The 2012 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series is set to launch Feb. 9-12 in Pomona with the 52nd annual O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals presented by Super Start Batteries, and race fans heading to Auto Club Raceway at Pomona will get the first look at what promise to be interesting storylines: New drivers, new sponsors, new teams, and new rivalries will make the annual season opener a can’t-miss event.
For starters, the Winternationals, the first of 23 events in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series for 2012, will mark the Professional debuts of two new nitro-racing pilots on two high-profile teams: Khalid alBalooshi on the Al-Anabi Racing Top Fuel team and Courtney Force, 15-time champ John Force’s youngest daughter, who will enter the family business in 2012 as driver of the Traxxas Ford Mustang in the Funny Car class.
Courtney Force, daughter of 15-time NHRA champ John Force, will make her Funny Car debut in Pomona in her Traxxas Mustang.
alBalooshi, who won the 2011 NHRA Pro Mod Series world championship, will take over the reins of the Al-Anabi Racing team gold dragster that was wheeled to the championship last season by Del Worsham. alBalooshi, whose machine will be tuned by 2010 Top Fuel championship crew chief Jason McCulloch, licensed impressively with a series of 3.8-second runs during winter testing.
The 23-year-old Force also completed her licensing runs during the winter with 4.1-second clockings in her new Traxxas Mustang. Ron Douglas, who has worked on her father’s cars, and Scott Wible will tune the new entry. A winner in the Top Alcohol Dragster category in Seattle in 2009, the second-generation driver joins a team full of talented and experienced drivers to aid her progression, including her famous father, NHRA’s all-time win leader, and team drivers Robert Hight and Mike Neff.
alBalooshi and Force will be among the front-runners for the $20,000 Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award, which annually salutes the year’s top rookie racer, and they’ll be getting stiff competition from another first-year nitro pilot, Alexis DeJoria. DeJoria, daughter of Paul Mitchell Hair Care Systems and Patron Tequila owner John Paul DeJoria, competed impressively at the final four events of the 2011 campaign, allowing her to maintain her rookie eligibility and perhaps giving her a head start on her first-year peers. DeJoria’s new Tequila Patron Toyoya Camry will be tuned by Worsham, who is making his transition from the cockpit to the crew chief’s chair after announcing his retirement from driving after last year’s championship, and managed and operated by Kalitta Motorsports. Like Force, DeJoria has a recent Seattle Sportsman win under her belt, having won in the Top Alcohol Funny Car class last year shortly before her transition to nitro.
The Al-Anabi team’s second dragster also has a new wheelman in Shawn Langdon, who left Morgan Lucas Racing during the winter and takes the roster spot previously occupied by 2010 champ Larry Dixon. Brian Husen, who wrenched Worsham to the title last year, will be Langdon’s new crew chief. Langdon, a native of Mira Loma, Calif., who is still searching for his first Top Fuel victory, was runner-up at the Winternationals last season. In his four final rounds, he has one other runner-up finish in Pomona (2010 Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals). The pressure surely will be on the two new Al-Anabi pilots to match the successes of their predecessors the last two seasons.
Seven-time NHRA Full Throttle Top Fuel champ Tony Schumacher will be seeking to regain his crown after a frustrating and winless 2011 season.
The Al-Anabi duo is sure to feel the heat from the three-car Don Schumacher Racing Top Fuel operation, which includes seven-time former champ Tony Schumacher, perennial top 10 finisher Antron Brown, and former rookie of the year Spencer Massey, who finished second to Worsham in last year’s standings.
Schumacher will be eager to put 2011 in the past after the 67-time winner failed to score a victory during a season for the first time since 2001. The driver of the U.S. Army dragster advanced to seven final rounds and claimed six No. 1 qualifying positions but didn’t an event.
Brown made a strong run in the Countdown to the Championship as he pursued his first NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series world championship in his Matco Tools dragster. He finished the season third, and his six victories no doubt provide a ton of momentum heading into the 2012 campaign, in which Brown is expected to be one of the front-runners in the category again.
All eyes also will be on their DSR Funny Car teammate Matt Hagan as he begins his first title defense after winning last year’s dramatic Full Throttle championship battle. The Virginia cattle farmer and Aaron’s Dream Machine/Mopar Dodge Charger team will have their hands full this season as the number of teams that have committed to running a full season has increased this year, meaning that there will be no easy races for anyone.
In addition to trying to fend off his DSR teammate Jack Beckman, who finished second in the standings last year, Hagan will be battling against a determined team from John Force, anxious to get back the crown that the multi-car team has owned for much of the last two decades. Force himself may be the hungriest, but 2009 season champ Hight and tuner/driver Neff last year won a combined 10 of 22 events in their Ford Mustangs.
Pro Stock also will have its share of story lines, the most intriguing being the return of former Full Throttle champ Jeg Coughlin Jr., who sat out last season. The versatile second-generation driver returns to the factory hot rod wars with a new JEGS Dodge Avenger and a new engine program to take on the juggernaut KB Racing team of Jason Line and Greg Anderson, winners of the last two season championships. Line is the defending world champ, and Anderson claimed his fourth world championship crown with an inspired run to the title in 2010. The team has a successful record at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. Anderson has nine victories at the track, including four at the Winternationals, and Line is the defending Winternationals winner and won the event in 2009.
The highly anticipated season begins Feb. 9-12. For tickets, log on to www.NHRATix.com or call 800-884-NHRA (6472).