On the eve of the start of it’s premier event, the Countdown to the Championship, the National Hot Rod Association was rocked Tuesday with news that Alan Johnson Racing is suspending operations of its Top Fuel team, effective immediately.
That means 2013 Top Fuel champ Shawn Langdon, who qualified sixth for the Countdown, will likely miss his bid to go for a second championship in three seasons.
“We are extremely disappointed to make this decision, but at this point it is our best option,” team owner Alan Johnson said in a statement.
“The AJR marketing staff has worked diligently throughout the year securing funding to complete the 2015 season. Unfortunately we have come up a bit short.”
AJR has struggled with funding since its primary sponsor and benefactor, Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad Al Thani and the Qatar Racing Club, suspended funding for Johnson’s two-dragster Al-Anabi Racing team just four weeks before this year’s season-opening Circle K Winternationals.
When that occurred, Johnson was forced to scale back his operation to just one dragster, keeping Langdon while releasing fellow driver Khalid alBalooshi, who had been idle this season until replacing Spencer Massey two weeks ago at Don Schumacher Racing.
Johnson has funded the team primarily out of his own pocket since al-Anabi departed, albeit with some additional funding from Toyota, as well as celebrity chef Guy Fieri’s Knuckle Sandwich brand, both long-time partners of AJR.
Throwing in the towel just before the playoffs is difficult, but Johnson felt he went as far as he could go financially.
But that doesn’t mean the Brownsburg, Indiana-based team is gone for good.
“The process of securing funding is still ongoing, but our focus has shifted to the 2016 season,” Johnson said. “This break will result in some of our crew members moving on to other opportunities, and we wish them all the best.
“Lastly, I want to thank our loyal fans for their encouragement and support throughout this difficult year. We have every intention of returning to NHRA drag racing in 2016. I’ll keep you posted.”
Johnson’s teams have won NHRA Top Fuel titles in 1997, 1998, 2000, 2010, 2011 and 2013 with five different drivers: Gary Scelzi, Tony Schumacher, Larry Dixon, Del Worsham and Langdon.
Johnson did not address Langdon missing the Countdown to the Championship in Tuesday’s statement.
Langdon started out the season with a win in the Winternationals, but since then it has been somewhat of an up-and-down campaign for the team, including seven first-round exits in eliminations of the 18 races held thus far.
The Winternationals win was one of two key season highlights for Langdon and AJR, along with Langdon recording the fastest elapsed time (3.662 seconds) ever seen on a 1,000-foot drag strip, last month at Brainerd, Minn.
Langdon still has the potential to continue in the Countdown, which begins this weekend in Concord, N.C., according to NHRA spokesman Anthony Vestal.
“Per NHRA rule, the points go with the driver, so he would be eligible to continue in the Countdown If another team wants to put him in another car or a second car,” Vestal told NBCSports.com.
If Langdon does not secure another ride, he’ll likely finish the season in the 10th and final spot in the Countdown.