NHRA: Not exactly off to a Full Throttle start, but not exactly lacking storylines, either

The first  two days of the season-opening Kragen O’Reilly NHRA Winternationals at Pomona weren’t exactly run at full throttle. New series presenting sponsor Full Throttle Energy Drink must see the irony: “Go Full Throttle or Go Home,” which pretty much summed up the fan experience as the rain poured on Pomona. There was no throttling, and everyone went home wet. That is, if they came out to the track at all.

But you had to like the drama Saturday in the first day of on-track activities. Although Antron Brown at first appeared to run the fastest 1,000-foot time in history, the story of the day was Larry Dixon’s failure to qualify in the debut of the Alan Johnson Al-Anabi Racing dragster.  With the team behind him that helped Tony Schumacher win his fifth consecutive title a year ago, Dixon’s debut was nothing short of disastrous, a full-throttle flameout. Lined up against Schumacher in the last pair of the day under threatening skies, Dixon encountered problems and coasted to the finish. He wasn’t going full throttle, and you can pretty much figure out what that meant.

For the record, he was 18th out of 18 drivers.

But credit Schumacher with his sincere disappointment that Dixon didn’t make the field. It’s all about beating the best, and Schumacher — who has been the best for the last half-decade and is the winningest driver in the class — wanted his much anticipated rivalry with the third-winningest driver in Top Fuel history to get off to a fitting start.

It won’t. He will have to settle for Brown, the likable former Pro Stock Motorcycle champion who used to race in Schumacher’s Army colors for Don Schumacher Racing. For Brown, it was a start that hardly alluded to a sophomore slump. Talk about a bang.

The John Force Funny Car contingent was strong with a vengeance as Robert Hight, Ashley  Force Hood and John Force qualified 1-3-4 on their only qualifying attempt of the weekend, and Del Worsham was solid at No. 2 in Johnson’s debut as a Funny Car owner. Tony Pedregon wasn’t a disappointment, either, despite no off-season testing for the 2007 champion; he was sixth.

Tim Wilkerson failed to make the 16-car field, which meant the two second-place finishers in the Nitro classes from last season, Dixon and Wilkerson, were DNQ in the season opener.

This is why NASCAR has its  Top 35 rule, and also why drag racing is special. You perform, or you go home.

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