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Nur Ali Has Come A Long Way In Racing

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, April 16 2010

Nur Ali will get his first ARCA start tonight at his home track of Texas Motor Speedway (Photo courtesy ARCA)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Fort Worth, Texas – When Barkat and Farida Ali touched-down with their family at DFW Airport in 1983, son Nur already was fluent in German, Urdu and Hindi.

That won’t get an 8-year-old boy very far on the streets of Fort Worth, the city that proudly proclaims it is “Where the West Begins.” They talk Texan here, y’all. But 27 years later – and in eloquent command of the English language – Nur Ali will realize a version of his American Dream Friday evening at Texas Motor Speedway.

Ali will make his ARCA Racing Series debut in the Rattlesnake 150, the launch of his plan to become the first Asian-American driver to compete full time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. It’s an ambitious undertaking considering that Ali is 35 – an age at which most Cup drivers are reaching their prime – and his sponsorship here is limited to regional companies.

Then again, the Ali family already has faced and overcome bigger obstacles to success during their circuitous journey from their native Pakistan to Cowtown.

“When my father landed at DFW Airport in 1983, he didn’t know what the heck he was going to do,” said Ali, driver of the No. 10 Budweiser/Tara Energy Chevrolet fielded by Canadian owner/driver Mario Gosselin. “My father was in the clothing and the carpet business and got into the convenience store business back in ’83. And here we are as a family living ‘The American Dream.’ Started with nothing and he’s given me and my brother everything we wanted.”

Nur’s brother, Amar, was 5-years-old on the day the family deplaned in Texas. “I remember this really well,” Nur Ali said. “We were flying in from Germany on Lufthansa and we only spoke Urdu, which is the official language of Pakistan, and German. Didn’t know a single lick of English. We went to Eastern Hills Elementary School in Fort Worth, and six months later we were fluent in English. So we’ve been very fortunate. It’s very humbling.”

Like many immigrants, Ali’s parents made sure their sons took advantage of the educational opportunities available in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and beyond. Nur graduated from Trinity High School in nearby Euless and went on to American University in Washington, D.C. He was graduated from AU in 1998 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Relations, focusing on U.S. Foreign Policy…and domestic motorsports.

Beginning with a three-day program at the Skip Barber Racing School, Nur began an open-wheel career that included stints in the Skip Barber Formula Dodge Southern Series, the Star Mazda Series Southwest Championship, Lone Star Legends Series at TMS and the A1GP World Cup of Motorsport. Interspersed were tests in Indy Lights, the British F3 Series and finally ARCA, where he made his stock-car debut in 2008 at Daytona International Speedway.

“But I’ve always wanted to be in NASCAR,” said Ali, who participated in a one-day open ARCA test on the 1.5-mile quadoval here in March. “I’ve grown up in Texas the last 27 years, so Fort Worth is home. I’m very excited the ARCA Series is going to be participating in Texas during the NASCAR weekend.”

Rain forced cancellation of pole qualifying on Thursday afternoon, meaning the 38-car field for today’s scheduled 100-lapper was set by 2009 owner points. Nur is gridded 27th for what will be his fifth start in the developmental series.

“I’m disappointed that qualifying was rained-out,” said Ali, who will be making his first start of the season. “We have a fantastic car and didn’t get to show it. The car was comfortable in practice and should be solid (today). I want to do well not only because this is my hometown but also because I will have more than 1,000 guests in the stands cheering me on.

“I missed Daytona this year due to funding, unfortunately. We did Daytona last year and the year before and I’m kind of bummed out that we didn’t get to do it this year. But we’ll see what happens. I’m working on a couple of other events right now, including Chicago (Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill). There’s a big Asian-American community in Chicago and they’re trying to get some funding together so I can run Chicago again this year. I’m hoping that we can get more funding together possibly to do Talladega and Kansas and a couple of other major markets.”

Ali’s current sponsors are all located in Texas – Fort Worth-based Ben E. Keith Co. (Budweiser), Houston-based Tara Energy and Dallas-based A to Z Wholesale. “My current sponsors are fantastic and without them I would not have made it this far,”  Ali said, “but they are regional companies and not capable of moving up to the national stage.”

Ali is not the first Asian-American driver to generate motorsports headlines this season. Narain Karthikeyan, a native of India, made his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut on March 27 in the Kroger 250 at Martinsville Speedway. Karthikeyan (pronounced NA-rain kar-thee-KAY-un) started 11th and finished 13th in the No. 60 Safe Auto Insurance/Wyler.com Chevrolet fielded by Starbeast Motorsports founder Miguel Abaroa. Starbeast Motorsports is focused on bringing NASCAR to the international community through foreign drivers, with Karthikeyan the designated poster boy for India.

Similar to Ali, Karthikeyan previously tested an ARCA car at Daytona in December, and brings 22 seasons of experience in open-wheel racing to NASCAR, including Formula One and the Le Mans Series.

Gosselin, who finished ninth in the Kroger 250, will serve as Ali’s crew chief here.  “Nur tested with us and we were very happy with his performance,” said Gosselin, who shares ownership of DGM Racing with wife Michelle. “He’s professional, gives great feedback and most importantly (is) very fast.” DGM Racing has run in ARCA since 1999, posting two poles, four victories and multiple top-10s. Gosselin, nicknamed “Super Mario,” is running a select number of Truck Series events in the No. 12 Chevrolet.

Ali, who has raced in 12 countries, has rubbed shoulders with a number of Pakistani officials, including President General Pervez Musharraf. In turn, Ali is co-founder of the Motorsport Association of Pakistan, a non-profit organization responsible for governing the sport there.

While his nationality offers a unique background to prospective sponsors, Ali is aware it also can be a potential turnoff.  “It’s gone both ways,” said Ali, who spent the first eight years of his life in Germany. “I think there’s some sponsors that haven’t come on-board because of possibly what my background is, which I don’t think should be an issue. I’m an American. We all come from somewhere. I love this country. It’s given me everything that I’ve gotten thus far, along with my family.

“And then the other angle, looking at it as a Pakistani or an Asian-American, minorities are the fastest growing segment in the United States _ whether it’s Asian-Americans, African-Americans, Latino- Americans. If there are corporate sponsors out there that would give us an opportunity represent them, we could do a lot for them. It’s just that sometimes when I go into a board meeting trying to explain it to these corporations they understand it…’Yes, yes, yes and we’re excited’…but then they come back with a no answer. Whatever their reasons are.”

None of that has dampened Ali’s outlook for this weekend. “When I found out late November that the ARCA Series was going to be at Texas, coming back for the first time since 1998, my family and I were just ecstatic,” Ali said. “I mean, I live just a few minutes down the road, just outside downtown. Raced here several times in the Star Mazda Series but now being able to run in a stock car during NASCAR weekend is going to be very exciting.”

Ali’s long-term career goal now is fully stock-car oriented. “The game plan, of course, depending on where we stand with the funding, with the sponsorship, is to run at least a year to two years full time in the ARCA Series,” Ali said. “It is a stepping stone like any other series out there. But I think it’s a great series. They’ve been very supportive of what I’ve been doing.”

Ali still lists his father as his hero. Barkat Ali began supporting his family here when he purchased a convenience store located at Rosedale and Miller in Fort Worth. “He ended up with 52 stores,” Nur Ali said. “In 1983, when my dad decided to move to the United States, the European economy was going downhill. Germany, he lived there about 15 years. He did whatever he had to do, but he looked at the United States…the economy was booming at that time. And the English language is an international language. My parents were worried that if we (he and his brother) don’t learn English we may not be successful because the whole world is connected and English is the way to go.”

Nur’s story and engaging personality have won him countless admirers as a motivational speaker in the Metroplex. In fact, the City of Southlake proclaimed Jan. 25, 2008 as Nur Ali Day. Ali now wants to make 2010 his breakout year.

“You know what, my father always taught me never to give up. Stay at it,” Ali said. “When my father came to Germany back in 1969, he didn’t have a single dollar in his pocket. He was basically homeless when he left Pakistan at the age of 18. Came to this country with just a few dollars. Now he’s a successful businessman. My younger brother is a lawyer. So we’ve gone after our dreams because this country has given us all these opportunities.

“We’re just going to keep at it and something will come about. I mean, I love racing. I love this country and it’s just a matter of time, I think. I just got to stay positive.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, April 16 2010
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