Doug Kalitta is fastest in top-fuel qualifying at Winternationals

In news conference, owner Alan Johnson said government of Qatar made the call to cut his team's funding

NHRA top-fuel drag racer Shawn Langdon doesn't know whether he'll drive a full season this year because his team's sponsorship was abruptly pulled a month ago.

But for now, Langdon said he's not concerned about being competitive amid the funding turmoil.

"I don't see that being a distraction," Langdon, a Mira Loma native who won the top-fuel championship in 2013, said Friday. "I tend to block a lot of other stuff out" once inside the dragster, he said.

Langdon then proved his point by making the fastest run in the first round of qualifying at the National Hot Rod Assn.'s Circle K Winternationals in Pomona, the season-opening event of the sport's Mello Yello Series.

In a dragster prepared by team owner and famed crew chief Alan Johnson, Langdon covered the 1,000-foot trip in 3.803 seconds, with a top speed of 320.36 mph, at Auto Club Raceway.

But he couldn't improve on his time in the second qualifying round Friday — he spun his tires after leaving the starting line — and he fell to ninth overall as other drivers posted faster times.

Doug Kalitta topped the top-fuel charts with a pass of 3.733 seconds at 327.59 mph, followed by reigning champion Tony Schumacher at 3.757 seconds and 320.20 mph.

Johnson's team formerly was backed by Sheik Khalid Al Thani, a member of the ruling family of Qatar who loves drag racing, with sponsorship that totaled more than $50 million over the last six years.

But financial support for the team, called Al-Anabi Racing team, was unexpectedly canceled a month ago.

In his first news conference on the matter, Johnson said the government of Qatar, an oil-rich country in the Persian Gulf, made the call and not the sheik himself.

"We were funded not by Sheik Khalid but by Qatar and they have their issues; let's leave it at that," Johnson said.

"[Al Thani] wasn't funding us out of his pocket, he was funding us out of money that he got from the state of Qatar," Johnson said. "So when Qatar cut him off he was forced to cut us off and he wasn't really pleased about that."

Asked whether Al Thani indicated to Johnson whether the recent drop in world oil prices was a factor, Johnson replied: "Not to me, no."

Al-Anabi Racing had two top-fuel cars with Langdon and defending Winternationals winner Khalid alBalooshi of Dubai. AlBalooshi has left the team and Johnson and Langdon remain as a one-car team under the Alan Johnson Racing banner.

But Johnson said he's committed to racing only in Pomona and at the next event in Phoenix unless he finds additional sponsors. "I can't guarantee anything after that," he said.

Funny car qualifying

In the sport's other premier class, funny cars, Tommy Johnson Jr. was fastest after two qualifying rounds with a pass of 4.018 seconds at 314.46 mph.

Chad Head was next at 4.060 seconds and 309.63 mph, followed by 16-time champion John Force, who ran 4.061 seconds at 313.66 mph.

There will be two more qualifying rounds Saturday, with the 16 fastest cars in each class advancing to the final eliminations Sunday that determine the event's winners.

Matt Hagan's scare

During the second qualifying run for reigning funny car champion Matt Hagan, his engine exploded and burst into flames as he crossed the finish line.

Hagan, 32, was unhurt after he slowed the car to a stop and jumped out through the roof escape hatch as flames covered his windshield.

"I couldn't really see where I was at on the racetrack," Hagan said. "It lit up pretty good. We'll be back strong tomorrow and having some more fun."

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