instead of motivating me that crashing is part of the race, they made me feel like there is no worse driver than me.”
Zia quit racing and went for higher studies in Malaysia.
“I had been drag-racing for three years (from the age of 15) before the accident. My mother was a bit concerned but was happy that I had quit racing and was going for studies abroad.”
Little did she know that it was just a matter of two years.
Despite spending the following two years away from cars, it only took a day at a drift track to revive his passion and get him back into the world of racing.
"When I started drifting, I never thought it would turn into a career. But the right platforms and resources turned my hobby into a profession."
Quitting drag racing, therefore, came as a blessing in disguise for Zia and in 2010, two years after the accident, he finally took up drifting professionally. He would go on to be the first Pakistani to earn an Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) license after four years of drifting professionally at locally and international events. FIA license is required to compete in any international standard event like Formula Drift, Drift Masters GP, D1GP, etc.
Growing up in a business-oriented family, Zia had to balance the family business and his passion side by side as he was fond of cars since childhood. "I’d ask my relatives to bring car magazines and CDs from abroad whenever they visited Pakistan. And I used to watch all car-racing movies all the time."
His father, being from the armed forces, had participated in extreme sports like sky diving, mountain climbing, skiing, and underwater diving, while his brother, who was more into the family business, also have a passion for cars. Both played a vital role in making Zia a professional drifter.
Meanwhile, his mother had her apprehensions, she eventually came around. “"Being a mother, she was naturally concerned about me racing again. But when she saw that we both brothers had the same passion and that I was driving in a safe environment, she allowed me to pursue it."
Redesign, rebuild, reclaim
Being a student in Malaysia, he had to get some financing to start racing, so he took a budget project, talked to his brother and started building a 1982 model rear-wheel-drive Toyota Corolla Ke70.
"I saw some high and low budget cars at the track. I wanted to be on the track, and this was the best and easiest way to get there. But still, I had to work for three more years."
While he juggled family business (which were his primary source of finance during the early drifting years), building a drift car and his studies, the endgame remained the same. The transition was proving to be more fruitful and more fun.
“Drift race is more entertaining than the drag race,” said Zia. “It keeps the driver more engaged all the time. Every inch of the turn is crucial. You need to be perfect in your skill and consistent while driving to finish at the top.”
For the next four years, Zia continued drifting and turning pro at the track and eventually gained the FIA license, attracting the eyes of a Malaysian Racing team BZ-Racing who saw him at the Speed City KL – a track in Kuala Lumpur.
"I was at the university, and during the break between the classes, I received a call from the racing company. They said they wanted me on board. I was with my friends, and when I told them about it, they were as happy as me. That was one of the best days of my life. It took me four years to accomplish this as no Pakistani company had a team, and Malaysian companies preferred local drivers. So, I had to wait for quite long."
Today after nine years of professional drifting experience, Babur has learned a lot about the safety and motorsport culture. During all these years, Babur crashed several times, but there was not a single day when his team blamed him for the crash. "Crashing is part of the race; even the world's best racers crash. This is not something to be ashamed of. This is the difference between the motorsport culture in Pakistan and everywhere else in the world. There isn't even 10 per cent of it in Pakistan."
Zia always wears a helmet and a fireproof suit, which is a standard in the racing world. "In Pakistan, there is no track and no awareness of the safety and it ends up taking a number of lives every year. Building a track for drifting is not difficult and is also the most engaging type of motorsports today."
He continued, "In drifting, the whole track is in front of the audience. They can see every turn and be more involved in the race.”
The drifter has spent a lot of time in the professional circuit and now wants to help create opportunities for the motorsport enthusiasts in his homeland. For that, he is planning to bring the first-ever drift series in Pakistan.
"I want to share my experience with the local drifters here. If I can become a professional drifter, then many others in Pakistan can too. They just need a proper place and platform to develop their skills, someone to guide them towards the right way."
Besides continuing his efforts to make Pakistan more motorsport-friendly, educate and bring racers from unsafe streets to a safe track environment with the help of ‘GreenTeam’ sports network, Zia is waiting to participate in Oman Drift International Series next year.