Profiles: Co-Team Owner: Alan Johnson | Top Fuel: Larry Dixon | Funny Car: Del Worsham
02.04.09: Legendary Top Fuel Crew Chief Alan Johnson and Qatar Prince to Test NHRA
For Alan Johnson, leaving Don Schumacher Racing to return to ownership with a start-up team was simply a matter of moving from one form of royalty to another literally. After winning the last five Top Fuel championships as Tony Schumacher's crew chief, Johnson announced last summer that he was leaving the powerhouse outfit to return to ownership with a two-car operation. One twist: He now has a partnership with Sheik Khalid Bin Hamad Al-Thani of Qatar to form Alan Johnson Al-Anabi Racing, which will field a Top Fuel dragster with two-time champion and series runner-up Larry Dixon and a Funny Car with veteran Del Worsham in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series.
Given Johnson's record, some around the circuit expect the team to become an immediate challenger in both classes, especially Top Fuel. The owner has high hopes as well, but right now he's eager to see what it's like being in charge again. "The challenge of owning my own team and trying to win under the banner of Al-Anabi is something I've looked forward to for a number of years," said Johnson, 50, who won Funny Car titles (1997, 1998, 2000) as an owner with driver Gary Scelzi. "We've put together a great team. We've got great personnel, (and) two wonderful drivers. We're going to go out and try to create a top-notch team and compete for a championship from the beginning of the year."
In a statement, Al-Thani describes himself as a huge fan of drag racing and a longtime follower of Johnson's career as an owner, crew chief and builder of engine parts. Al-Thani's goal is raising awareness of motor sports in his homeland, which exports petroleum, fertilizer, cement and steel. "I am no different from any other team co-owner," Al-Thani said. "I want to see the Funny Car and Top Fuel teams as world champions. I trust Alan's vision of operating his own team will manifest more wins, more records and championships while also raising awareness of drag racing in Qatar."
Already, the team has raised eyebrows by luring Dixon from Snake Racing after a 13-year association and particularly after his best season in years. Though he finished a distant second to Schumacher (who won 15 of 24 events), Dixon closed 2008 with a victory in Pomona, Calif., site of this weekend's season opener. Dixon, a 43-time winner, bought out the remainder of his contract with Snake Racing to join Al-Anabi. He has marveled at how quickly the team has come together crew chief Jason McCulloch is one of several former DSR members who followed Johnson and is confident of closing the gap on Schumacher. "You've got to surround yourself with talent, and Alan has certainly done that," Dixon said. "There are a lot of teams out there that you've got to look out for.
For Worsham, timing was everything. Within days of losing his primary sponsor, Johnson called Worsham and pitched the start-up effort funded entirely by Al-Thani. Worsham needed little persuasion to come aboard. After missing the Countdown to 1 and finishing 13th in points, he is hungry to start anew in hopes of making the six-race playoff. "This door opened up, and it seemed meant to be," Worsham said. "From the time my other job ended, we've been working in the shop with Alan on the chassis. It's come together. We've run well at the test. I can't wait for Pomona."
Al-Anabi(1) means "Go Team Maroon!" That is one of two colors in Qatar's flag (white is the other). Both cars will sport the letters KH, for Khalid Al-Thani and his father, Hamad, the emir. The hope is they'll eventually display No. 1, a number Johnson hopes to appropriate from his previous dynasty to his current one. "I'll never forget the opportunity I had there (at DSR) and the fun that we had racing together and winning all those races," Johnson said. "It certainly wasn't something I was looking forward to, making the announcement that it was going to break up that team. But this is drag racing and it's my life, something that I love to do." ~ Motorsports-NHRA
(1) FlA Says:
Al is for Alan Johnson Racing. Anabi Racing is (Prince) Sheikh Khalid Bin Hamad Al Thanis Qatar based racing operation which consists of sand hill racing and pro-modified drag racing. Al-Anabi Racing is a partnership between Alan and Sheikh Khalid. This is the Princes first time to own a nitro racing team. He attended the entire Winternationals and was in the Al-Anabi Racing pits learning about the nitro dragster and funny car, along with the crews activity. He seems to be a hands-on individual. Hopefully not too hands-on where he gets in the teams way.
02.04.09: Pomona: Al-Anabi Racing NHRA Winternationals Preview Larry Dixon, Top Fuel Dragster
- - Dixon begins his Alan Johnson Al-Anabi Racing tenure this week after 20 years with Don Prudhomme Racing. He finished second in the 2008 NHRA POWERade Top Fuel point standings recording his 14th consecutive top-10 points finish. He won two races in six final-round appearances last season. Dixon was the No. 2 qualifier at last year's Winternationals. He advanced to the semifinals where he lost to event winner Tony Schumacher. Dixon won this event in 1998, 2002 and '03. He has never been the No. 1 qualifier at the Winternationals. Dixon won the NHRA POWERade Top Fuel championship in 2002 and '03. He is currently third on the NHRA's all-time Top Fuel winner's list with 43 victories. Joe Amato is in second place with 52 wins; Tony Schumacher tops the list with 56 wins. Dixon is 10th on the NHRA's all-time professional victories list. He trails ninth-place Dave Schultz by two wins. Dixon was the 1995 NHRA Rookie of the Year.
Dixon on the Winternationals: - - "I had a great time at Don Prudhomme Racing for the number of years that I was there, but it was time for a change. Between crewing and driving, I was there for 20 years, so that's half my life. I have a great opportunity driving for Alan Johnson and his Al-Anabi Racing team, and I'm really looking forward to the challenge. "With what Alan Johnson has accomplished in the last five years -- heck, the last 15 years - any driver would love to work with someone with his credentials. From the first time I talked to AJ about this team, what excited me is that he has a two-year, a five-year and even a 10-year plan. I'm flattered and honored that he wants me to be a part of it. Alan won 15 races at Don Schumacher Racing last year -- that's incredible, but what hooked me is his long-term planning as far as what he wants to do and where he wants to go. I want to ride his coat tails.
"At the Phoenix test, we made nine runs, running as quick as 3.81 seconds and as fast as 316 mph, my fastest speed at 1000 feet. This team has high standards; we ran quicker and faster than what I had previously, and they still want more. They want to step up their numbers so when we get to Pomona, we can be competitive. "Now, Pomona is here, and it's time to go racing for real. It's game day. It's like Summer vacation is over, and it's time to go back to school. Most of the Top Fuel teams have had a change with the sponsor, owner, driver or crew chief so it will be interesting to see how it all shakes out at the end of the weekend; I just hope we're a part of it." Del Worsham, Funny Car
: - - Worsham begins his Alan Johnson Al-Anabi Racing tenure this week after spending the previous 19 seasons driving his family-owned Funny Car. Worsham doubled as a Top Fuel driver running a limited schedule in 1993, '94 and '95. Worsham finished 13th in the 2008 NHRA POWERade Funny Car standings. He won a race and earned his 11th career berth in the US Smokeless Showdown. He has won 22 races in 35 final-round appearances in his career. Worsham has never won the Winternationals, but he was runner up to John Force in 1993. He won the season's final race at Pomona in 2001 and '03. One year ago, Worsham did not qualify for the Winternationals.
Worsham on the Winternationals: - - "The team has already come along faster than I thought, but with Alan Johnson and Aaron Brooks involved, I should have expected it. The car is running unreal; I can't wait to get to Pomona to get started. Our two tests at West Palm Beach and Phoenix were better than I ever dreamed they could be, but when you have Alan and Aaron in your corner, with all the preparation they do, I shouldn't have been surprised with our early success. I know testing is different from real competition, but I enter Pomona with my confidence at a very high level.
"It been different not working with my family's team Aaron and Alan have made the transition as painless as possible and treated me like I've been a part of this team forever. It's really been great so far. "They've designed stunning race car. When you see it on the track it's really stunning. From the paint scheme all the way to the assembly of the car, chassis and other components, it's been a pleasure to drive so far, and I'm looking forward to actually racing it this week." - PR from Al-Anabi Racing
I cant say enough good things about both Larry Dixon and Del Worsham. There are outstanding individuals and drivers who I always enjoy watching and talking with. Jason McCulloch is crew chief for Larry. He's the son of my No. 1 favorite active NHRA legend, Ed "The Ace" McColloch. It should be a very interesting season. I dont know Alan that well, only his NHRA superstar crew chief reputation. His brother Blaines 1996 Top Fuel crash and death was horrendous, like Scott Kalittas FC crash last year. ~ Blaine Johnson: NHRA 36th Greatest Driver
Kenny Bernstein Racing
NHRA No. 6 Greatest | 2009 Inductee, Motorsports Hall of Fame of America
2007 Inducted, International Drag Racing Hall of Fame | 2006 Induced, Texas Motor Sports Hall of Fame
NHRA: Top Fuel World Champion 1996, 2001 ~ Funny Car World Champion 1985, '86, '87, '88
KBR Top Fuel Driver: Brandon Bernstein
Over the decades, Kenny has always been one of my favorites. Not only is he a great driver and team owner, he has a great attitude, style, and level of professionalism. He also surrounds himself with excellent talent. Crew chiefs Dale Armstrong, Lee Beard, and Tim Richards are some of the best in NHRA history. Another big plus was during his early NHRA years and world championships, Kenny and his racing operations were based out of Dallas, Texas. His mentor, good friend, and 3-time NHRA World Funny Car Champion, 1979-81, Raymond Beadle was also based out of North Dallas, and still lives there. Texas became a major market for NHRA drag racing, second only to California. Kenny became involved in NASCAR Winston Cup team ownership several years after Raymond Beadle did where Raymond and driver Rusty Wallace won the 1989 Winston Cup. For a period of time, Kenny also owned a CART (open wheel Indy cars) racing team.
For the 2009 season, Kenny had to disband his NHRA Funny Car program due to sponsorship loss. Hes still running his legendary Budweiser sponsored Top Fuel dragster with son Brandon driving (since 2003). Despite not having the best 2008 season, finished 7th, Brandon is an impressive driver and individual. I definitely would like to see KBR make a solid run for the 2009 NHRA Top Fuel championship.
10.13.08: Legend crew chief Tim Richards and wife Kim retire from NHRA and Kenny Bernstein Racing
- - Tim Richards, 65 years old, has a career total of 81 race wins and six NHRA Top Fuel championships. Kim has partnered with Tim for 50 of those victories. She began her racing career working with her father Dick LaHaie(The Man - fla) on his Top Fuel car, helping tune him to his 1987 NHRA Top Fuel championship.
Kenny: 1981 T/F Funny Car, Gatornationals, Gainesville; 1996 Top Fuel, Mile-High Nationals, Denver; 2001 NHRA Finals, Pomona. The late 70s early 80s Funny Cars are my all-time favorites. - fla
02.04.09: NHRA legend Kenny Bernstein Celebrates 30 years of Sponorship by Anheuser-Busch
In an era where racing teams struggle to either retain existing sponsors or create ways to land new ones, six-time NHRA World Champion Kenny Bernstein remains the model in the industry. This year will mark the 30th anniversary of Kenny Bernstein Racings(KBR) alliance with St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch(AB). It's the longest standing relationship between a racer and sponsor - two years longer than Richard Petty enjoyed with STP. Bernsteins success also extends into NASCAR and CART, making him the only owner to win in all three U.S. racing series.
Kenny has never sold himself short, but he never expected his initial meeting with AB officials to turn into a 30-year relationship. Then again, brewery officials couldn't help acknowledging Bernstein's moxie and determination. In 1979, Bernstein packed his funny car trailer and made the trip to St. Louis to promote himself and his race team. The idea was hatched by Austin, Texas AB wholesaler Don Brown, who encouraged his fellow Texan to make the sales pitch. In a parking lot early in the morning, Bernstein greeted AB employees with a display that created interest in not just his team, but in the sport. It was basic business advice that Bernstein learned from his father and honed through his own business career. Says Bernstein, "In the beginning, they (AB officials) were just interested in seeing what NHRA was about. They warmed up as time progressed and it took more meetings to make it happen. They finally realized what a great marketplace drag racing was for their product." "Looking back thirty years, my racing success would not have been possible with any other sponsor. Even with the exact same people and equipment in our racing organization.
There is no great secret to Bernstein's success. In fact, the approach is very simplistic. "Our position from day one has been to help Budweiser wholesalers sell beer," said Bernstein. For 30 years, Bernstein has developed a relationship with wholesalers on the NHRA tour. Currently, he and his son Brandon - who since 2003 drives KBRs Top Fuel dragster - promotes ABs product and, in turn, the wholesalers tell St. Louis how effective they are and how much they appreciate it. There are numerous activities before each of the NHRA national events, whether it's playing golf with customers of the wholesalers, doing personal appearances, or mingling with race fans. "It means the world to me," said Brandon, who has 17 Top Fuel wins in the red Budweiser dragster. "Looking back at the history of my father and the Busch family, I'm proud to be a part of the family. It's an honor. It's nice to know there's a 30-year legacy." Kenny Bernstein was also one of the first to create a hospitality area, at his NHRA pit, that has become so commonplace for big sponsors of the sport. Under Bernstein's original plan, it was an area where wholesalers could entertain their customers and be close to the racing team.
While Budweiser remains one of the world's top-selling beers and AB is tops in U.S. sports marketing and sponsorships, the company's acquisition last summer by Belguim based InBev (Name is now ABInBev - fla) has posed questions about its future presence. The company has a reputation for cost and price-cutting, and motor sports marketing is among the platforms being examined. Bernstein's deal with Budweiser ends after the 2009 season (2006-9 four year sponsorship contract -fla). "They're going through cuts and changes," said Bernstein. "We'll sit down with them and see where we're at." For now, the focus is solely on Brandon's Top Fuel prospects. The dragster team will break in crew chief Rob Flynn and assistant Mike Guger, who succeed the retired Tim and Kim Richards. Brandon, who finished seventh in points after the first winless season of his career, comes in with a new perspective after getting married in the off-season.
-- Compilation from two articles with edits and additions. Images courtesy KBR ~ fla
2009 Winternationals, Pomona. KBR celebrates 30 years sponsored by Budweiser