SONOMA — His Excellency Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad Al Thani came to Sonoma Raceway dressed casually on Friday: black, jersey-style polo shirt (decorated with the number 3, the word “Qatar” and a representation of the Qatari flag), blue jeans, sandals and sunglasses. He is, after all, just 26 years old.
Sheikh Khalid had no entourage at Sonoma Nationals qualifying. He would have been nearly invisible were it not for his high-profile friends. Legendary NHRA team owner Don Schumacher came over to pay his respects and joke with the Qatari prince. Driver/owner John Force did the same, and a little later returned to introduce his daughter, Funny Car driver and pin-up glamor girl Courtney Force.
In his fifth year as an NHRA team owner, Sheikh Khalid is part of drag racing's inner circle. And yet his team, Al-Anabi Racing, remains a bit exotic. Most Top Fuel dragsters are emblazoned with names like Matco Tools and Lucas Oil. The cars driven by Shawn Langdon and Khalid alBalooshi have “Qatar” painted across their rear wings.
“We must be the only team to offer eight different types of tea in the garage area,” said Rob Goodman, the organization's director of media relations.
Growing up in a nation whose sporting passions tend to lean toward thoroughbred racing and soccer — Qatar will host the 2022 World Cup — Sheikh Khalid became obsessed with motorsports at a young age. He sponsored teams and even drove some Pro Modified cars here.
“Till his dad told him he couldn't do that anymore,” said Alan Johnson, who serves as Al-Anabi team manager and has been instrumental in its growth.
The father, former Qatari emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, handed control of the nation to his son, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, in June, a rare Middle Eastern transfer of power that didn't involve a death or a coup. That move basically left younger son Sheikh Khalid, the Al-Anabi owner, as first in line to the throne.