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Jilted Johnson Unveils 2015 Top Fuel Plans

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, January 30 2015

Alan Johnson Racing will be at the Winternationals with a one-car program in the wake of bad news from the Middle East. (File photo courtesy of Ron Lewis)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Alan Johnson Racing will open the 2015 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season next week with a single Top Fuel entry for former world champion Shawn Langdon at the 55th annual Circle K NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, Calif.

AJR’s future was placed in jeopardy on Jan. 5, when the Qatar Racing Club announced it was terminating funding for all motorsports activities in North America. The decision most prominently affected the two-car Al-Anabi Racing team owned by His Excellency Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad Al Thani of Qatar and operated domestically by Johnson.

AJR is continuing to explore “multiple sponsorship options” for 2015 and beyond, a team spokesman said in a statement. The season-opener at historic Auto Club Raceway is scheduled for Feb. 5-8 and will be televised nationally on ESPN2.

“We enjoyed our six years with Al-Anabi Racing, and we experienced great success,” Johnson said in a statement. “We appreciate the opportunity to compete for Al-Anabi Racing and thank Sheikh Khalid for everything he did for us. We had a great run, but now we must move on and focus on the future.

“We are going to Pomona with every intention of winning the Winternationals; we are in discussions with multiple entities about sponsoring our race team, and part of that process is showing the level of excellence at which our team competes. We won the Winternationals last year and our goal is to repeat as Winternationals champions next weekend.”

Longtime Alan Johnson Racing crew chiefs Brian Husen and Jason McCulloch will serve as co-crew chiefs on Langdon’s AJR dragster.

With the separation from Al-Anabi Racing, Khalid alBalooshi no longer drives for Alan Johnson Racing.  Ironically, alBalooshi opened last season with a Winternationals victory, joining John Force (Funny Car) and Jason Line (Pro Stock) as event champions. According to the sanctioning body, alBalooshi is planning a return to NHRA Pro Mod competition, where he is a past world champion.

Langdon, the 2013 NHRA Top Fuel world champion, finished fourth in the 2014 standings following the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs. A native of Mira Loma, Calif., Langdon posted one victory in six final-round appearances in 2014. Langdon, who joined Al-Anabi Racing in 2012, finished 175 points behind eight-time world champion Tony Schumacher and the U.S. Army dragster fielded by Don Schumacher Racing. Langdon has scored all nine of his Top Fuel national event victories, including seven in 2013, with Al-Anabi Racing.

alBalooshi posted two wins in a single season for the first time in his career in 2014 in the gold dragster en route to a career-best eighth-place overall finish, 268 points behind “The Sarge.” A native of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, alBalooshi moved into Top Fuel for Al-Anabi and Sheik Khalid in 2011.

Schumacher, who won five consecutive championships (2004-08) with Johnson as his crew chief, said he was “bummed” by the news of Al-Anabi’s decision to exit the series.

“I liked having alBalooshi and Langdon out there,” Schumacher said during a national teleconference on Wednesday. “But you just hate that late notice. I’ve been there before. I’ve been there when you find out something last minute is changing. It’s terrible. It’s not good for the sport. Not only do we need more cars, but we can’t in any way afford to lose any of them, and not the caliber of crew that those guys are.

“Alan Johnson is an outstanding crew chief with great drivers, and they had the money capable of going out and running against great teams. I was bummed. It made for a great battle. It was many championships racing each other, and I thought it was a spectacular way for fans to get to see just a monumental battle. I hope they find something (long-term) soon and get it worked out.“

Johnson has been a major player in 15 NHRA national championships, including 11 Top Fuel titles. The latest came in 2013 with Langdon, the fifth driver with whom Johnson has won a Top Fuel title. In 2011, he did so with Del Worsham after winning the 2010 Top Fuel title with Larry Dixon. Alan Johnson Racing won 42 races in the last six seasons with Dixon, Worsham, Langdon and alBalooshi in the cockpit.

Before Alan Johnson Racing resumed operation in 2009, Johnson emerged as one of the most innovative and successful crew chiefs in NHRA Top Fuel history. He ended his crew chief career after earning a fifth consecutive Top Fuel championship with Schumacher at DSR in 2008.

Johnson joined DSR in 2003 after Schumacher’s dragster struggled during the first nine events. The hire immediately paid off as Johnson guided the Army dragster to a win in his first event. Schumacher earned a Top Fuel Wally trophy four times in 2003 en route to a third-place finish in the final point standings.

Johnson and Schumacher collected a record 10 Top Fuel victories on their way to the championship in 2004, and the duo won nine more races in 2005 en route to another world title. The 2007 season saw  Schumacher claim the inaugural Countdown to the Championship title on the final run of the season-finale.

Prior to joining DSR, Johnson guided Gary Scelzi to three NHRA Top Fuel world championships (1997, ‘98 and 2000). During the early 1990s, Johnson and his late brother, Blaine, dominated Top Alcohol Dragster competition, winning four consecutive championships and five straight NHRA divisional crowns. Away from the track, Johnson owns and operates Alan Johnson Performance Engineering in Santa Maria, Calif., which specializes in building engine components for automobile, motorcycle and boat racing teams.

Oildowns in Top Fuel and Funny Car will carry a one-two punch during the 2015 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.

Recognizing that oildowns cause substantial time delays and negatively affect the entertainment value for fans and TV viewers, the NHRA has increased its monetary fines and point penalties in the nitro categories. Oildown penalties for all other classes will remain as they were in 2014.

Each Top Fuel and Funny Car team will be fined $1,000 and receive a five-point deduction following its first oildown violation of the season. A second infraction will result in a $2,000 fine and a 10-point deduction. The third violation will bring a $4,000 fine and loss of 15 points.

Monetary fines and point deductions continue to increase on a scale for each additional oildown violation. The 10th violation will result in an $18,000 fine and a 50-point penalty.

“We offer race teams considerable input on how to avoid oildowns,” said Graham Light, NHRA’s senior vice president of racing operations. “But the responsibility still lies with the team. In 2014, oildowns contributed to significant delays over the course of each race weekend. As we increase the number of live TV broadcasts, we have to make sure that our events stay on schedule.”

Monetary fines will be in effect at all 24 events – but point penalties will be waived during the six-race Countdown to the Championship.

“Fines are utilized for equipment purchases, personnel training, new technology and support of the NHRA Safety Safari,” Light said.

2015 NHRA oildown penalties for Top Fuel and Funny Car with violation, monetary amount and point deduction in parenthesis:  First: $1,000 (-5), Second: $2,000 (-10), Third: $4,000 (-15), Fourth: $6,000 (-20), Fifth: $8,000 (-25), Sixth: $10,000 (-30), Seventh: $12,000 (-35), Eighth: $14,000 (-40), Ninth: $16,000 (-45), 10th: $18,000 (-50).

NHRA’s Competition Committee has approved a “point-and-a-half scale” increase for Mello Yello Drag Racing Series competitors at the 61st annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, the world’s most prestigious drag race.

Drivers in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle will race using the point-and-a-half scale at the Labor Day event held annually at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. Winner of the race in each pro class will claim 150 points while runners-up will earn 120 points. Semifinalists will earn 90 points apiece while second-round finishers will be awarded 60 points each. First-round finishers will claim 30 points.

A maximum of 208 points is available at the event to a single racer in each Mello Yello Series category through the point increase, which also includes 15 points to each driver who makes at least one qualifying attempt. In addition to 165 points for winning and making a qualifying attempt, the maximum also includes 20 points for setting a national record, eight points for earning the No. 1 qualifying position and a max total of 15 points for earning three qualifying bonus points in each of the five qualifying sessions.

The U.S. Nationals is the final event heading into the six-race Countdown to the Championship, open to the top 10 competitors in the four professional categories.

“With more points up for grabs we certainly expect to see a lot of movement throughout the top-10s in each of the Mello Yello Series classes on the final day of the regular season,” said Graham Light, NHRA senior vice president of racing operations. “The Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals is already one of the most pressure-packed events on the circuit and we expect that level of excitement to increase significantly with this points increase.”

Set for Sept. 2-7, the U.S. Nationals also will feature the Traxxas Nitro Shootout for Top Fuel and Funny Car. ESPN and ESPN2 will televise 10 hours of event coverage over the weekend.

Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals point structure: Winner: 150, runner-up: 120, semifinalist: 90, quarterfinalist: 60, first-round finisher: 30. All drivers, one qualifying attempt: 15, national E.T. record: 20, qualifying position points: 1-8, qualifying bonus points: 1-3 per session.

NHRA National Events point structure (all races except U.S. Nationals): Winner: 100, runner-up: 80, semifinalist: 60, quarterfinalist: 40, first-round finisher: 20. All drivers, one qualifying attempt: 10, national E.T. record: 20, qualifying position points: 1-8, qualifying bonus points: 1-3 per session.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, January 30 2015
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