NHRA: Shawn Langdon and Alan Johnson Racing hope for strong Phoenix run to keep racing going forward

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After a storybook finish to what had begun as a nightmare, Alan Johnson Racing is back to square one of sorts in this weekend’s Carquest Auto Parts NHRA Nationals in Chandler, Ariz.

When Al-Anabi Racing unexpectedly pulled its sponsorship from AJR four weeks before the start of the 2015 NHRA season, Johnson vowed to run at least the first two races, the season opener at Pomona, Calif., and this weekend’s race at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park.

After this weekend, though, the team’s future is up in the air. AJR is continuing to pursue sponsorship opportunities to replace the lost Al-Anabi funding and keep moving forward in 2015.

In the season opening Winternationals, AJR driver Shawn Langdon had a perfect weekend. Not only did he record the quickest 1,000-foot elapsed time in NHRA Top Fuel history (3.700 seconds), he qualified No. 1 and ultimately wound up winning the race to boot.

“I don’t think Pomona could have been any more perfect,” Langdon said in an AJR media release. “We made the quickest pass ever, qualified No. 1 and got the win the first race out.

“We did what we set out to do. Everything we tried to do in testing all came together at Pomona, and it was absolutely a picture-perfect weekend.”

It was Langdon’s second career win in the Winternationals, and AJR’s fifth win in the last six races (both the season-opening Winternationals and season-ending World Finals) at Auto Club Raceway.

Langdon, who now holds not only the quickest elapsed time mark, but also the fastest speed (334.15 mph, set at Reading, Pa., in 2012), has high hopes that AJR can pick up where it left off two weeks ago at Pomona.

“Going on into Phoenix, we have to keep the momentum going and keep plugging away with what we’re doing,” said Langdon, who is No. 1 in the standings, 32 points ahead of second-ranked Antron Brown. “The car is responding well.

“We’re still working on sponsorship to fund the car through the 2015 season. We’re hard at work trying to get the race car running well and running consistently, but we’re also hard at work trying to get sponsorship lined up for the season.”

Johnson hopes to keep his team – which was pared down from two dragsters to just one after Al-Anabi’s pullout – moving forward and continue competing on the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

There are 24 races on the NHRA national event schedule. With one race down, 23 remain – including this weekend – and AJR hopes to make all of them, even though the team is approaching everything one race at a time pending acquisition of additional sponsorship.

“I’m hoping the Knuckle Sandwich/AJPE team can pick up right where it left off in Pomona (at) Phoenix this weekend,” said Langdon, who won the NHRA Top Fuel championship in 2013. “They have a lot of new improvements at the race track in Phoenix, and I’m excited to get back there this weekend.

“A couple of the cars ran well there in Phoenix testing (in late January) so that shows the track is good.  We just need to keep doing what we’re doing.  Our confidence is definitely sky-high; we’re all very motivated right now, and we’re ready to go racing in Phoenix.”

NOTES: Langdon’s No. 1 qualifying position at Pomona gave him 17 for his career, tying him with the late Blaine Johnson for career No. 1 spots. Blaine Johnson, who died in a racing accident in 1996 at Indianapolis, was Alan Johnson’s brother. … AJR has won three of the last five NHRA Top Fuel season championships. Langdon won in 2013, Del Worsham in 2011 and Larry Dixon in 2010.

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AJ Foyt Racing promotes Benjamin Pedersen from Indy Lights to IndyCar for 2023 season

Benjamin Pedersen AJ Foyt
AJ Foyt Racing

Benjamin Pedersen is the first driver to land a promotion from Indy Lights into IndyCar for next season as AJ Foyt Racing confirmed Wednesday he’ll be part of its 2023 lineup.

Pedersen, a 23-year-old dual citizen of Denmark and the United States, spent last season running the full Indy Lights schedule for HMD Motorsports. Linus Lundqvist, his teammate, won the Lights title, and Pedersen finished fifth in the final standings. Pedersen earned his only win earlier this month when he led every lap from the pole at Portland.

Pedersen also ran four races for HMD in 2021 with back-to-back runner-up finishes in his debut. Pedersen landed on AJ Foyt Racing team president Larry Foyt’s radar through a “trusted colleague” and Pedersen spent most of last season shadowing the IndyCar team.

His promotion to IndyCar comes ahead of all four drivers who finished ahead of him in the Indy Lights standings, including champion Lundqvist.

“We are really looking forward to having Benjamin as part of the team,” Larry Foyt said. “His enthusiasm is infectious, and he is 100 percent committed to IndyCar, AJ Foyt Racing, and doing the best he can to win races.

“It’s been great to have him embedded with the team this past season, and everyone is excited to hit the ground running when testing begins. It is also great to have a multi-year program in place, which will help him and the team grow together.”

Foyt did not announce a car number for Pedersen. Kyle Kirkwood spent his rookie season driving AJ Foyt’s flagship No. 14 but Kirkwood is moving to Andretti Autosport. The team has not yet announced if Dalton Kellett will return for a fourth season, and a third car for Tatiana Calderon was pulled from competition after seven races because of sponsorship non-payment. Shutting down Calderon’s team removed the only semi-regular female driver from the IndyCar field.

Pedersen, however, was signed to an agreement Foyt said “spans multiple seasons as the team plans to develop the young rookie and is aligned to a longer-term plan for AJ Foyt Racing.”

Pedersen was born in Copenhagen but raised in Seattle and currently lives in Indianapolis. He said his time shadowing the IndyCar team has given him a jump on his rookie preparations.

“I’ve spent a lot of time this season with AJ Foyt Racing learning the ins and outs of making the jump to IndyCar and it’s been really nice to do that in conjunction with my Indy Lights season,” Pedersen said. “IndyCar has been my target goal since I started open wheel racing in 2016. The racing, atmosphere, fans, events, tracks, etc. are all awesome.”