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Alan Johnson still winless in '12

4/27/2012

BAYTOWN, Texas -- Alan Johnson, the mastermind of the NHRA, the man who knows more secrets about tuning race cars and making them go fast than anyone else in drag racing, is winless with his dragsters in the first five events of 2012.

Maybe that doesn't sound like such a big deal, except for the fact that it happens only once a decade or so.

It's the shocker of the NHRA season so far. The Al-Anabi Racing team, which Johnson runs, hasn't won a race with its two-dragster Top Fuel lineup.

They come to Royal Purple Raceway this weekend for the O'Reilly Spring Nationals with a dry spell as rare as an NHRA event without noise.

Going five races without winning has never happened for Al-Anabi Racing since Qatar's Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad Al Thani asked Johnson to head the new team he started in 2009.

And it hasn't happened at an organization where Johnson worked, as an owner or a tuner or a teammate, in 10 years. Either a car Johnson was tuning or a teammate's car Johnson tuned and helped set up has won at least once in the first five races since 2002.

The one exception is 2003, but Johnson sat out until midseason, when he was a winner in his first race at Don Schumacher Racing as the tuner for Tony Schumacher's dragster.

But this is a transition year for Al-Anabi Racing after back-to-back Top Fuel titles -- Larry Dixon in 2010 and Del Worsham in 2011. Johnson has a rebuilding situation with two new drivers -- Shawn Langdon and Khalid alBalooshi -- neither of whom has won a Top Fuel event.

"I'm ready to turn things around," Langdon said. "We've hit a little slump. I think it's safe to say we are all a little disappointed in how our season has started, because of what this team has accomplished. We all expect to win races for Sheikh Khalid, and we all know we'll get there."

Johnson's drivers have won seven of the past eight Top Fuel titles and 10 overall in his career, including three with Gary Scelzi (1997, 1998 and 2000). Johnson and Schumacher won five consecutive championships together (2004-08) before Johnson left DSR.

It often takes time for things to click when an organization changes drivers. Even so, no one expected this much of a struggle. After all, these are Johnson's cars, the best of the best. A trained seal could sit in the cockpit and win in these dragsters. Right?

Well, apparently not. Driving experience is important, more so today than ever while racing at 1,000 feet instead of a quarter-mile (1,320 feet).

Many rounds are decided by inches (thousandths of a second), and it's much tougher to out-power an opponent with less distance to drive past him.

This stuff isn't easy, but give it time. Both Langdon and alBalooshi are skilled racers.

Langdon, 29, has been a runner-up at four events in his career and has finished in the top 10 in the standings each of his three seasons in Top Fuel.

And alBalooshi, 32, won the 2011 NHRA Pro Mod title. He had 158 victories in lower classes before making the move to Top Fuel this year.

But the growing pains in the new dragsters are showing for both drivers. Both men lost in the first round of the Four-Wide Nationals two weeks ago at Charlotte, and alBalooshi still is waiting to get past the first round.

"I hope this weekend will be better for our whole Al-Anabi team," alBalooshi said. "The last two races were surprising for me, but I think we will all get better this weekend.

"Race after race, the more seat time I get, I feel better in the car. I went to the Pro Mod finals at Houston last year and had some good luck."

The Al-Anabi dragsters have been fast. Langdon qualified No. 1 at Phoenix in February but lost in the semifinals to Antron Brown, who won the event. Don Schumacher Racing is dominating Top Fuel with four wins this season, three by Spencer Massey and one by Brown.

But Langdon is confident he and alBalooshi will challenge the DSR guys soon.

"I know we're going to turn it around," Langdon said. "We all just hope it's sooner rather than later. If we have a couple of good races, we can easily climb back towards the top of the points."

The pressure is on this weekend because Al-Anabi drivers have raced well at Baytown. It was an all-Al-Anabi final here last year when Worsham defeated Dixon, who won at RPR in 2010.

"I know we have good data on this racetrack," Langdon said. "We want to get that first win out of the way so we can start concentrating on other things."

No one is panicking, including the team owner.

"I talked to Sheikh Khalid, and his mood is good," alBalooshi said. "I think he talked to Shawn and Alan, too. He says, 'No problem and don't worry about anything.' Everything will be OK."