Will Alan Johnson Racing make the call beyond Indy?
It seems apparent NHRA may be about to lose one of the best Top Fuel team managers the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series has known.
Left without financing mere weeks before the start of the 2015 season, thanks to change of direction by sponsor Al-Anabi Racing and the Qatar Racing Club, which had been backers of Alan Johnson Racing (AJR) for more than five years (and had signed a renewal in 2014), AJR reached out to its friends and was able to get a bit of sustenance through mega chef Guy Fieri’s Knuckle Sandwich brand and through perennial partner Toyota Motor Sales Inc., who have partnered with AJR since 2001.
Now, however, without added major funding it looks like Johnson may have to park the car of 2013 NHRA Top Fuel champion Shawn Langdon until further financing is secured. Johnson, renown for his ability to tune nitro-powered cars, is also a manufacturer of blocks, cylinder heads and intake manifolds for this and other major drag racing classes.
Throughout this season, AJR has put on a brave face but has also failed to perform to its own standards, due to the lack of money – Top Fuel racing in NHRA doesn’t run on nitromethane, its successes are measured by dollars and cents. More of the latter and less of the former, obviously.
But common sense is a valuable commodity on this trail as well, and that’s something Alan Johnson has in abundance. He’s not about to put his factory and his family’s holdings at risk to go racing – even as Langdon holds seventh place points heading into the final two races of the regular season.
This year Langdon has a single win (in the season opener), a runner-up appearance in the third Western Swing race at Seattle, three semifinal results and two No. 1 qualifiers. By winning at the Internationals in February, Langdon became the first Top Fuel driver to qualify for the Traxxas Nitro Shootout ($100,000 to the winner, something this team could definitely use) at Indianapolis on Labor Day weekend.
Despite the victory and runner-up results, AJR and Langdon have seven first-round losses thus far in the season; last year Langdon had five first-round losses and four in his title year.
Where other teams have been able to go testing, AJR has not, due to its budgetary constraints. They’ve done their testing of different mechanical items and learned during the four qualifying sessions allotted to them at each of the 16 tracks on the schedule thus far. That alone is part of the rationale for some of the less-than-stellar results.
As Langdon said, approaching the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway this weekend, “We definitely feel like we have a championship-contending car and that we can be there fighting until the end. It’s difficult not knowing what the future holds, but we can only do so much. We’ll keep working hard; if we can get our Toyota team back in the winner’s circle, we hope the rat will take care of itself.”
Still, the team’s preview for this race – and every other race thus far in the 2015 campaign – has stated the obvious: AJR needs money. “Alan Johnson Racing hopes to compete in the Countdown to the Championship NHRA Playoffs, but it must secure additional sponsorship to do so.”
Brainerd turned into somewhat of an E/T bonanza for the Alan Johnson Racing team, who set a second round mark of 3.662 seconds, showing the team has started to get its setup turned the right direction. Unfortunately he lost traction in the semifinals and fell to eventual race winner Richie Crampton, unable to back up the time and set a 20-point national record.
Alan Johnson Racing is a multi-championship team, having won in 2013 with Langdon, 2011 for Del Worsham (now driving a Funny Car with Kalitta Motorsports) and helped Larry Dixon to his third Top Fuel title in 2010 (Dixon is now with Bob Vandergriff Racing). Earlier in his career, Johnson engineered six titles for Tony Schumacher at Don Schumacher Racing and, under his own banner assisted Gary Scelzi to three Top Fuel titles.
To imagine this team parked after Indianapolis is crazy. Hopefully they’ll find the funding to continue at the competitive level we expect from Alan Johnson Racing.
Words and Two Photos By Anne Proffit