Langdon, Al-Anabi Are Swinging To A New Tune

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, October 4 2012

The Al-Anabi Top Fuel team has retuned and is climbing back toward the top. (Photo courtesy of Al-Anabi Racing)

In the comment section of a story about Al-Anabi Racing which ran recently on an NHRA-news website, a reader left a message which, basically, blamed this year’s drivers for the Top Fuel team’s 2012 problems. Shawn Langdon, one of those drivers, said no, he had not seen the comment. But, he said, he has heard similar

criticisms at race venues on event weekends.

His reaction, he said during a telephone call on Thursday morning, is two pronged. First; he understands it. Second; just wait.

That wait, it appears, is almost over. It may even be over soon enough for Langdon and his Al-Anabi Silver team to win this year’s Top Fuel championship. A championship which will be decided just three events from now.

“Obviously, we’ve got some ground to make up,” Langdon, who will start this weekend’s Auto Plus U.S. Nationals at Pennsylvania’s Maple Grove Raceway fourth in points (106 behind leader Antron Brown of Don Schumacher Racing), said. “We’ve just got to win. We’ve got to go out there and make good runs, we’ve got to have a car that’s capable of winning and the driver has got to do his job.”

For much of the season, accomplishing the things Langdon mentioned would have been highly problematic. That’s because for much of the season, Langdon and Al-Anabi struggled. The team that had won the previous two Top Fuel championships went 15 races before reaching an eliminations final. During that time, Langdon suffered first-round losses six times.

And the negative comments were written and voiced. Not unexpectedly for Langdon, who, along with teammate

Shawn Langdon sees big improvements at Al-Anabi. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Tami Pope)

Khalid alBalooshi, had come over to replace highly popular and highly successful drivers Larry Dixon and Del Worsham.

“You look at what Larry did in the car (win the 2010 championship) and you look what Del did in the car (win the 2011 championship) and they won races,” Langdon said. “They won races, they got the job done. So yes, I wondered at times during the year when I would go out and I would just kind of wonder, ‘Am I doing something wrong as a driver?’

“I kept asking Alan (Johnson, the master tuner and team manager), ‘Hey, man, is there something I can do different? Am I doing something wrong?’ And he just kept telling me, ‘No, you’re doing a good job. Keep doing what you’re doing.’ ”

Stats showed that Johnson was correct. Langdon continued to be one of the best – if not the best – leaver in the sport. His reaction times and leave-first percentages were easily among the best in the NHRA.

Johnson showed patience with Langdon and alBalooshi and not just because they were rookies to the team.

The veteran horsepower man had decided late last year that the competition – especially that at Don Schumacher Racing – had taken big steps forward in terms of  tuning. Johnson knew that he, too, must take big steps and that meant significant changes to the way his team tuned its rails.

Johnson told CompetitionPlus last month, “We knew we were going to have to take our lumps and this would pay off in the end. Our whole mindset was to make sure we got to the top of our game when we got to Indy so that we could run the Countdown with the hopes we could win it.”

Langdon, who had not won in an NHRA Top Fuel car during his career, said he wanted success early. He said, yes, he wanted to win. But, because of his respect for Johnson, he bought into the big-picture plan.

“You can’t say anything bad about what we’ve accomplished this year,” Langdon said. “Long term, we’ve accomplished some great things with the car, on making the car better in the long run. Alan, he’s a big innovator so he’s coming out with new stuff for the cars.

“What Alan has done with these race cars is unbelievable. He’s taken these cars to the next level. He’s constantly the front-runner, taking these cars to the next step and finding the next greatest thing. I really believe him that DSR, with all their brain trust they have over there, they really did catch up. All their cars are running good, whether Funny Car or dragster. We just had to take a little step back in order to take that step forward.”

Langdon’s team took a big step forward three weeks ago at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C. It was then and there that Langdon got the first victory of his career and Al-Anabi got its first victory of the season.

The victory, which came in the first race of the six-race Countdown, pushed Langdon from seventh to third in points. And it pushed him into the high-confidence zone.

Johnson and Langdon know that in order for the Silver team to win a third-straight championship, they will need the DSR teams to slip and fall at some point – or points – over the next three events.

Al-Anabi has overcome point deficits before. Like last year when Worsham won the final two events of the season to earn his championship.

And, the team has been good at Maple Grove. Last year, Worsham set the National elapsed-time record on his way to a runner-up finish. Worsham’s record-setting 3.735-second pass still stands today as the national record.

“We’ll never count ourselves out,” Langdon said.

And never, it appears, fear making changes.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, October 4 2012
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