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Pressure Eases As Al-Anabi Cars Make Field

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, February 12 2012

Khalid alBalooshi drove his way into Sunday's eliminations in his first Top Fuel show. (File photo courtesy of Al-Anabi Racing)

A lot of eyes have been on the Al-Anabi RacingvTop Fuel cars this weekend at the NHRA season-opening Winternationals, and for a lot of reasons.

What those eyes saw on Saturday was just one round of qualifying (the second was cancelled by rain) but enough speed to qualify for Sunday’s eliminations on the part of both of the team’s new drivers.

Dubai, UAE native Khalid alBalooshi recorded his best pass of the weekend Saturday when he recorded a 3.838 second pass at 321.42 mph. He is the No. 7 qualifier, and he will race the No. 10 qualifier, Clay Millican in Sunday’s first round of eliminations.

“The run today was good; I am happy with what the car is doing,” alBalooshi, who is in the seat of retired 2012 champion Del Worsham, said. “The car is good; the run today was one of the fastest so far. I hope tomorrow will be a better day. I am excited about tomorrow.”

Shawn Langdon, who is in the seat vacated over the off season by 2011 champion Larry Dixon, also made his best run of the weekend Saturday with a pass of 3.841 seconds at 318.84 mph. Langdon will race No. 9 qualifier Steve Torrence in the first round of eliminations.

Langdon said, “We made our best run of the weekend today, but it still wasn’t what they expected. After the run, they looked over the Al-Anabi car and feel like they found a couple of things which is all I need to hear. They said it’s handled and the car will be good; I trust them 100 percent. It’s the first race of the year, and everyone on the Al-Anabi Racing Team is ready to get the season started, and let’s go racing.”

Robert Hight’s high expectations for 2012 were stuck in low gear when he got out of bed on Saturday morning. The forecast was for rain and Hight had not run well enough in the first two rounds of qualifying to make the Funny Car field.

But the rain held off and Hight not only made a pass that was fast enough to put him the show, but it also was good enough to give him the pole for the first race of the season.

Hight and his John Force Racing Auto Club Ford Mustang Funny Car made a 4.06 second pass and Hight claimed his 40th No. 1 qualifier and third in four seasons at the Winternationals.

“It is amazing how things can change so fast,” Hight said. “Don Garlits said it best; you are only as good as your last run. We came into today not qualified and we ended up going to the No. 1 spot. We lost a run the first session here it broke the blower drive shaft. Everyone has been telling me at least it didn’t happen on Sunday. I look at it that why couldn’t it have happened on the last run of testing when it really didn’t matter,” said Hight. “We put that behind us. It was weak the next run. We had big, big decisions today. The temperature dropped and the track got even better. We have to really get after this thing so it doesn’t shake. When you do that you risk smoking the tires.

“It was funny this morning I told John (Force) I would be happy with a 4.05. He looked at me like I had two heads. No one had even come close to that but that was the only way we were going to make it down the track. I would have liked to have gotten another run out there tonight. Jimmy looked at the run and he thinks we could have run better.”

Taking a step backward on Saturday was five-time Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher.

After banking an impressive 3.837-second run at 321.42 mph on Friday, Schumacher had his U.S. Army Top Fuel dragster lose traction during Saturday’s pass and he dropped from second to sixth in the race-day order.

The Chicago-area resident will square off with 11th-place qualifier Doug Kalitta in the opening round of final eliminations.

“We just missed it today and got knocked down a few positions,” said Schumacher. “But, we’re going to be just fine. I’m very confident we’re going to start the season with a positive result. The U.S. Army team is ready to rock.”

When Schumacher rolls up to the starting line against Kalitta, it will be a meeting of rivals from years past. It was at the 2006 season finale when Schumacher wiped out Kalitta’s world title bid with a record-setting performance in the final round.

“For sure, we’ve had some serious battles the last few seasons,” said Schumacher. “He’s still a great driver with a terrific team. We will have to bring our ‘A’ game if we are going to advance.”

In the 2012 season opener, Schumacher will be looking to end a 23-race winless streak which dates back to the 2010 fall Las Vegas event.

“To be honest, I’m tired of hearing about that,” said Schumacher. “It’s a new season and we’re all starting from scratch and with a clean slate.”

A lot of people think this could be the season that Erica Enders takes the next step in her Pro Stock career by becoming an event-winner.

Thanks to a good pass on Saturday, Enders kept hopes alive that that first victory will come at Pomona.

Enders qualified 13th with a clutch performance in the third qualifying session. Her Chevrolet Cobalt made a pass of 6.597 seconds at 209.43 mph after failing to get down the track in Q1 and Q2.

“By no means have we shown the cards we’ve got,” Enders said. “Hopefully, that’s an advantage for tomorrow. We’ve got the best guys working for us. I’ve got all the faith in the world that everything will be OK for tomorrow.”

Enders carried a lot of confidence into the 2012 season, especially after an excellent test session in Bradenton, Fla.

“My chin is still up, and expectations are still high,” Enders said. “Our glass is still half-full. We will prevail.”

Enders came into Saturday not qualified after failing to complete a run under power in the first two qualifying sessions.

“We didn’t get down two of the runs,” Enders said. “This morning’s run was crucial. We were conservative in order to get from A to B. That’s why we’re sitting where we’re sitting.”

But Enders and crew chief Dave Connolly worked on a setup that got Enders in the race.

“Not exactly the start we were hoping for, especially coming off such a tremendous week-long test in Florida,” Enders said. “But the good thing is we’re in the show – lucky No. 13 – and it could be worse. There are two really talented people sitting on the outside who should be in the field, Steve Kent and Warren Johnson.

“Pomona’s been weird the last few years. Mike Edwards didn’t qualify here last year, so weirder things have happened, I suppose. We’ll be ready for tomorrow, that’s for sure.”

Enders faces Allen Johnson, who qualified No. 4 with a run of 6.548 seconds at 211.39 mph, in the first round of eliminations Sunday.

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, February 12 2012
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