x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Emirati racer Al Balooshi makes quick start in NHRA season-opening win

Emirati Khalid Al Balooshi beat his teammate and 2013 NHRA champion Shawn Langdon in the second round en route to the win at the season-opening NHRA Winternationals in California on Sunday.

Emirati Khalid Al Balooshi won the first NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing event of the season on Sunday. Photo Courtesy / Gary Nastase
Emirati Khalid Al Balooshi won the first NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing event of the season on Sunday. Photo Courtesy / Gary Nastase

Khalid Al Balooshi threw down a challenge to the world’s fastest racing fraternity by winning the season-opening race in the National Hot Rod Association’s elite Top Fuel division.

The Emirati, beginning his third season in the glamour division of the world’s premier drag-racing organisation, may have a first season championship in mind after winning the Winternationals at the Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California.

He pushed his Al Anabi Racing dragster to a top speed of 324.12 miles per hour (521.6kph) to win the final, as Doug Kalitta smoked his tyres and was left far behind.

“I knew I had one of the best cars in the show,” said Al Balooshi, 34. “To take it to the final and win, it’s a big day for us.”

Al Balooshi won the hard way, defeating some of the sport’s most prominent drivers on Sunday to gain the final victory.

He began his day with a victory over the seven-time world champion Tony Schumacher and then eliminated teammate Shawn Langdon, the current world champion, by 0.007 seconds. He overpowered Steve Torrence in the semi-finals before taking down the top-seeded Kalitta.

“I knew I would have a strong day,” Al Balooshi said, “especially when we got Tony Schumacher in the first round and Shawn Langdon in the second and Steve-O in the third.”

He gave credit to Jason McCulloch, his crew chief. “Jason always does a good job, no doubt about that. The team did it all weekend.”

Al Balooshi spent most of the 10-week break in Dubai, after the previous season, but he was enthused by the progress the team made late in 2013.

“Last year, our car started to get better and better,” he said. “When we started the season, I have been feeling our car is way better.

“I told everybody, ‘I think I’ve got a hot rod to start the season’.”

The victory was the third in Al Balooshi’s career in the Top Fuel division, where the ear-splitting rail-like dragsters run on jet fuel and generate nearly 10,000 horsepower.

The Emirati driver’s Qatar Al Anabi team is owned by Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad, who is a member of Qatar’s royal family.

Al Balooshi’s years in the United States have offered many opportunities for social interaction with Americans, many of whom do not know much about the UAE, but who now are aware of the Emirati who drives fast.

Fear has never been a factor in his racing, he said in an interview with The National, even from his early days in lesser competitions.

“You may be a little bit scared … but you do it step by step,” he said. “You keep thinking everything will be perfect, and don’t do anything stupid.”

Every driver’s life includes people who worry, and Al Balooshi is no different. His parents, Rashad and Fatima, have weighed in.

“At the beginning my mom says, ‘What you do is dangerous’, but my dad was cool,” Al Balooshi said. “My mother is more settled now, but you know moms.”

He returns to Dubai today before he goes back to the US for the second race of the season, in Chandler, Arizona.

It is a long road ahead; the NHRA season has 24 events and continues until November. But Al Balooshi likes his position after the first weekend.

“I am so excited,” he said. “Nothing better than to leave the first round with the trophy.”

poberjuerge@thenational.ae