Teams ready to make a move during Western Swing; first challenge: Denver
Thursday, July 12, 2012
The traditional three-week NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series Western Swing kicks off at scenic Bandimere Speedway with the 33rd annual Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals, July 20-22. The 13th of 23 events in the 2012 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series marks the middle of the season and one of the final regular-season races where NHRA teams can race hard to qualify for the Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship. Drivers in all four categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock, and Pro Stock Motorcycle – will race on Thunder Mountain.
Last year at Bandimere, John Force won his first Funny Car race of the season and the 133rd of his career on Matt Hagan’s final-round foul. Spencer Massey raced to his third victory of the year in Top Fuel, as did Mike Edwards in Pro Stock. Karen Stoffer ended a four-year winless drought in Pro Stock Motorcycle by speeding to her sixth victory on her GEICO Suzuki.
This year, fans will get to cheer for some of this season’s top contenders, including Top Fuel notables Tony “the Sarge” Schumacher, points leader and defending race winner Massey, and the surging Antron Brown, and veteran Funny Car drivers Ron Capps and Robert Hight will share the track with rookie superstars Alexis DeJoria and Courtney Force. In Pro Stock, Greg Anderson, Jason Line, and three-time Denver winner Allen Johnson will be trying to push their way to the winner’s circle. In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson teammates Eddie Krawiec and Andrew Hines are focused on keeping their stronghold on the two-wheel competition in check as the two have won all six bike races this season with three wins apiece.
To kick off the three-week Western Swing, the NHRA Full Throttle teams will travel deep into the Rocky Mountains to an elevation of more than 5,800 feet, where the altitude affects everything from engine tune-ups to aerodynamics. Crews must adapt their setups to power-making combinations and battle the lack of downforce to tackle the unique racing environment. The event is a testament to the skill and adaptability of the racers and teams.
Teams also must take advantage of the hectic pace of the three-races-in-three-weeks opportunity. Those who do will see an increase in their points position as the NHRA regular season winds to a close. Those who struggle to deal with the adversity presented to them during the grueling stretch could wind up several spots down in the standings when all is said and done.
Two Top Fuel drivers – Al-Anabi Racing’s Shawn Langdon and Khalid alBalooshi – are looking forward to making an improvement during the Swing. Langdon is seventh in points and still looking for his first race victory. His teammate, who has only 88 passes in Top Fuel competition under his belt, is working hard to try to secure his first round-win and jump into the top 10 so he can qualify for the Countdown.
Al-Anabi teammates Khalid alBalooshi, left, and Shawn Langdon
“Everyone’s got high hopes about what’s going on with the Al-Anabi team, and everyone’s looking forward to the upcoming races,” Langdon said. “Usually, the summer months are pretty hard on the crew guys because of the heat and all the travel, but when the car’s running well, it makes it all worth it.”
He has finished in the semi's three times this season, including recently at the Chicago event. He says the team can feel a shift in momentum coming and hopes to break through on the Western Swing and improve on its seventh-place spot in the top 10.
“The Al-Anabi car’s been running well at these hotter-weather tracks,” Langdon said. “With the different things we’ve been trying this year, it’s just taken us a little longer to get adjusted and acclimated to the different things we’ve been doing.”
Langdon’s last four losses have been by the tiniest of margins to some of the most experienced drivers in the 7,000-horsepower category.
“We all know our first win of the year is coming real soon,” Langdon said. “We just need a little bit of race-day luck.”
Meanwhile, his rookie teammate has struggled to find his footing in what many are calling the most competitive Top Fuel season in NHRA history. The former NHRA Pro Mod champ hasn’t won a round of eliminations in 12 races. Sitting 13th in the standings, 116 points behind 10th-place drivers Clay Millican and Bob Vandergriff Jr., alBalooshi is hoping to change that trend during the Western Swing.
“Our luck has to change one day,” alBalooshi said. “It is hard, but we have to stay positive. Everyone on the Al-Anabi crew is doing his job, but it is hard on them, too. We all know that one day, our luck will change, and we will win some rounds. Until then, we keep working.”
In addition to the racing action, a host of activities will be held in celebration of the 33rd annual Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals. On Thursday, July 19, fans are invited to attend the tradition-rich Mopar Block Party in downtown Golden, Colo., from 6 to 11 p.m., featuring a live band, car displays, and a driver autograph session. There’s also the Go Red for Women Track Walk on Saturday prior to racing at 8:30 a.m. to bring awareness to heart disease (www.goredforwomen.org). This memorable event gives fans the chance to walk the same track where NHRA drivers race at speeds of 300 mph with them. The experience is free for all Saturday ticket holders.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet.
* SCHEDULE: NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series qualifying sessions are scheduled for 4:45 and 7:15 p.m. on Friday, July 20, and will continue at 12:45 and 3:15 p.m. on Saturday, July 21. Final Professional eliminations will begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, July 22.
* TICKETS: For tickets, call 800-664-UWIN (8946) or log on to www.ticketreturn.com.
* TELEVISION: ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise qualifying at 5 p.m. ET on Saturday, July 21. On Sunday, July 22, ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise eliminations coverage at 7 p.m. ET.