September 15, 2014

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NHRA Summit Nationals: Khalid alBalooshi takes Top Fuel title with inspiration from 9-year-old

NORWALK — There’s no doubt Khalid alBalooshi and his crew had a hand in winning the Top Fuel championship Sunday at the NHRA Summit Racing Equipment Nationals, but the driver believed he had extra help in earning his second career title.

AlBalooshi and his Al-Anabi Racing team brought 9-year-old Jacob Delling to Norwalk after they had befriended the blind boy during a race in Michigan. Delling grabbed at alBalooshi’s heartstrings when he climbed into the dragster.

“Once I saw Jacob in the car, I knew I had to try to do something special this weekend,” he said.

AlBalooshi — the No. 10 qualifier — upset defending world champion Antron Brown in the first round, then defeated 81-year-old Chris Karamesines in the quarterfinals.

“What I kept thinking about, especially when I got to the semifinal, I hope I can win so I can give this kid the trophy,” alBalooshi said. “I didn’t think about much else. I kept thinking and talking to myself, ‘God, if you’re going to do something, do it for this kid so I can give him the trophy.’”

AlBalooshi downed Clay Millican in the semifinals and ousted top qualifier Doug Kalitta in the final.

Joining alBalooshi in winning NHRA titles were Johnny Gray in Funny Car, Mike Edwards in Pro Stock and Matt Smith in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

The win was the fourth for Gray in four finals appearances, and moved him into second place in the Funny Car points standings — not bad for a team that had gone back to the drawing board a week earlier.

“The guys struggled for about three races with the car,” Gray said. “We loaded it up last Sunday night and the discussion was had that there had to be something stupid going on with the car. So we called the chassis shop, they stripped the car down Sunday night and the chassis shop cut the front end off the car, put a whole new end on the car and had it back by Monday afternoon.”

Despite the four wins this season pushing his career total to seven, Gray reiterated that this will be his last season of full-time racing.

“I never said I’m not going to drive anything anymore … that’s like an alcoholic saying he’ll never drink again,” Gray said. “I just don’t want to chase the points anymore … that’s just the way it is.”

Edwards felt like he had finally broken the Norwalk curse after his title win.

“This place has had my number,” he said. “I’ve come here for several years and always struggled. I just couldn’t get a handle on this place. It feels good to finally win a race here in Norwalk.”

Edwards is the Pro Stock points leader and has been the No. 1 qualifier 10 times this season. He was unable to make it No. 11 as runner-up Allen Johnson set a track record during Friday night’s qualifying.

“We were just too conservative on Friday night,” Edwards said. “The track was way better than I thought it was. Our best run of the weekend was in the finals right there.”

Smith saved his best runs for last, too.

Smith won a world title in 2007 and captured the Norwalk championship in 2010. He’s cooled over the last couple of seasons.

“I’ve been stuck on 13 (titles) for about two years,” said Smith, whose last win came at Englishtown, N.J., in 2011. “I’ve gotten close a couple times since then. It’s so easy to lose that final round. You overthink or you go up there like I did last week and you squeeze the clutch too hard.”

Smith said he received a little motivation after losing to Michael Ray — the top qualifier at Norwalk — in last week’s final in Chicago.

“Michael just treated me real bad,” Smith said. “He told me last week, ‘Man, if that’s the best you can do, you need to retire.’ I said, ‘Well, I’m going to show you what I can do at the next race.’ I was good on the trigger all weekend — qualifying and everything.”

Shortly after Smith’s win in Pro Stock Motorcycle, his father, Rickie, captured the Pro Mod title.
“We’re going to party tonight,” Smith said.

The party might last longer for the Al-Anabi team.

AlBalooshi plans to fly to Dubai because the NHRA is off next weekend, then head to Denver for the next stop on the circuit.

He was asked if he planned to bring along the team’s good-luck charm.

“Want to hang out with us in Denver?” he asked Delling.

“Yeah, definitely,” Delling said.

“OK, let’s do it,” alBalooshi said.

Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or sbennett@chroniclet.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.