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NHRA Kicks Off 2012 At Pomona This Weekend

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, February 9 2012

Antron Brown's Don Schumacher Racing crew could do a whole lot of celebrating during the upcoming season.(RacinToday/HHP file photo by Christa L Thomas)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

The 2012 NHRA Full Thottle Drag Racing Series season gets under way today with the start of the 52nd annual O’Reilly Auto Parts Winternationals in Pomona, Calif.

New faces have arrived, old faces have disappeared and other old faces have re-appeared. The most diverse series in all of auto racing will become more diverse.

The schedule has been reshuffled.

The following is a list of people, places and things to keep an eye on during the 2012 NHRA season:

People

To start, here is a handicapping the top drivers in each pro category.

Top Fuel:

1. Antron Brown. He had six victories and went 50-16 in eliminations for Don Schumacher Racing in 2011. He has won events in all four of his Top Fuel seasons. This is his year to win the championship and put DSR back on top.

2. Spencer Massey. He barely missed winning the championship a year ago. He had four victories and went 45-17 in elimination rounds. He led the class in holeshot wins and RT average. He was class’s top rookie in 2009.

3. Tony Schumacher. The Sarge makes it a DSR sweep. He went winless last year but the seven-time

Tony Schumacher will recover from disappointing 2011 season. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

champ will have none of that this season.  He has sounded angry during off-season press conferences and that could be a good thing.

Others to watch: Shawn Langdon and newcomer Khalid alBalooshi will be in the Al-Anabi dragsters which won the last two championships with Larry Dixon and Del Worsham driving. Brandon Bernstein has moved to Morgan Lucas and could surprise. Popular Cory McClenathan will be a more frequent visitor to national event starting lines.

Funny Car:

1. Robert Hight. Always a threat, Hight won five events for John Force Racing last year and has 23 for his career. The 2009 series champion will lead a re-dedicated JFR bunch that did not enjoy being deprived of a place on the post-season podium last year.

2. Ron Capps. The Don Schumacher Racing driver regained the form that made him the fourth-winningest flopper driver in history last season. He came on strong at end of 2011 with Tim Richards moving in as tuner during the season.

3. Matt Hagan. A year after finishing a disappointing second to John Force, Hagan won the 2011 championship for DSR. That championship came in his third full season in the series. He produced a record 3.995-second run in Charlotte.

Others to watch: Mike Neff. Like JFR teammate Hight, Neff won five races last year. He led the class in

Robert Hight headed back to the top? (File photo courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series)

final-round appearances and round wins all while serving as his own serving as his own crew chief. Somehow, he finished fifth in points. Jack Beckman had his best-ever season, finishing second a year ago. John Force squeezed just one victory out of the 2011 season after winning the championship in dramatic fashion in 2010. Cruz Pedregon carries the banner for the little guys. Courtney Force and Alexis DeJoria move into full-time rides.

Pro Stock:

1. Greg Anderson. The former winner of the prestigious Driver of The Year award won five times last year for Ken Black’s team. That gave the four-time champion an amazing 70 for his career. He also won his second straight K&N Horsepower Challenge. About the only thing he did not win was the championship.

2. Jason Line. The 2011 champion was top-qualifier seven times last year. Anderson’s teammate left Charlotte after the first race of the Countdown with the points lead and never surrendered it. He clinched at Las Vegas. Line is the E.T. record-holder (6.477 seconds).

3. Mike Edwards. The winner of the class championship in 2009, Edwards finished second to Line a year ago. He had four victories. In 2010, he won eight races. The guy can win poles and races.

Others to watch: Young Vincent Nobile, who was a genuine phenom in 2011, has become a people’s choice-type performer. Erica Enders became a genuine threat in 2011, winning 28 rounds. Jeg Coughlin Jr, who has won four championships, returns to to the track after taking last season off. Greg Stanfield won an NHRA-best eight times on holeshots in 2011.

Pro Stock Motorcycles:

1. Eddie Krawiec. The defending champion was incredible in the Countdown a year ago when he went 16-

Eddie Kraweic won a Wally and the big check at Pomona last year.

4 in eliminations. He set the NHRA speed record of 199.26 mph on his Harley at the Gatornationals a year ago and was a four-time event winner.

2. Andrew Hines. The man on the famous Vance & Hines Harley had two victories in 2011 and finished third. Hines, Krawiec’s teammate, is a three-time champion and a perennial top-five in points guy.

3. LE Tonglet. Tonglet rode his Nitro Fish Suzuki to four victories in 2011. That gave the 2010 champion nine victories in two seasons.

Others to watch: Hector Arana Jr. was a major story in 2011 as he won three races, including the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. He finished second in points. Karen Stoffer had five final-round appearances in 2011 and clocked a 198 mph run in Gainesville. Matt Smith finished fourth in 2011, giving him a sixth-straight season of finishing in the top 10 in points.

Places

– The St. Louis area returns to the schedule for the inaugural running of the NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park. It returns as a Countdown race, as well.

– Heartland Park Topeka’s annual event has picked up a sponsor in Dollar General.

– Firebird International Raceway’s event moves from the Countdown portion of the schedule back to its more traditional spot of second on the schedule.

– zMAX Dragway in Charlotte will once again send them off four at a time in its April race weekend.

– The Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. What more needs to be said?

Things

– Top Fuel canopies look to find their way onto tracks. Don Schumacher Racing tested them during spring testing at West Palm Beach. The NHRA is currently going through its review of the pieces – which are designed to protect the driver but could also have an effect on performance.

– John Force Racing dragsters. The team has been testing them and may put them onto the track this season. At the wheel could be middle daughter Brittany Force.

– New starter. Long-time tree-lighter Rick Stewart retired after the 2011 season. He will be replaced at the starting line by Mark Lyle this year.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, February 9 2012
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