NHRA: Top Fuel’s Alan Johnson, Shawn Langdon have big appetite for Gainesville win

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There’s an old adage among amateur drag racers about “racing for our supper.”

In other words, if they do well during a racing session, they may earn a few bucks in winnings, just enough to buy dinner.

In a sense, that’s kind of the case for NHRA Top Fuel team owner Alan Johnson and his driver, Shawn Langdon.

Having lost their sponsorship a month before the current season began, Johnson and Langdon have not only been racing for their supper in the first two races of the 2015 season, they’re also racing for their collective professional livelihood on a race-by-race basis.

This weekend’s Amalie Gatornationals at Auto Plus Raceway in Gainesville, Fla., marks Johnson and Langdon’s next race.

If they don’t finish well, it could also be their last race.

At least for the time being, that is, barring any new sponsorship that comes their way.

Essentially, Johnson and Langdon have to win or finish strongly to go on to the next race, March 27-29, in Charlotte, N.C.

It’s a tremendous amount of pressure, but Johnson is taking things in stride.

“We’re still entertaining some funding opportunities, but nothing is certain yet,” Johnson told MotorSportsTalk. “Obviously, these things take time … companies (potential sponsors) don’t act in 30 seconds We’re just kind of moving along from race to race, hoping something happens.

“But at some point, we’re going to have to draw a line if we can’t get it done. Gainesville is our next race and we’re planning to go there and win. Hopefully, by the time the weekend is over, we’ll have some funding in place. But obviously, there’s no guarantees.”

AJR has won three of the last five NHRA Top Fuel championships (2010, 2011 and 2013) and six overall (1997, 1998 and 2000 beforehand).

And even with all the difficulty his team has already gone through with the loss of its sponsorship, Johnson is still optimistic that a seventh Top Fuel championship is attainable in 2015.

Shawn Langdon has had strong performance thus far in the NHRA season. (Photo: Ron Lewis/Alan Johnson Racing)

“Racing the entire season and competing for the 2015 NHRA Mello Yello world championship is still our goal,” Johnson said. “We are racing in Gainesville to provide a little more time to put a program together that will allow us to do that.

“We enter every race with the goal of winning it, and we are going to Gainesville with every intention of winning the Gatornationals.”

Langdon, who won the 2013 NHRA Top Fuel championship, has kept Alan Johnson Racing going with some excellent driving in the first two races.

In the season opener at Pomona, Calif., Langdon had a storybook weekend, particularly with AJR fresh off the loss of its sponsorship.

Langdon not only qualified No. 1 at Pomona, he recorded the quickest 1,000-foot pass in NHRA history (3.700 seconds) and then capped things off by winning the entire event.

In the second race of the season at Phoenix, Langdon reached the semifinals, and emerged with the Top Fuel points lead intact, leading Antron Brown by 33 points.

It goes without saying that AJR is off to a good start performance-wise.

“Without a doubt,” Johnson said. “My teams over the years have always been performance-based. That’s what we do.

“We’re obviously happy we won Pomona and hope we can do the same thing at Gainesville.”

When the sponsorship left, Johnson committed to compete in just the first two races before analyzing where to go from there.

But given how strong the team has performed – as well as efforts by renowned Food Network star Guy Fieri to seek sponsorship for the AJR dragster – it’s now on to Gainesville, where Johnson’s team has three national event wins (late brother Blaine Johnson in 1996, Larry Dixon in 2009 and Del Worsham in 2011).

Guy Fieri is helping Alan Johnson Racing find new sponsorship to continue racing in 2015. (Photo: Ron Lewis/ALan Johnson Racing)

Even though he has a successful performance business away from the racetrack, Johnson admits the last two months since sponsorship dried up have been very challenging from a personal standpoint.

“It has been frustrating and disappointing,” Johnson said. “But our employees have been wonderful through this whole thing. That’s my No. 1 attention, to make sure my employees are taken care of well.

“Things happen and sometimes they’re out of your control. You just have to make the best decision and hopefully make it work for you in a positive way. … Patience is very paramount at this point.

“Am I scared, no. … But certainly I want to be out there competing. If I’m not, that would be the one thing I’d miss, the competition.”

Even though his and the team’s future is dependent upon his dragster continuing to doing well, Langdon is really looking forward to this weekend’s event.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve been this excited to get back out to a race track,” Langdon said. “With not knowing until kind of the last moment if we were going to Gainesville, getting that phone call saying we were going got all the butterflies going again and got that excitement level back up.”

Yep, that sure sounds like a guy who’s hungry about racing for his supper,

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Will Power says IndyCar field toughest in world: ‘F1’s a joke as far as competition’


DETROIT – With the 2023 Formula One season turning into a Red Bull runaway, Will Power believes the NTT IndyCar Series deserves respect as the world’s most difficult single-seater racing series.

“It’s so tough, an amazing field, the toughest field in the world, and people need to know it, especially compared to Formula One,” the defending IndyCar champion told NBC Sports during a media luncheon a few days ahead of Sunday’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix. “Formula One’s a joke as far as competition, but not as far as drivers. They have amazing drivers. And I feel sorry for them that they don’t get to experience the satisfaction we do with our racing because that is the top level of open-wheel motorsport.

“I think Formula One would be so much better if they had a formula like IndyCar. I love the technology and the manufacturer side of it. I think that’s awesome. But from a spectator watching, man, how cool would it be if everyone had a Red Bull (car)?”

INDYCAR IN DETROITEntry list, schedule, TV info for this weekend

It probably would look a lot different than this season, which has been dominated by two-time defending F1 champion Max Verstappen.

The Dutchman won Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix from the pole position by 24 seconds over seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton. It’s the fifth victory in seven races for Verstappen, whose 40 career wins are one shy of tying late three-time champion Aryton Senna.

Along with being a virtual lock to tie Senna’s mark for titles, Verstappen is poised to break his own record for single-season victories (15) that he set last year.

“You simply know Max is going to win every race if something doesn’t go wrong,” Power said. “Imagine being a guy coming out as a rookie, and you probably could win a race. It would be really cool to see. But you know that would never happen with the politics over there.”

Verstappen’s F1 dominance has been a stark contrast to IndyCar, where Josef Newgarden just became the first repeat winner through six races this season with his Indy 500 victory.

Team Penske (with Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), Chip Ganassi Racing (with Palou and Marcus Ericsson) and Andretti Autosport (with Kyle Kirkwood) each have visited victory lane in 2023. Arrow McLaren (which has past winners Pato O’Ward, Alexander Rossi and Felix Rosenqvist) is certain to join them at some point.

Meanwhile, Verstappen and teammate Sergio Perez (two wins) have won every F1 race this season with the two Red Bull cars combining to lead more than 95% of the laps.

The primary differences are in the rulesets for each series.

While F1 teams virtually have complete autonomy to build their high-tech cars from scratch, IndyCar has what is known as a spec series in which the cars have a large degree of standardization.

IndyCar teams all use the Dallara DW12 chassis, which is in its 12th season. The development of the car largely has been maximized, helping put a greater emphasis on driver skill as a differentiator (as well as other human resources such as whip-smart strategists and engineers).

Alex Palou, who will start from the pole position at Detroit, harbors F1 aspirations as a McLaren test driver, but the Spaniard prefers IndyCar for competitiveness because talent can be such a determinant in results.

“Racing-wise, that’s the best you can get,” Palou said a few days before winning the pole for the 107th Indy 500 last month. “That’s pure racing, having chances to win each weekend.”

Of course, F1 is the world’s most popular series, and the 2021 IndyCar champion believes its appeal doesn’t necessarily stem from being competitive.

Though the ’21 championship battle between Hamilton and Verstappen was epic, F1 has grown its audience in recent years with the help of the “Drive To Survive” docuseries on Netflix that has showcased their stars’ personalities along with the cutthroat decisions of its team principals (IndyCar started its own docuseries this year).

“I don’t think the beauty of F1 is the race itself,” Palou said. “I’d say the beauty is more the development that they have and everything around the races, and that they go different places. But when we talk about pure spectacle, you cannot get better than (IndyCar).

“You can feel it as a driver here when you first come and jump in a car. When I was in Dale Coyne (Racing), we got a podium my rookie year. It wasn’t the best team, but we were able to achieve one of the best cars at Road America (where he finished third in 2020). It’s not that I was driving a slow car. I was driving a really fast car. I think we can see that across all the teams and the drivers.”

Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin, who will start second at Detroit, is in his third season of IndyCar after winning three championships in Supercars.

The New Zealander said recently that IndyCar has been “the most enjoyment I’ve ever had in my career. I had a lot of fun in Supercars, but there were still things like different uprights, engines, all that stuff. (IndyCar) is spec. Really the only things you can change are dampers and the engine differences between Honda and Chevy.

“I have a blast,” McLaughlin said. “Trying to extract pace and winning in this series is better than I’ve ever felt ever. I’m surprised by how satisfied it feels to win an IndyCar race. It’s better than how it ever has felt in my career. I’ve always liked winning, but it’s so satisfying to win here. That’s why it’s so cool. There are no bad drivers. You have to have a perfect day.”

Qualifying might be the best example of the series’ competitiveness tightness. The spread for the Fast Six final round of qualifying on Detroit’s new nine-turn, 1.645-mile downtown layout was nearly eight 10ths of a second – which qualifies as an eternity these days.

Last month, the GMR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course produced a spread of 0.2971 seconds from first to sixth – the fourth-closest Fast Six in IndyCar history since the format was adopted in 2008. Three of the seven closest Fast Six fields have happened this season (with the Grand Prix of Long Beach ranking sixth and the Alabama Grand Prix in seventh).

While the technical ingenuity and innovation might be limited when compared to F1, there’s no arguing that more IndyCar drivers and teams have a chance to win.

“The parity’s great, and no one has an advantage, basically,” Power said. “The two engine manufacturers (Honda and Chevrolet) are always flipping back and forth as they develop, but we’re talking like tenths of a second over a lap. There’s not a bad driver in the field, and there are 20 people all capable of being in the Fast Six every week. Maybe more. It’s incredibly competitive. There isn’t a more competitive series in the world. I’m sure of that.

“If you want the ultimate driver’s series, this is it I’m from a big team that would benefit massively from opening the rules up, but I don’t think (IndyCar officials) should. I think this should always be about the team and driver getting the most out of a piece of equipment that everyone has a chance to do so. That’s the ultimate driver series. Who wants to win a championship when you’re just given the best car? It’s just ridiculous.”

Power believes the talented Verstappen still would be the F1 champion if the equipment were spec, but he also thinks there would be more challengers.

“There’s got to be a bunch of those guys that must just be frustrated,” Power said. “Think about Lewis Hamilton, George Russell, Lando Norris, (Fernando) Alonso. Those are some great drivers that don’t get a chance to even win. They’re just extracting the most out of the piece of equipment they have.

“All I can say is if everyone had a Red Bull car, there’s no way that Max would win every race. There are so many guys who would be winning races. It’d just be similar to (IndyCar) and different every week, which it should be that way for the top level of the sport.”