Al Anabi Pulls the Plug on NHRA
The first day of work in 2015 for many might have been the beginning of the end for employees of Alan Johnson Racing. It was announced Monday that the Qatar Racing Club would no longer fund the two-car NHRA Mello Yello Series Top Fuel team or any racing in North America for that matter. With 42 nitro victories and three class championships in 2010, 2011, and 2013 for Larry Dixon, Del Worsham, and Shawn Langdon, respectively, one of the top operations in the sport may have to close its doors.
Top staff received notice Saturday that sponsorship was going to be pulled effective immediately with the official word coming early Monday morning. Team owner and former championship tuner Alan Johnson said, in a statement, it was information he was not expecting.
"We are obviously surprised and disappointed about this completely unexpected turn of events," Johnson said. "Our plans for the 2015 NHRA season were nearing completion starting with pre-season testing next week in (West Palm Beach) Florida and the first race of the 2015 NHRA season a month from today in (Pomona) California. Many things are uncertain, and our situation is obviously still evolving. We are currently exploring our options, and we hope to have more news in the near future."
In addition to Langdon, also potentially out of a ride is Khalid al Balooshi who also earned victories for the team with tuner, Jason McCulloch, son of legendary crew chief Ed "Ace" McCulloch and won a Pro Mod title under the Al Anabi banner. The team started with Dixon in the Top Fuel ride and Worsham in a Funny Car. Worsham would move over to Top Fuel after Dixon's departure and would retire briefly after his championship season only to return to the flopper ranks with Team Kalitta after a year as a crew chief for Alexis DeJoria.
Well outside the window of sponsorship season, which is traditionally in the late summer, early autumn months, Alan Johnson Racing may be on the outside looking in with the Winternationals at Pomona a little more than a month away. Team general manager, Brandon Bernstein, tweeted Monday that the team is actively looking for sponsorship, so it is doubtful they are going to close up immediately. More likely, AJR would take at least one car to the first couple races of the season.
Sheik Khalid al Thani, the check writer for the team, a member of the ruling family of Qatar, and a drag racer himself, may not be responsible for the halt in funding. While many in the sport have believed since Al Anabi's debut the young man would eventually grow tired of his "hobby" and take his money and go home, there are whispers that he fought to maintain the funding to the race team and continue operations as usual.
Given the atmosphere in the world we live in, it would be easy to let xenophobic emotion take over when referring to al Thani. Fans should remember, however, corporate sponsors have pulled money in similar fashions and while it's disappointing for fans and staff at Alan Johnson Racing, the cash provided by the Qatar Racing Club created champions. In addition to the NHRA nitro ranks, Al Anabi also funded championship racers in Top Alcohol and Pro Mod as well as racers in grassroots series all over the US. Al Thani created jobs in the sport when they were needed and, regardless of nationality, embraced drag racing and its fans.
A rough way to start a new year, but hopefully only a minor bit of tire shake for Alan Johnson Racing.