Langdon Clinches Top Fuel
Shawn Langdon locked up the 2013 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Top Fuel world championship upon completion of qualifying at the Auto Club NHRA Finals on Saturday.
Antron Brown needed to make up three points during qualifying to have a shot at overtaking him, and he was unable to it.
Meanwhile, Brandon Bernstein (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car), Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle) raced to No. 1 qualifying positions and will lead their categories into Sunday’s 11 a.m. eliminations at the final playoff race of the season in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.
Laogdon is the first driver in history to win championships in the NHRA Jr. Drag Racing League, the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, and the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.
“What a journey,” Langdon said. “We had the opportunity to clinch the championship in Las Vegas, but I don’t think anything can top doing it here in Pomona. What means a lot to me is the amount of Jr. drag racing kids who come up and tell me, ‘I want to race Top Fuel someday.’ I tell them, ‘I was just like you 15 years ago. I didn’t have anything much more than a dream.’ Through the ups and the downs, I had people who gave me opportunities along the way. I owe every bit of this to them.
“My parents got me my start. My dad showed me everything there is to know about drag racing. Jack Brown gave me the opportunity to drive a Super Comp car after I raced Jr. Dragsters. The Lucas family gave me my first opportunity to drive a Top Fuel car, and Sheikh Khalid and Alan Johnson gave me this opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. Everything I ever worked for in my whole life brought me to this single moment.”
It is the third Top Fuel championship for Al-Anabi Racing in five years of competition with its third different driver (Larry Dixon won in 2010 and Del Worsham in 2011). It’s the 11th championship for tuner/team manager Johnson and the second for Brian Husen in the crew chief position.
Langdon began the season strong and kept the pedal down all the way. He kicked off the year by winning in Pomona, defeating Tony Schumacher in the final round by pairing an amazing .011 light with a 3.721, which is the quickest run of the 2013 season with one day of competition remaining.
“We both were going for it, you could tell,” Brown said. “The track was great and the car left really well. We were going for it, stepped on it, gave it our best shot, and we’ll never hang our heads. We just work as hard as we can each and every day.
“And we have a race tomorrow, four more rounds of racing. We’re looking forward to getting out there tomorrow because our car has run exceptionally well this weekend. It’s run exceptionally well the three races before this one.
Langdon surrendered the points lead at the second event and had a series of near-misses in his quest for event wins until breaking through again in Topeka with a dominant victory from the No. 1 qualifying position with four 3.7-second runs in eliminations. He made it back-to-back wins with a victory in Englishtown over Al-Anabi teammate Khalid alBalooshi in the final round that gave him back the points lead.
“The whole Al-Anabi team has done such a phenomenal job,” said Langdon. “You see the hard work and the determination that goes into everything they do throughout the season, but there’s something different when it gets to Countdown time. You see everybody dig that much deeper, work that much harder, and stay that much later to make sure that everything is absolutely perfect from top to bottom.”
Car owner Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad Al Thani attended his first event of the season in Sonoma, and Langdon surely impressed his boss with a convincing win over former high school classmate Morgan Lucas in the final round. A pair of semifinals at the next two events assured that he would have the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, and he put emphasis on a strong regular season by doubling up in Indianapolis. He won the NHRA Traxxas Nitro Shootout special event one day before winning the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, defeating rival Steve Torrence in the final round in each instance.
The playoffs began with a blip when Bob Vandergriff Jr. upset Langdon in a close first-round battle in Charlotte, but Langdon left no question after that. He qualified No. 1 in Dallas, where he reached the final, and St. Louis. He took a commanding lead by winning his sixth race of the season at the Reading event while his closest challengers lost in the early rounds.
Langdon stretched his lead with a semifinal finish in Las Vegas while the event winner, 2012 champ Brown, moved into the No. 2 spot despite starting the playoffs with a DNQ. Brown had a mathematical shot at the title heading into Pomona, but Langdon slammed the door shut with his qualifying performance.
“We’re excited that it’s the last race of the season, but it’s almost a little bit sad that we don’t get to go to any more races this season because we have such a good-running car,” said Langdon. “Sheikh Khalid and the country of Qatar put a team together to race for championships. Alan Johnson is the best in the business, and you know he’s going to give you a great car. They’re always trying to take things to the next level and stay a step ahead of the competition. As a driver, you have to perform. There’s pressure, but that’s what we love to do and what we thrive on.”
In Funny Car, recently crowned Funny Car champ Force raced to a track record time of 3.995 at 319.37 in his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang to earn his sixth No. 1 of the season and 146th of his career. The 16-time champ’s time was the first three-second run for a Funny Car at the historic dragstrip. Matt Hagan qualified second overall in a Dodge Charger with a 4.014 at a track record speed of 320.20.
“It’s a rocket,” Force said. “It goes down through there. It doesn’t vibrate. It doesn’t move around. It’s on a mission, and that thing did it, and I knew it. I heard [my crew] yelling on the radio, but they didn’t tell me what it was because they tried to save the excitement for the camera, but I knew she ran in the threes; I just didn’t know how good. The Schumachers, they beat us to the threes, but at least we got it here at my home track, Pomona, in front of a pretty good crowd here, so I’m excited.”
Edwards claimed his 15th No. 1 of the season and 56th of his career in Pro Stock, with a performance of 6.530 at 212.23 in his Interstate Batteries/I Am Second Chevy Camaro. By claiming the maximum number of qualifying points, Edwards moved into a tie for second in the championship battle with Jason Line. They trail series leader Jeg Coughlin by 70 points.
“We came in this weekend feeling like we needed to be perfect and the car ran very good,” Edwards said. “To get No. 1 in all four sessions was just a tremendous job by this team. I’m so proud of everybody. We just have three guys with us now, and it feels like I’ve been working in a Top Fuel pit.”
There are several scenarios on the table, but to clinch the championship no matter what his challengers do, Coughlin needs to advance to the semifinals.
“Tomorrow will be interesting, to say the least,” Edwards said. “I don’t think there’s a national record out there, so we’ll need some help. It’s been a tough season the last six races, but if you look at the whole year, it’s still been a great season. We have one more day left in 2013, and I hope that we can make the most of it.”
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Arana Jr. earned his third No. 1 of the season and 13th of his career with a 6.818 at 195.31 on his Lucas Oil Buell. He will race Jim Underdahl in the first round. With the bike championship already awarded to Matt Smith, Arana is focused on moving up as far as he can in the series standings with a strong run tomorrow.
“We started off great in 2013 and plan to end the season the same way,” Arana Jr. said. “We were not able to accomplish our main goal, which was to win the championship, but we’re going to do our best to end the season with a win. We had a couple of problems that happened to us this year; engines break when you push them to the limit. Things break, and sometimes it takes a while to get back to par. The biggest thing we learned is that we need more help, but it’s been a great year for us as a team. We put all three of our bikes in the top 10, and I have four wins so far.”
Sunday’s first-round pairings for eliminations for the 49th annual Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, the final of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Pairings based on results in qualifying, which ended Saturday. DNQs listed below pairings.
Top Fuel — 1. Brandon Bernstein, 3.748 seconds, 325.37 mph vs. 16. Billy Torrence, 3.903, 305.63; 2. Shawn Langdon, 3.750, 327.03 vs. 15. Steve Torrence, 3.835, 326.00; 3. Clay Millican, 3.761, 324.98 vs. 14. Troy Buff, 3.825, 310.70; 4. Doug Kalitta, 3.762, 326.08 vs. 13. Tony Schumacher, 3.821, 323.81; 5. Antron Brown, 3.775, 323.74 vs. 12. Bob Vandergriff, 3.815, 322.42; 6. Morgan Lucas, 3.782, 320.20 vs. 11. Terry McMillen, 3.814, 324.28; 7. David Grubnic, 3.783, 321.88 vs. 10. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.806, 323.43; 8. Brittany Force, 3.784, 323.74 vs. 9. Spencer Massey, 3.799, 323.04. Did Not Qualify: 17. Todd Paton, 4.017, 290.63; 18. Steven Chrisman, 7.683, 204.60.
Funny Car — 1. John Force, Ford Mustang, 3.995, 319.37 vs. 16. Bob Bode, Chevy Impala, 4.166, 298.34; 2. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 4.014, 320.20 vs. 15. Alexis DeJoria, Toyota Camry, 4.137, 311.13; 3. Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.016, 319.07 vs. 14. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.132, 309.27; 4. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.019, 318.69 vs. 13. Gary Densham, Charger, 4.118, 301.81; 5. Robert Hight, Mustang, 4.028, 317.49 vs. 12. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.103, 312.71; 6. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.059, 310.05 vs. 11. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.077, 313.07; 7. Chad Head, Camry, 4.065, 314.17 vs. 10. Johnny Gray, Charger, 4.077, 311.20; 8. Jeff Arend, Charger, 4.067, 311.85 vs. 9. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.071, 314.31. Did Not Qualify: 17. Jeff Diehl, 4.168, 297.09; 18. Phil Burkart, 4.171, 287.47; 19. Josh Crawford, 4.243, 267.80; 20. Terry Haddock, 4.257, 289.88; 21. Grant Downing, 4.904, 291.07; 22. Tony Pedregon, 4.932, 303.84; 23. Peter Russo, 5.959, 122.81.
Pro Stock — 1. Mike Edwards, Chevy Camaro, 6.530, 212.23 vs. 16. Kurt Johnson, Pontiac GXP, 6.595, 210.60; 2. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.543, 212.16 vs. 15. Greg Stanfield, Camaro, 6.592, 210.44; 3. Rickie Jones, Camaro, 6.544, 211.46 vs. 14. Matt Hartford, Dodge Avenger, 6.589, 210.64; 4. Jeg Coughlin, Avenger, 6.545, 211.43 vs. 13. Vincent Nobile, Avenger, 6.583, 211.06; 5. Allen Johnson, Avenger, 6.550, 211.73 vs. 12. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.578, 211.13; 6. V. Gaines, Avenger, 6.552, 212.16 vs. 11. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.576, 210.37; 7. Buddy Perkinson, Camaro, 6.556, 211.76 vs. 10. Bruno Massel, Camaro, 6.575, 210.28; 8. Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 6.557, 211.43 vs. 9. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.567, 211.33. Did Not Qualify: 17. Larry Morgan, 6.607, 210.24; 18. Warren Johnson, 6.628, 210.11; 19. Deric Kramer, 6.654, 209.04.
Pro Stock Motorcycle — 1. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.818, 195.51 vs. 16. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.974, 194.38; 2. Adam Arana, Buell, 6.852, 196.36 vs. 15. Shawn Gann, Buell, 6.961, 192.28; 3. John Hall, Buell, 6.857, 193.71 vs. 14. Matt Smith, Buell, 6.948, 192.22; 4. Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 6.874, 194.18 vs. 13. Chaz Kennedy, Buell, 6.946, 190.43; 5. Hector Arana, Buell, 6.875, 195.82 vs. 12. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.940, 191.67; 6. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.893, 192.60 vs. 11. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.940, 194.13; 7. Michael Ray, Buell, 6.905, 193.24 vs. 10. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.929, 192.47; 8. Angie Smith, Buell, 6.908, 195.22 vs. 9. Katie Sullivan, Suzuki, 6.921, 195.22. Did Not Qualify: 17. Jerry Savoie, 6.995, 191.08; 18. Freddie Camarena, 7.020, 193.21; 19. Michael Phillips, 7.068, 189.58; 20. Rhett Lougheed, 7.084, 189.63; 21. Redell Harris, 7.225, 187.57; 22. James Surber, 7.250, 184.40; 23. Bailey Whitaker, broke.No Comment