March 14, 2015

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) Alan Johnson is in the final stretch of a race he can't afford to lose.

A 15-time NHRA champion as an owner and crew chief, Johnson is treating this weekend's Gatornationals as possibly his last run - maybe for the foreseeable future.

Johnson is considering shutting down one of the more successful teams in drag racing for the rest of the year if he can't find a sponsor for Top Fuel driver Shawn Langdon and Alan Johnson Racing.

''It would be silly to continue paying my way,'' Johnson said. ''There's nothing to prove. This could be our last event. There are a lot of fans who want to see us out here. Unfortunately, it could be the end.

''We have to draw the line somewhere. It's expensive to keep this whole thing going without some sort of corporate backing. It's the end. It's impossible. We're going to give it to the end of the month for sure, then we'll decide what we're going to do.''

Johnson had little time to prepare for this.

His sponsor, Al-Anabi Racing, pulled its sponsorship Dec. 30. The announcement left Johnson in a huge bind a little more than a month before the season opener.

''It was shocking,'' said Johnson, who has 11 Top Fuel championships. ''Everything would have been great if we'd had four or five months' notice that would have given us a head start on this. Right now, we're kind of relying on somebody that's got a passion for racing, wants to see us keep going and finds a way to squeeze it out of their budget to keep our team out there.''

Johnson doesn't sound like he has many sponsor leads.

''We're entertaining a bunch of companies, but nothing's really proceeding where we want just yet,'' he said. ''It's still a pretty big fight. Big corporations, their fiscal year starts in January. It makes it even more difficult.''

Johnson partnered with Food Network's Guy Fieri to boost marketing and help get the word out. Fieri's Knuckle Sandwich brand is on the side of the dragster, but his company does not sponsor the team.

Without a sponsor, Alan Johnson Racing made the quickest run in NHRA history, a 3.70-second effort that made Langdon the No. 1 qualifier at the season-opening Winternationals in Pomona, California. Langdon went on to win the race. That win pushed the AJR win total to 43 since the beginning of the 2009 season.

The team made the semifinals at Phoenix, maintained the points lead and headed into Sunday's elimination rounds in Gainesville as the top qualifier.

But there's still searching.

''Fortunately we've had a good start,'' Langdon said. ''Hopefully it catches somebody's attention. After the (fastest qualifying) run, I was talking to Alan and he said now's an appropriate time to start begging. So we're begging - anybody.

''We're just doing the best job we can. All we can show is what our team's capable of. Just keep doing what we're doing, go out there and win races and catch the eye of somebody who wants to sponsor a Top Fuel car.''

If nothing changes in the next few weeks, Johnson plans to shut the team down. And he has no timetable for getting it restarted.

''It's tough on everybody,'' Johnson said. ''I think the crew is handling as well as anybody. They're upbeat. They're excited to race. They're around here thinking we're going to get something and they want to be part of it. So they're doing great.

''I have to give them enough notice so they can get out there and find some work somewhere. Also, have time to shore things up at the shop, make sure everything is cleaned up, put away, preparing for sale or for whatever has to happen.''

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