ThatsRacin

Despite loss of sponsor, Top Fuel leader Langdon’s NHRA team perseveres

In this photo provided by NHRA, defending NHRA Mello Yello Top Fuel world champion Shawn Langdon secures the No. 1 qualifying position in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster at the fifth annual NHRA Four-Wide Nationals Saturday, April 12, 2014, at zMAX Dragway in Concord.
In this photo provided by NHRA, defending NHRA Mello Yello Top Fuel world champion Shawn Langdon secures the No. 1 qualifying position in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster at the fifth annual NHRA Four-Wide Nationals Saturday, April 12, 2014, at zMAX Dragway in Concord. AP

Less than three months ago, Alan Johnson got the news no race team owner wants to hear – his sponsor was pulling out.

Despite the lack of funding, Alan Johnson Racing has persevered, putting driver Shawn Langdon atop the NHRA Top Fuel standings.

Langdon, the 2013 Top Fuel champion, won the season-opening race at Pomona, Calif., advanced to the semifinal round the past two races, and has been the No. 1 qualifier in two of the season’s first three events.

That has Langdon atop the standings by 13 points over eight-time series champion Tony Schumacher (281-268).

“We’re still actually feeling our way along,” Johnson said. “There’s really no clear path to getting a primary sponsor to keep going. It’s no easy task.

“(But) when we lost the funding, it didn’t slow us down – we just kept working towards our goal, and it’s paid off.”

Johnson’s team had been funded by the Middle East country of Qatar – the team operated under the Al-Anabi Racing banner – since the 2009 season. That partnership had produced 42 wins and three series championships with drivers Larry Dixon (2010), Del Worsham (2011) and Langdon.

But the abrupt cut in Qatar’s sponsorship – coming with four years remaining on a five-year extension signed in September 2013 – forced Johnson to adjust.

He cut back to a one-car operation – the second car had been fielded for Qatar native Kahlid alBalooshi – and is taking things race to race as he hunts for a sponsor.

“We’re working on as many things as we can, in hopes that one or two of them will play out the way we like,” Johnson said. “If we hadn’t gotten some encouraging signs, we wouldn’t be here now.”

However, the start to the 2015 season has been encouraging to Johnson, Langdon and his crew, who are operating short-handed because of the loss of sponsorship.

“We’re just trying to do our jobs, and do them the best we can,” said Langdon, who finished second to Antron Brown in last year’s Four-Wide Nationals.

“Obviously, the news was pretty heartbreaking. But the attitude of the guys has been phenomenal. These guys are hungry, and they want to win. Everybody on this team is racing with their heart.”

Too cool to qualify: After hours of work, weather conditions forced NHRA officials to call off Friday’s qualifying rounds at zMax Dragway.

After showers kept cars off the newly-resurfaced track during the morning, track workers spent more than three hours using jet dryers to remove the water, and attempt to heat the racing surface.

However, after the showers passed through, temperatures dropped to the mid-40s. That, along with the humidity, thwarted efforts to heat the track to an acceptable level for traction.

That will leave the pro division teams – Top Fuel, Funny Cars, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle – only two qualifying rounds Saturday to make the field for Sunday’s elimination rounds.

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