Khalid Al Balooshi is the man to catch. But his opponents have to be extremely quick to do that; well, achieving it in less than four seconds anyway.
Earlier this month, the Emirati drag race driver won the first race of the 2014 National Hot Rod Association season, in Pomona, California, putting him at the top of leaderboard for the first time in his career.
Today, he will look to maintain that position when he completes the second round of races in Phoenix, Arizona.
Al Balooshi, and the Qatar Al Anabi team he races for, have come a long way in the last two years. And this season, the 34 year old says they are better than ever.
“Since we started practising in December, I’ve felt that the car is better than last year,” he said. “And once the season started, our positive feeling were reinforced. Now we have one of the best cars.”
As a rookie in October 2012, Al Balooshi became the first Emirati, and only the third driver from outside North America, to win a race in the Top Fuel class in NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing – the highest level of drag racing in the world.
Where that first win was a shock, his latest confirms him as a contender.
“We beat Tony Schumacher and Shawn Langdon, both previous champions,” he adds. “We fully deserved our win, there was no element of luck to it.”
The Qatar Al Anabi Racing Top Fuel Team, owned by Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad of Qatar, have pedigree in the series, having twice won the NHRA Full Throttle Top Fuel World Championship.
“With every season, we’ve been improving,” Al Balooshi adds. “And to win that first race was not easy.”
Two years on since he relocated, his career at least, to the United States, Al Balooshi is more than ever at ease with his surroundings. Professionally and culturally, he has found his feet.
“Everyone misses their home country, of course,” he said. “But I’m comfortable and happy with what I’ve managed to achieve so far in career path, and I feel I have more to give.”
As a driver, Al Balooshi feels he has raised his performance levels.
“I always say that whenever you can improve your personal time, it helps,” he said. “Technically as a driver I am more comfortable now, I feel I’m improving my standards all the time.”
He reserves his biggest praise to some of the work that goes on behind the scenes.
“The whole team is working together to ensure a higher standard. The technical and mechanical teams are working so hard to squeeze a better performance out of the car, and they have.”
With races taking less than four seconds, every millisecond counts. Championships are won and lost on fractions, and this season Al Anabi look to have one of the most efficient cars on the track.
The driver from Dubai is keen to play down his personal achievements but acknowledges that there has been increased interest in his background and of that of the team as a result of the success.
“When we talk about us as Arabs, and with millions of people watching on television, it’s clear people know more about us now,” he said. “We are portraying a great image of the whole region, not just the UAE or the Gulf.”
Al Balooshi’s success has even managed to attract many US-based Arabs to drag racing.
“People from Syria, Lebanon and Egypt have been coming to support us in the races once they found out that an Arab driver is doing so well,” he said.
It is early days yet in the season, and bigger challenges will surely come. Still, the flying start has given Qatar Al Anabi and Al Balooshi a major boost for the remainder of the season.
Could he pull off what seemed an impossible dream only two years ago and go on to become the first Arab NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing champion?
“Our success has shown that there is no reason for us to feel inferior,” he said. “We can be as good as anyone else.”
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