John Sinders has loved cars as long as he can remember. Thirty years ago, when his father offered to kick in some money for a car as a graduation present, Sinders went for the best. He cashed in a life insurance policy his parents had purchased for him at birth and put the combined funds toward a sparkling BMW 320.
“It was a great car,” Sinders says.
These days, Sinders (Col ’76, Law ’79) indulges his automotive passions in his adopted hometown of Dubai, where he runs a nascent racing team, works to grow local interest in the sport and gets behind the wheel himself whenever possible.
Sinders, a global shipping consultant, owns Khaleji Motorsport, which competes in the branch of auto racing that features exotic, muscular cars from the likes of Porsche, Ferrari, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar and Maserati.
Dubai and the Persian Gulf Coast have top-quality racing facilities built to host visiting Formula One events, Sinders says, but there’s never been much infrastructure to help develop homegrown driving talent.
“There’s a chance to do more in motorsports here than there is in America, because there’s more of a need,” he says.
Sinders, 56, began his career as a lawyer before shifting to investment banking. He began working in the United Arab Emirates four years ago, managing shipping and offshore energy for the global investment and securities firm Jefferies & Co., and moved there full time about two years ago.
He had always owned sports cars, but he only began racing five or six years ago, once his daughters Caroline and Katie, now college age, were old enough that he could abscond for a couple of weekends each month.
“It’s not like golf,” Sinders says. “It’ll take you away for four days at a time, as opposed to four hours.”
What draws him so strongly? Unlike most sports, driving a race car is one of the few sporting pursuits where a skilled amateur can approximate the experience of a top-level professional. Sinders can’t throw a 90 mph fastball, dunk a basketball or sink a 50-foot putt at Augusta National, but he can drive the same course as an Indianapolis 500 winner like his friend Bobby Rahal, albeit several seconds slower.
Two years ago, Sinders led a consortium that bought Aston Martin, the legendary British auto manufacturer favored by James Bond. He sold his shares back to the company last year, he said, restless because the need for day-to-day involvement as the company’s North America chairman had diminished.
The experience was in many ways the fulfillment of a dream, but now Sinders spends more time helping young Gulf Coast nationals chase their own racing dreams. The primary issue is finding corporate sponsors to pump more money into the local racing scene.
“I think it will all come together, but right now there isn’t the level of popularity and fan appreciation that one would hope for,” Sinders says. “When people are out there, they love it, because it’s a blast. … Just letting them know that it’s happening is what’s hard.”