By Laura Fawaz
TMO Contributing Reporter
Detroit, MI–Nur Ali is the first Muslim and Pakistani American to become a professional racing driver. Last week he completed Red Bull’s Global Rally Cross at Belle Isle in Detroit.
“When you’re a kid you want to be a football player, a baseball player, a racecar driver, so my parents thought it was just a phase … but it wasn’t a phase,” Ali said.
The 2015 Red Bull GRC is the first time Ali has done rally-style racing. With that being only his 5th race, the dirt section was all new to him, though you wouldn’t have known it because his came in 3rd place on his first race. Earlier this year, his manager put a program together with Valvoline and Tweaker Energy shots, and rallied to get a program together. “Here we are, having fun under pressure,” Ali said.
Before this, he raced A1C for team Pakistan. “By default I became their driver because there is no other driver in the world that has a racing license, so I got the call, and by default, they said that if you don’t drive for us there’s no A1C Pakistan, Pakistan will not be able to participate … I felt a lot of pressure. So I said, ‘ok, let’s do it’,” explained Ali.
After that he came back to the states and focused again on NASCAR style racing.
Born in Karachi, Pakistan, Ali and his family moved to Germany when he was just a few months old. He loved tagging along with his dad when driving on the autobahn, the interstate system in Germany where there is no speed limits. This led him to watch the Formula One Races on TV, which only intensified his interest into racing. He and his family moved to the States and settled in Texas in the mid 90s.
Ali’s start was at the grassroots level. “When we started I didn’t know anything about racing, nothing. Being the first Pakistani American, the first Muslim American, I couldn’t pick up the phone and call another Muslim American or Pakistani American to ask them ‘hey, how did you get started, what’s the road map’,” said Ali.
Nevertheless, he cites his parents as being supportive the whole way. Their only requirement was that he first went to a university and got a degree. By that time, they were all living in America. While in school though, his passion only continued as he got into watching NASCAR. His parents noticed this passion increase and after his University years, he wanted to start racing professionally, but he and his family didn’t know anything on how to get started. “I went to racing school, got certified, came back home, and now what? I had a regional license to go racing. I didn’t get a lot of coaching, I got a license, I was just certified and passed a class,” said Ali.
He noticed a lot of other drivers who had coaches and a lot of people around them helping and training. According to Ali, he was the only one that showed up by himself, without a team, didn’t really know what he was doing, but still knew that he had the passion for it. So Ali came back home, and his dad asked what he wanted to do next, and Ali said, go race, as he wanted to start building his racing resume. So his dad put up some money, and he gave it a try.
Ali did his first season in the Skip Barber Southern Race series, which was in Florida and Georgia. “I finished somewhere in the middle of the back of the pack that season. There was a lot of other drivers who had more experience, and driver’s coachers, and sponsorships and stuff,” explained Ali. “I had no money, I was very limited, but I had the passion. Long story short on that, we bumped in a littler more money, we bought ourselves our own racecars, I got myself my own team, a truck and a trailer, and just started and learned grass roots racing.”
According to Ali, it all started to come together like a puzzle around 1999 to 2001, and a big part of that was getting their first sponsorship. “Nothing big but it got us going. It put more legitimacy in our program; it gave me confidence as a human being,” said Ali.
This was still the early years of his racing career at the time, but Ali knew he was blessed. He was grateful to have his education and supportive parents. He knew that his parent’s could have easily not helped him reach and dream, and instead push him for the typical route within the culture of becoming a doctor or an engineer. “They didn’t say, ‘no one has raced before in our community, what is this?’ They didn’t do any of that, they were very supportive. So I kept on moving forward. With the Lord’s blessings, I kept on picking up more sponsorships, and started driving different kinds of cars, and started racing internationally,” said Ali.