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Racing’s back! The NHRA season kicks off at Pomona

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Jack Beckman was the top Funny Car qualifier Thursday at Pomona (AP)

Yeah, the Daytona 500 is still two weeks away, and the Budweiser Shootout is next weekend, but the 2012 American racing season kicks off this weekend with the NHRA season opener at Pomona.

However, Larry Dixon, the 2010 Top Fuel champion and Del Worsham, the 2011 Top Fuel winner, isn't there. Dixon parted ways with Al-Anabi Racing at the end of 2011 and Worsham, who also drove for Al-Anabi Racing, retired from driving. Al-Anabi's two 2012 drivers will be Shawn Langdon and  Khalid al Balooshi, who is making his Top Fuel debut.

Other things to watch:

Can Tony Schumacher get back to victory lane? The seven-time champion was winless in 2011. He and teammate Antron Brown will be viewed by many as the title favorites after the departures of Dixon and Worsham.

How will Courtney Force do? John Force's middle daughter jumps into one of his Funny Cars for a full-season run. Will she follow (or surpass) sister Ashley Force Hood and reach a final round in her first Funny Car season? And can dad make another title run?

Will Erica Enders get a tournament win? Enders was oh-so-close in the extremely competitive Pro Stock division in 2011, reaching three final rounds and getting two pole positions. Just how close was the field in Pro Stock? In last year's final event, the field was separated by .077 in qualifying.

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