The mystery of last month’s sudden pullout from NHRA competition by Al-Anabi Racing grew a bit more clear Friday during the first day of the season-opening Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif.
Jim Peltz of the Los Angeles Times reports that Sheik Khalid Al Thani of Qatar, a Persian Gulf country that had pumped more than $50 million into the two-car Top Fuel team over the last six years, told team owner Alan Johnson he is both “apologetic” and “disappointed” at the sudden ending of the team’s sponsorship.
“We were funded not by Sheik Khalid but by Qatar and they have their issues; let’s leave it at that,” Johnson said, according to Peltz. “(Khalid) wasn’t funding us out of his pocket, he was funding us out of money that he got from the state of Qatar.
“So when Qatar cut him off he was forced to cut us off and he wasn’t really pleased about that.”
Al-Anabi was one of the most successful Top Fuel teams in the NHRA, having won 42 races over the last six years, including season championships with three different drivers: Larry Dixon, Del Worsham and Shawn Langdon.
Khalid alBalooshi was also a key driver on the team.
Team owner Alan Johnson has attempted to pick up the pieces of Al-Anabi’s abrupt departure. Johnson is campaigning just one Top Fuel dragster at this weekend’s Winternationals with Langdon behind the wheel.
The team is also entered in the next race in Phoenix in two weeks, but after that the future is uncertain. Johnson is scrambling to attract new sponsorship to keep the team’s doors open and the dragster racing.
Johnson discounted speculation that the global drop in oil prices may have led to Al-Anabi’s pullout. When asked if Al Thani had suggested that, Johnson said simply, “Not to me, no.”
Follow me @JerryBonkowski