Nur Ali on GRC Lites: “I can tell you wholeheartedly, I’m having a blast”

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Versatility in terms of competing in different forms of motorsport, and learning once you’re in a new one, are keys to success in modern racing.

This is, in a sentence, the description that sums up Nur Ali’s first season in the Red Bull Global Rallycross GRC Lites division.

Ali, now 40, is embarking on his first season in the rally championship after a diverse career that has included past stints in A1GP, NASCAR and ARCA.

The atmosphere and adaptation to the world of GRC has been an eye-opening experience, which is saying something since Ali’s originally from Pakistan, moved to Germany as a youth where he got bitten by the racing bug and then moved to Texas (as an eight-year-old in 1983).

That blended experience ties in nicely as Red Bull GRC heads to Washington, D.C., this weekend, which serves as something of a homecoming for the Texan, who drives the No. 42 AF Racing entry with support from Valvoline and Tweaker Energy Shot.

Ali interned under U.S. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) and besides racing, has been a diehard political junkie. He got his bachelor’s degree in International Relations from American University.

“Yeah I’m looking forward to D.C. – it’s my second home. I was fortunate enough to live there as a student,” Ali told MotorSportsTalk.

“My dad has been involved in local politics since I moved. I was 8 years old and intrigued on what my dad was doing, whether it was events, functions, or other things. I remember he was a polling judge at elections. He was fully involved.

source: Getty Images
Ali with A1 Team Pakistan in A1GP. Photo: Getty Images

“Growing up in U.S., but having been born in Pakistan, lived in Germany, then adapted to the American system – not instantaneously – he fell in love with the system in the U.S. I started going to polling systems and I got interested in the political system.

“In some sense, yeah I’m a political junkie. I’d be doing something in D.C. if I wasn’t racing. To work with Congressman Barton showed me how it works. We may not have a perfect system, but in my estimation it’s the best one around.”

Politics may be the side job but in terms of the day job, Ali’s numbers are trending upward as he enters the second half of the season.

He’d finished sixth in the first two races but after a series of three tough races, recorded a season-best fourth in the most recent round at Detroit Belle Isle, race two. He now sits seventh in points.

Having only had a brief preseason test to acclimate to racing on dirt, Ali has spent the first half of the year learning, while being optimistic of better results in the second half.

Ali at Fort Lauderdale. Photo: Red Bull Content Pool

“Halfway through the season, with Detroit past and heading to Washington next weekend, I feel a lot more comfortable,” he said. “The first weekend, luckily the dirt portion was really small there. It wasn’t too difficult.

“I’ve had some coaching and testing in Austin at some facilities there. By New River, I felt a lot more comfortable. At one point I pulled the hand brake/e-brake too early in the race. I wish it would have happened in practice. But I’ve gotten comfortable; I’m not 100 percent there yet but much more compared to where it was.”

Besides driving, Ali also spoke highly of the GRC open paddock and overall atmosphere. It was one of the elements that attracted him and his partners to the series.

As a tentative plan, Ali is looking to do a second season in GRC Lites before any jump to Supercars, which could come as early as 2017.

As a whole though, having been in open-wheel cars and stock cars, adding rally cars only adds to his career record.

And being from Pakistan originally, being able to embark on a full career is something Ali fully appreciates since it’s a rarity.

“I feel very humbled honestly; I come from a culture without race car drivers. I only had a passion,” Ali said.

“I was very fortunate I had supportive parents, so long as I got my education. I wanted to race cars. I grew up in Germany watching Formula 1. I was a student of the Autobahn, my father drove on it, it was instilled or built in me as a young child.

“It was difficult but having had 17 years in the industry, 17 years as a driver, I’m humbled and fortunate to do A1, small stint in NASCAR, ARCA, some Indy Ligths testing.

“Now it’s a new challenge. I never thought I’d be driving on dirt. But circumstances have brought us here.

“Without even thinking, this is the most fun I’ve had this year. The paddock is wide open and the races aren’t that long. I can get the result in 10 minutes! Don’t have to wait three to four hours. We’ve done six races, had five or six different winners, and many are rookies. There’s an opportunity to podium or even win this year. It makes it an equal level playing field.

“A1 was fun, NASCAR fun, but this has been awesome. Today I can tell you wholeheartedly I’m having a blast. I hope it grows from year-to-year.”

3-time NHRA champ Larry Dixon gives back to save lives on the streets

Photo courtesy Larry Dixon Racing
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Three-time NHRA Top Fuel champ Larry Dixon is a man on a new mission: to save lives on the streets and highways as perhaps the fastest driving instructor in the world.

Because he’s not currently hurtling down a dragstrip at 330 mph on the NHRA national tour, Dixon is at a point where it was time for him to give back and help youngsters the way so many individuals helped him in his own life and career.

Much like when he became the protege of mentor Don “Snake” Prudhomme – first as a crew member and then as Prudhomme’s hand-picked choice to replace him when he retired as a driver – Dixon is now imparting some of his vast knowledge behind the wheel upon thousands of impressionable teens and young adults around the country.

Dixon recently signed on as an instructor with fellow former Top Fuel champ Doug Herbert’s nationally renowned B.R.A.K.E.S. (Be Responsible and Keep Everyone Safe) driver safety training program. Since Herbert formed the free, non-profit program in 2008 to honor the memory of sons Jon and James, who were both killed in a tragic car crash, B.R.A.K.E.S. has trained over 35,000 students across the U.S. and five countries to be better and safer drivers.

MORE: Drag racer Doug Herbert turns son’s deaths into program that has helped over 35,000 teens

After putting two of his own teen children through Herbert’s program (with a third child to go through the program soon), Dixon was so impressed with the training that his kids received that he told his old buddy he wanted to become involved with B.R.A.K.E.S.

“I’ve known Doug since we were in high school,” Dixon told NBC Sports. “We both worked at a chain of speed shops in Southern California, Doug at one in Orange County and me at one in the San Fernando Valley in Van Nuys. We came up together racing Alcohol cars and Top Fuel cars kind of along the same lines. That’s how long I’ve known Doug.

Photo: Larry Dixon Racing

“I ran my son through the course a couple years ago when it came through Indianapolis (where Dixon and his family now live), and then my daughter signed up for a class a couple months ago, and that kind of got the talk going because I’m not on the (NHRA national event) tour now and I’ve got more time and the conversation just snowballed and here I am.

“I obviously believe in the deal if I ran my own kids through the system. The program is very methodical but still personal. When you put the kids in the car, you’ve got one instructor and three students, so they’re getting taught one-on-one almost.”

Even though he’s been driving for nearly 40 years, Dixon, 52, readily admits with a chuckle, “I’ve even learned things from the program already, which shows you’re never too old to learn.”

In a more serious vein, Dixon said from his perspective as both an instructor and a parent of two of the program’s graduates is how parents are so vital to the program’s impact.

“It’s mandatory that when you’re running a student through the program that at least one parent or guardian is also there, so the message you’re teaching the teens, you have to rely on the parent to not only be on the same page as what we’re teaching, but to also drive that message home for the rest of their lives.”

Dixon isn’t teaching students to drive 330 mph or to become aspiring drag racers. On the contrary. Dixon is right at home giving instructions on how students can avoid incidents or accidents on streets and highways at speeds typically between 30 and 50 mph.

“It’s more impactful as far as your legacy,” Dixon said of his motivation to teach. “Obviously, I’ve won a lot of races, but what I have to show for those wins are trophies but they’re in the basement, and if you don’t dust them, they get dusty.

“What I’m doing with B.R.A.K.E.S., you’re making a difference for people hopefully for the rest of their lives, and that’s bigger. I remember when I first got my own racing license. The first day I had my license, I was a race car driver but I wasn’t a great race car driver right away, I just had a license. It took a lot of years and a lot of runs and laps down the racetrack to be able to be good.

“It’s the same thing with a driver’s license. You go through the driver’s education course and such and they hand you your license, but that doesn’t make you a great driver. It takes a lot of road time to be able to get that experience. And the great thing about this course is you’re trying to ramp up that experience and put the teens in situations ahead of time so that when they’re in the real world, they’ll know how to react to them.

Larry Dixon is interviewed recently during his debut as a driving instructor for B.R.A.K.E.S. Photo courtesy B.R.A.K.E.S.

“These cars nowadays have so many safety features on them, but they don’t get taught. When you go through a basic driver’s education course, they don’t teach you that you can slam on the brakes and if you have an ABS (anti-lock) brake system, let alone how to use it, so that’s part of what we’re running the kids through. It lets them speed up and then slam on the brakes and feeling what ABS does and that a car isn’t going to spin out or flip over like you might see in a ‘Fast and Furious’ movie. Most people don’t know what you can do with a car and how great cars will take care of you as long as they use the tools you’re supplied with.”

Dixon has already taught three different classes in the last month, with five more sessions scheduled primarily in the Midwest in the coming months. You can immediately hear the passion and self-satisfaction he’s getting from being a teacher.

“I really do enjoy it,” Dixon said. “You get to see the difference you can make in someone’s lives. When you get them on a skid course and they’re learning how to get out of a spin or slide, they’re having fun but also learning a valuable lesson.

“After they’ve taken the course, they have a bounce in their step and know and understand cars better and have a good time doing it. That’s what Doug has done, out of his tragedy, he’s really making a difference in other people’s lives. We’re not trying to turn the kids into Mario Andretti or anything like that … just to be better and safer drivers.”

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