Eight NHRA rookie drivers, representative of all four NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series categories, are the eligible candidates for the 2012 Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award, it was announced this week by officials from NHRA and the Automobile Club of Southern California.
The award, which recognizes the top rookie competitor in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series and offers a $20,000 prize and traditional trophy to the winner, will be presented during NHRA’s annual championship awards ceremony on Monday, November 12, at the Hollywood and Highland Center in Los Angeles.
More than 150 of the nation’s leading auto racing journalists will select the winner through a voting system based on the following criteria: number of events participated, performance on and off the racetrack, participation in NHRA promotions, and relationships with fans, sponsors, and media.
The candidates for the prestigious award are, in alphabetical order: Khalid alBalooshi (Top Fuel), Blake Alexander (Funny Car), Alexis DeJoria (Funny Car), Courtney Force (Funny Car), John Hall (Pro Stock Motorcycle), Todd Lesenko (Funny Car), Chris McGaha (Pro Stock), and Scotty Pollacheck (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
alBalooshi, 45, a native of Doha, Qatar, who resides in Los Angeles, raced to his first Top Fuel victory at the Auto-Plus NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading in October. He qualified a season-best third in Norwalk in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster. With his win, he became only the third driver from outside North America to win a Full Throttle Series event.
Alexander, 24, of Smith Mountain, Virginia, qualified for six of the 10 events he entered in the Paul Smith-tuned Auto Service Plus Chevy Monte Carlo. He qualified a season-best 11th in the 16-car field at the AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals.
DeJoria, 35, of Los Angeles, raced to a runner-up finish at the Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals presented by Tri-Cities Area Ford Dealers in Bristol and qualified a season-best fifth at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Auto-Plus in Indianapolis in her Tequila Patron Toyota Camry.
Hall, 41, of Hamden, Connecticut, raced to a semifinal finish in Brainerd on his Sovereign-Star Racing Buell and qualified a season-best sixth in Norwalk.
Lesenko, 49, of Alberta, Canada, drove "Big Jim" Dunn’s Tap It Brewing Co. Chevy Impala to four quarterfinal appearances and qualified a season-best 13th in Phoenix and at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte.
MaGaha, 33, of Odessa, Texas, advanced to the semifinals in his first race appearance of the season at the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals presented by NAPAFilters.com in Florida. He qualified a season-best 10th at that race in his Harlow Sammons of Odessa Dodge Avenger.
Pollacheck, 43, of Medford, Oregon, qualified for every Pro Stock Motorcycle event during the season and earned a spot in the Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship, guaranteeing him a top 10 points finish. He raced to a season-best fourth starting spot in Houston aboard his Sovereign-Star Racing Buell.
In 2002, the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award and the NHRA Rookie of the Year Award were combined to create one award recognizing the future stars of the sport.
Past winners of the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award have developed into some of NHRA’s biggest stars, including Tony Pedregon (1996, Funny Car), Ron Capps (1997, Funny Car), Doug Kalitta (1998, Top Fuel), Antron Brown (1999, Pro Stock Motorcycle), Melanie Troxel (2000, Top Fuel), GT Tonglet (2001, Pro Stock Motorcycle), Gene Wilson (2002, Pro Stock), Brandon Bernstein (2003, Top Fuel), Jason Line (2004, Pro Stock), Robert Hight (2005, Funny Car), J.R. Todd (2006, Top Fuel), Ashley Force Hood (2007, Funny Car), Mike Neff (2008, Funny Car), Spencer Massey (2009, Top Fuel), LE Tonglet (2010, Pro Stock Motorcycle), and Hector Arana Jr. (2011, Pro Stock Motorcycle).
NHRA Rookie of the Year winners prior to the merger of the awards included the late Darrell Russell (2001, Top Fuel), Don Lampus (2000, Top Fuel), Scotty Cannon (1999, Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin Jr. (1998, Pro Stock), Gary Scelzi (1997, Top Fuel), and co-winners in 1996, Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) and Matt Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
In addition to the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award, the company is the title sponsor for the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals, November 8-11 at historic Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
The company also is a major sponsor for John Force Racing, providing primary sponsorship for the Ford Mustang driven by Hight, as well as associate sponsorship for the Mustangs driven by John Force, Neff, and Courtney Force. In addition, the company is the presenting sponsor for the California Hot Rod Reunion and the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum.