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NHRA's Alan Johnson says Qatar sheik 'apologetic' about sponsorship pullout

Johnson: Qatar prince whose sponsorship of Al-Anabi Racing team was canceled was 'apologetic' about pullout

The Qatar prince whose sponsorship of a leading NHRA drag-racing team was canceled last month was "apologetic" about the abrupt pullout, the team's owner said Friday.

The Al-Anabi Racing team, owned by famed crew chief Alan Johnson, was a major player in the elite top-fuel class of the National Hot Rod Assn.

It was sponsored by Sheik Khalid Al Thani of Qatar, an oil-rich nation in the Persian Gulf. But the funding was unexpectedly pulled a month ago.

On the first day of the NHRA's season-opening Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Johnson held his first press conference on the matter and said Al Thani was "disappointed" and "apologetic" about the pullout.

"We were funded not by Sheik Khalid but by Qatar and they have their issues; let's leave it at that," Johnson said, adding that the support totaled more than $50 million in the last six years.

"He 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 if Al Thani indicated to Johnson whether the worldwide drop in oil prices played a role, Johnson replied: "Not to me, no."

Johnson has since pared his team to one car from two, with the remaining dragster driven by former top-fuel champion Shawn Langdon.

But Johnson said Langdon's car was committed to running only in Pomona and in the next event in Phoenix unless the team finds new sponsorship.

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