Underdog Khalid al Balooshi shattered the Top Fuel class' status quo Monday at the Auto-Plus NHRA Nationals, knocking off points leader and record-holder Antron Brown in the rain-delayed final round at Reading, Pa.
With a 3.910-second, 312.42-mph pass on the 1,000-foot Maple Grove Raceway course in the Al-Anabi-Toyota Racing Dragster, the Los Angeles-based Dubai native gave crew chief Jason McCulloch and the team its first victory since they won the Phoenix race last October 16.
In a race in which the national E.T. record changed hands four times with eye-popping passes in the 3.71- and 3.72-second ranges, the Wally trophy went to a first-time winner and No. 9 starter who had a pair of 3.9s in eliminations -- a Countdown non-qualifier who had won only seven rounds before this event.
Reigning Pro Modified champion al Balooshi, who lost in the opening round at the first 12 races of this rookie Top Fuel season gave an early indication this could be his race. He began eliminations Sunday by ousting Spencer Massey, the four-time winner and nine-time finalist this season who had led the standings on five separate occasions and was hovering in the No. 2 spot.
Then he defeated another upset-minded driver, Ike Maier, who had sent No. 1 qualifier Dave Grubnic home in the first round. In the semifinal, al Balooshi beat Al-Anabi teammate Shawn Langdon, who's in the thick of the Top Fuel title battle and had owned the E.T. record for a few minutes with his 3.712-second blast at 334.15 mph, the fastest ever in drag-racing history.
The lineup didn't get easier for al Balooshi. His final assignment of the day was to go up against Brown, who had trumped Langdon's record with a stunning 3.701-second run to defeat Brandon Bernstein in their semifinal. Brown had closed Sunday's rain-shorted activity with what at that time was the quickest Top Fuel pass ever.
Brown's high-performance had run its course, and he smoked the tires of his Matco Tools Dragster early in the final run and posted a 9.818, 75.99. Nevertheless, he heads into the Big O Tires Nationals at Las Vegas in three weeks with his points lead intact, thanks in part to the 20-point bonus for the national E.T. record.
Losing, Brown said, "is nothing to be disappointed about. No mixed feelings. We've just been firing off our best shots each round. There's no reason to hold our heads down. We got a record, got an extra 20 points. All in all it was a great weekend for points." He goes to Las Vegas in three weeks with a whopping 104-point lead over closest rival Spencer Massey with only two races remaining in the year.
Brown said he was amazed that he regained the national E.T. record -- and its 20 points -- with a 3.701-second pass at 328.78 mph in the semifinal round against Brandon Bernstein, who had a stellar 3.740 lap of his won.
"At the end of the racetrack, when they told me our E.T., I didn't even know we ran that quick, because I didn't see the scoreboard. I was just in awe. I was stunned.People thought I would be doing cartwheels and backflips, but I was just shocked. It hit me emotionally. It was a great hard fought battle all weekend."
Every week after seemingly bleak week, al Balooshi would praise his crew and promise that if he kept working hard behind the wheel he would bring home a trophy. And he kept his vow.
"I try my best, and I know everybody on the team tries his best. Finally I won the first one," al Balooshi said with a sense of relief in his voice. "I have been waiting about this position for a long time. This is one of the small things I can give my team and [team manager] Alan Johnson.
"Every car is flying. Everybody's close. I'm happy to do this one," he said. "Man, from the beginning of the week, if you keep watching it, every car in the qualifying . . . is looking to break the record. Everybody's looking to run fast."
Al Balooshi said he had an idea after Sunday's quarterfinal victory over Maier that it could be his lucky race.
"Yesterday I won the second round, I feel something -- my luck is open with me," he said.
He emphatically said he wasn't going to "take one for the team" when he met Langdon in the semifinal round.
"No -- no, no," al Balooshi said. He indicated that if that's how the Al-Anabi team operated, he probably would be in the Countdown: "Before that, in Indy, if I'm looking to do something like that, if Shawn give me the race, I'd be in the Countdown. But the race is the race, you know."
He said of their semifinal run Monday, 'I tell Shawn before the race, 'I try to help you but I'm not going to do anything that's good for you. Help yourself."
And with that, Khalid al Balooshi helped himself to his first Top Fuel victory and threw some extra excitement into the Countdown mix.
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