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Top Fuel Title Is Next Item On Langdon’s Itinerary

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, November 5 2013

Shawn Langdon is just a couple of points away from earning his first major NHRA championship. (Photo courtesy of Al-Anabi Racing)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Monday’s telephone call from Shawn Langdon came a little bit later than originally scheduled. Seems a mis-reading of a travel itinerary had resulted in a missed flight, a chaotic scramble for another and, of course, the exploding of his whole day.

And all to start off what he admitted was the most important week of his life – the week which almost certainly will end with Langdon being crowned the Mello Yello NHRA Drag Racing Series’ 2013 Top Fuel champion.

The travel snafu was not, Langdon explained, the result of not caring about drag racing. It was the result of caring too much. The Al-Anabi Racing driver couldn’t just sit and relax on the bye weekend before the upcoming NHRA season-ending Auto Club Finals at the historic drag strip in Pomona, Calif. He had opted to go bracket racing at a strip in Valdosta, Ga.

Sorry, he said once he got to a phone. “I just love racing. I like to race every weekend. I love bracket racing. I love to bracket race every weekend that I can.

“I just love racing.”

Get it? Langdon likes to race. For pin money at small local tracks to support his other love, bowling. And for the biggest championship in all of drag racing.

Langdon, a 31-year-old native of California, will unload his Toyota-powered Al-Anabi Silver dragster at Pomona with his first major NHRA championship within whiffing distance.

Langon and his Brian Husen-tuned car lead second-place Antron Brown by 102 points today. Depending

The numbers look good for Shawn Langdon.

on qualifying results and qualifying bonus-point acquisition, it is possible that Langdon could be throwing his arms around the Top Fuel trophy at the conclusion of qualifying on Saturday.

Should he win his first-round matchup on Sunday, he will clinch the World Championship no matter what Don Schumacher Racing’s Brown or anybody else does at Pomona.

Asked if he could smell the championship yet, Langdon said Monday during the telephone call to RacinToday that he preferred to hold his nose this week.

“The way we have to look at it is you can’t count on anything until it’s set in stone,” Langdon said. “In the world of drag racing, the fear of the unknown is always there. You just never know what can happen. We’re not counting anything. We’re just going to show up at Pomona and it’s going to end up how it ends up.”

Not that the six-race winner in 2013 would not prefer to nail the title ASAP this weekend. And not that Langdon hasn’t done the math.

“Antron is going to have to gain three points on us in qualifying,” Langdon, who now makes his home in Avon, Ind., said. “But it really doesn’t change our strategy at all. We need to keep on doing what we’ve been doing the last couple of races where we’ve been able to get a lot of the bonus points.”

Boding well is the fact that Langdon has been an excellent qualifier this season. His average qualifying position is 3.96. He has seven No. 1 qualifiers, taking top-qualifier honors at Charlotte1, Atlanta Dragway, Topeka, Seattle, Dallas, St. Louis and Las Vegas 2. He has qualified in the top-five positions at 18 of the 23 events this year. Langdon has 13 career No. 1 qualifiers.

Still…

“I know there have been certain scenarios where we felt pretty confident that we could run a certain ET,” he said. “We knew we could slow down the car just a touch because the issue is just getting the three points. There’s no sense in blasting off a big run so there’s a little bit of strategy to it but we still have to maintain what we know and what we’ve been doing lately and making good runs down the track. If on Thursday and Friday, we can earn those little points and put a little pressure on Antron, hopefully things will end up in our favor.”

And if they do?

“To put it simple, it really is the biggest weekend of my life, my career,” Langdon said. “It’s what I worked for my whole life and, um, this is it.”

The second biggest moment of Langdon’s career might have been the day he was contacted by Alan Johnson, Al-Anabi’s team manager.

The call came prior to the 2012 NHRA season. Johnson –an icon as a tuner, team owner and team manager – was looking for somebody to replace three-time Top Fuel champion Larry Dixon.

Why Langdon, who had gone winless in three seasons with Morgan Lucas Racing?

For one thing, Langdon had established a reputation was one of the best leavers in the sport. His reaction times were scary good and that’s something nobody can teach.

“We’re confident if we provide him with a championship-caliber car he will find a way to win,” Johnson, who had won 10 Top Fuel championships with four different drivers, said in announcing the hiring in December of 2011.

And Langdon was confident Johnson would put him in championship-caliber cars.

“Alan Johnson’s resume speaks for itself,” Langdon said. “When him and Sheikh Kahlid (team owner His Excellency Sheikh Khalid Bin Hamad Al Thani of Qatar)  teamed up to put together Al-Anabi Racing and right out of the box they got two of the best drivers in the sport in Del Worsham and Larry Dixon and then me, being a rookie driver in 2009, I’m just excited to be there with the powerhouse team.

“You knew that team was going to be great from Day One. I had to race against them for three years and they gave me some serious butt kickings. To get a call from them, there’s a lot of emotion in that for me. I’m just a young driver doing what I love. It’s different for me to become, I guess, a future of the sport. I just enjoy racing.”

Langdon’s tenure at Al-Anabi started slowly in 2012. The car that was a regular visitor to Victory Lane at national events, was clearly not up to speed in Langdon’s early races.

The problem stemmed from Johnson’s decision to change things up on his teams. The Don Schumacher Racing dragsters were getting better and better and Johnson figured he had better get his rails going faster as well.

The word from Johnson to Langdon on the rest of the Al-Anabi teams was: Bear with me.

Bearing with it all, Langdon admitted, “was a little tough for a while because of the success the team had had. With me coming on board and not getting any wins (in the non-playoff portion of the season), there must have been a lot of questions about me as a driver. ‘Are they not winning because of the changes? Are they not winning because of Shawn Langdon not being a good driver?’ So I guess it was nice to prove to people that I wasn’t that bad.”

The first solid piece of that proof came in the Countdown opening race at zMAX Dragway in North Carolina last fall. Langdon got his first major NHRA win.

This year, the proof has been flowing deluge-like. There are the six victories and 10 event final-round appearances. He has advanced to at least the semifinals at 15 of the last 19 races. He visited the winner’s circle at the season-opening NHRA Winternationals in Pomona in February, Topeka, Kan., in May, Englishtown, N.J., in June, Sonoma, Calif., in July, Indianapolis in September and Reading, Pa., last month. He has seven-career Top Fuel wins.

And this weekend, he can put the gravy on top by winning the Top Fuel championship –something that will make the embarrassing start to the week well worth it.

See, Langdon was bummed out about the Monday travel snafu. Really bummed. But not because he had opted to spend the weekend doing what he loves to do. But for another reason.

“The only flight I could find only had a first-class seat available and I had to pay for it,” he said.

Perhaps Johnson and his team owner might be persuaded to pop for the flight upgrade after this coming weekend.

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

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, November 5 2013
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