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Langdon’s Quickness Poses Threat To Veterans

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 18 2010

Shawn Langdon has become a threat to the big boys in Top Fuel. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series)

By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer

Concord, N.C. – The most feared driver in the field at the zMAX Dragway this weekend is an unheralded and polite 28-year old. With his auburn-colored beard and quiet manner, Shawn Langdon could pass for a minister.

Langdon is feared because he can bypass any driver on any given Sunday in the Top Fuel ranks. In his second pro season driving for Morgan Lucas Racing, the Indiana native leads the Top Fuel category in reaction times after finishing second during his rookie year in the category that ranks drivers’ speed against the starting lights.

“This is what I’ve always dreamed of doing,” said Langdon, whose career began by earning a living in the Sportsman classes. “I’ve been a fan of all the Top Fuel drivers. I’ve probably got hero cards from most of them that I collected when I was younger. For me to have any situation where I’m considered to be at the top is very humbling.”

On a Monday in the opening round of the Countdown to One at Indianapolis, it was Antron Brown who was humbled when Langdon left on the Don Schumacher Racing driver at the starting line. Coupled with a free pass in the quarterfinals when Brandon Bernstein broke, Langdon went to the semifinals and gained three positions in the points standings.

The three drivers ahead of Langdon are legendary: Larry Dixon, Cory McClenathan and Tony Schumacher. That makes the relative youngster who came to Charlotte in fourth place even more dangerous. He’s got everything to gain and nothing to lose in the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals.

“It’s the nature of drag racing that anybody can win the way Top Fuel is now,” said Langdon. “It’s very competitive. You do have three teams at the top who are very hard to beat. But if one of those three guys show any weakness, the rest of us are there to take advantage of it.”

Entering the stretch run of his second season, Langdon has become the team leader in terms of performance. He vaulted past teammate Morgan Lucas in the standings at Indy. At Charlotte’s zMAX facility, both drivers faltered in the first day of qualifying. But in Saturday’s first qualifying session, Langdon clocked one of the day’s better times on a hot track to secure a ninth-place qualifying spot while Lucas needed the final round to get into the last spot of the 16-car bracket.

Langdon grew up in Avon, Indiana and met his teammate while they were in high school. Lucas Oil Products, owned by Morgan’s father Forrest, helped sponsor Langdon in the Sportsman ranks before he was invited to join the Top Fuel team.

The hole shots at the tree that have elevated Langdon to number one in Reaction Times resulted from the driver’s decision to make a living in the Sportsman classes. The low ET’s are established in Sportsman according to class or equipment, so reaction times are crucial to getting down the track first without breaking out of the mandated elapsed time.

“I’ve always admired the innovators in drag racing,” said Langdon, who started with natural quickness and then focused on getting faster. “I was always looking for a way to find that extra something.”

In some respects, Langdon is an innovator in a class where the focus has turned to getting hooked up and down the track. If Top Fuel machine is right, went this line of thinking, any problems off the line would take care of themselves. But the shorter 1,000-foot finish line in place of the quarter mile, brought about by safety issues, has changed that line of thinking — along with the arrival of Langdon.

Still looking for his first Top Fuel victory after two Sportsman championships in Super Comp and a Jr. Dragster championship, Langdon crossed another goal off his list at Indy despite losing in the semis to eventual winner Dixon. He rebounded by winning the Super Gas class at the O’Reilly Raceway Park, giving him his first victory at the U.S. Nationals and the first on his home track.

“To win in the Super Gas car was huge for me personally,” said Langdon, who had his entire Top Fuel crew on the starting line prior to his final pass that took place three days after his 28th birthday. “Winning at Indy has been the one thing that has eluded me my whole career.”

Although he went to the semifinals last year in Charlotte, Langdon remains realistic about expectations for the remainder of the season. He downplays the possibility he could make a name for himself in Top Fuel if he continues to go rounds and gain points, starting with his first round match-up against Hot Rod Fuller of Don Schumacher Racing on Sunday. His team still needs more development to challenge the established powerhouses of Al-Anabi Racing and Don Schumacher Racing.

“We’re really looking for a top five finish (in the points),” said Langdon. “Last year was my first year and we finished ninth. We’re looking to build our momentum. We’d like to get to the point where we have two championship cars at Morgan Lucas Racing. But that doesn’t happen overnight. There’s a lot of trial and error, a lot of ups and downs.”

Lately, there’s been more ups than downs for Langdon.

– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jingram@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 18 2010
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