A member of Qatar's ruling family abruptly pulled his funding of Al-Anabi Racing, one of NHRA drag racing's leading teams, one month before the new season opens in Pomona, the team said Monday.
The Brownsburg, Ind.-based team, formed in 2009, is led by Alan Johnson, one of the sport's best-known crew chiefs, and was backed by Sheik Khalid Al Thani, a member of the ruling family of Qatar.
The team has two cars, driven by Shawn Langdon and Khalid alBalooshi, in the premier top-fuel class of the National Hot Rod Assn.'s Mello Yello Series.
No explanation was provided for Al Thani's move and the team declined to say more.
It wasn't known if the precipitous drop in oil prices in recent months played a role. It costs roughly $5 million a year to field a leading top-fuel dragster, which can reach speeds topping 320 mph.
"We are obviously surprised and disappointed about this completely unexpected turn of events," Johnson said in a statement.
"Many things are uncertain and our situation is obviously still evolving," he said. "We are currently exploring our options and we hope to have more news in the near future."
Drag racing is growing in popularity in the Middle East and Al Thani has been an avid fan since his youth. Part of his purpose in backing the Al-Anabi team was to further promote the sport in the region.
Langdon won the top-fuel championship for the team in 2013, then had one win and finished fourth in the point standings last year. AlBalooshi won twice and finished eighth in the standings last season.
The Al-Anabi team also won top-fuel championships in 2010 with Larry Dixon and in 2011 with Del Worsham.
The NHRA season opens with the Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona on Feb. 5-8, and AlBalooshi is the defending top-fuel winner of the event.
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