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Life in the fast lane: Baltimore County teen overcomes obstacles to become aspiring motorsports star

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Posted at 6:04 PM, May 05, 2022

BALTIMORE COUNTY, Md. — Jalen Dhanoolal is energetic, ready to take on any task.

Aside from that, he’s an all-around athlete.

“He's got a goal when he comes in and we accomplish that goal,” his trainer Marcus Anderson told WMAR-2 News.

Jalen Dhanoolal’s goal is being behind the wheel as a professional race car driver.

But his success doesn’t come without overcoming obstacles.

He was diagnosed with autism at a young age, and he is competing in a sport where there aren’t many Black drivers.

"I could see it as young as 3 or 4 years old, from the hot wheels to the little, he never really wanted two-wheel action or to ride a bike,” his mother Latresa Dhanoolal said. “He's always been fascinated with speed."

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Jalen Dhanoolal

For the past 12 years, his passion has led to him winning hundreds of races.

Now, at 19 years old, the Baltimore County native is kicking his dream into high gear from go carts to race cars.

"You get the adrenaline rush when you're going wheel to wheel with somebody because that's where the real adrenalin come in because when you are battling someone on the track, your instincts are like, I need to stay ahead of this person before he beats me through the next corner,” Jalen said.

And with every corner, there's always the threat of a dangerous crash -- something Jalen's mom Latresa worries about.

"Terrifying, terrifying because I know how dangerous it is,” Latresa said. “Driving and racing to me is a highlighted form of driving.”

"We always make sure the car is set up to my driving style, and when it's go time. I put my head sock on first, zip up my suit, put my helmet on and then I have to put on my neck brace,” Jalen added. “I climb on the seat, get in and as soon as I get that little tap on the back of my shoulder, then I start the engine and get ready to go."

Jalen goes full throttle on the track and in life, something his mom worried about when he was diagnosed as being on the Autism spectrum at 4 years old.

"He's managed to be very successful at what he does,” Latresa said. “It's phenomenal, mainly because he's been doing it for the better part of his life, and seeing him go through the stages from a young kid to young man, doing something that he loves and is passionate about, it's really rewarding as a parent."

Jalen also managed to overcome another challenge on the racetrack.

"It's often noticeable on the track there are not many people that look like him,” Latresa said.

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Jalen Dhanoolal

It was easy for Jalen to find someone like him to look up to. He set his sights on Black British race car driver Lewis Hamilton.

The Formula One driver has won seven World Championship titles, and he's also winning off the track by working to increase diversity in motorsports.

"He's gone through a lot of difficulties as a Black person that I can certainly relate to,” Jalen said. “He has the discipline and the motivation to keep racing and this year. I really hope that he can win his 8th world championship."

As his season opens, Jalen is looking ahead to the checkered flag.

"I want to win every race I can that's on my calendar but it won't be easy, but I'm determined to win as always,” Jalen said.

Jalen’s off to a winning start, taking home first place in his first race of the season on the Shenandoah track in Summit Point, West Virginia.

Jalen won't let obstacles get in his way because he's focused on staying in the fast lane.

He says not to let obstacles get in your way of achieving a goal.

"I would say never give up because you never know what's going to happen next,” Jalen said. “And the next thing I'd say is, if there's an opportunity to do something great, you have to take it.

“If you have a disability like me, I will say don't let it stop you, because everyone is special in their own way."