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Langdon Sets Record, Earns Pole In Rainy Pomona

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, February 8 2015

Shawn Langdon recorded a 'picture-perfect' pass to claim the No. 1 qualifying spot at the Winternationals on Saturday. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Former world champion Shawn Langdon, whose 2015 season was placed in financial jeopardy one month ago, raced to the quickest Top Fuel time in NHRA history Saturday during a rain-shortened day of qualifications for the 55th annual Circle K NHRA Winternationals.

The fourth and final round of qualifying was cancelled due to rain at historic Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif. Racing in Round 3, Langdon set the track record for elapsed time with a 1,000-foot pass of 3.700-seconds at 328.30 mph in the Knuckle Sandwich/AJPE dragster.

Courtney Force (Funny Car) and Erica Enders-Stevens (Pro Stock) also will lead their respective professional categories into Sunday’s eliminations during the 2015 season-opener of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

Langdon’s ET will be certified as a national record if he can “back-up” the run by posting another time within one percent of his third session lap – a time between 3.700-seconds and 3.737-seconds on Sunday. Similarly, should Langdon record an elapsed time between 3.700-seconds and 3.663-seconds on Sunday, the new lower number would set the national ET record with Saturday’s run as its “back-up.” The “back-up” run must occur in the same race weekend to establish the record.

The 2013 world champion in a Top Fueler fielded by Alan Johnson Racing, Langdon secured his 17th career pole. “It was just a picture-perfect run,” said Langdon, who will open eliminations opposite No. 16 qualifier Steve Chrisman. “It left, had the front end up, it was accelerating hard and it just pulled all the way until I shut it off. I went through the finish line and I thought I got a glimpse of the 3.70 on the scoreboard but wasn’t really sure.

“On a 100-degree day on the track, I really wasn’t even thinking about a 3.70. It wasn’t really until I turned the corner and saw everyone hooting and hollering that I was like, ‘Ah, I guess I did see that.’^”

Langdon and team-owner Johnson lost their primary financial backer in early January when the Qatar Racing Club and Al-Anabi Racing unexpectedly pulled out of the series. Team-owner Johnson has committed to running the 2015 season’s first two national events with the hope of securing sponsorship for additional races on the 24-event tour.

“It couldn’t have happened at a better time for everyone at Alan Johnson Racing,” Langdon said of his pole-winning pass. “Coming to the first race of the year, it’s crucial for us to make a statement early and try to start off with a win _ that’s our focus _ and we couldn’t have scripted it any better at this point.”

The previous quickest pass in Top Fuel was Antron Brown’s 3.701-second effort recorded in October 2012 in Reading, Pa. On Saturday, teams were set to make their fourth and final qualifying attempts when late-afternoon light showers moved into the Pomona area, eventually forcing NHRA officials to cancel the fourth session.

“It was an excellent job for the guys _ very rewarding for them,” Langdon said of his crew. “We knew the potential was out there; it was a matter of getting the right conditions and setting the car up for them. Alan Johnson and (crew chiefs) Brian Husen and Jason McCulloch have been putting their heads together and we felt there was an opportunity for it. It was just a matter of everything falling together.”

Meanwhile, Richie Crampton raced his GEICO/Lucas Oil dragster into the second qualifying spot at 3.730-seconds and 328.46 mph. Doug Kalitta, who led qualifying through the first two rounds with a 3.733-second pass at 327.59 mph, qualified his Mac Tools dragster third.

In Funny Car, Courtney Force set a career-best time in the third session at 3.995-seconds at 322.65 mph. It was Force’s first official run quicker than 4-seconds and the eighth time she has raced to the pole. Force, the No. 1 qualifier at the season-opening event in 2013, will face veteran Gary Densham in the first round.

“It was flying down there,” Force said of her Traxxas Chevy Camaro SS flopper. “That sand trap was coming up quick! It was just a great run for us, especially because we’re trying to come out here on a high note because we’ve got new sponsors on board. I knew it was a fast run. Honestly, I didn’t know how fast. I could only tell by the expression on my team’s face and that’s how I knew it was a good one.”

Force and John Force Racing recorded the first run under 4-seconds for Chevrolet Racing. The last time a Camaro qualified No. 1 in Funny Car was in 2004, when Tony Pedregon topped the time sheet during the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Force is the 12th Funny Car driver to make a sub-4-second run. Auto Club Raceway has played host to the most 3-second runs with 10. The most 3-second runs at one event were recorded during the 2014 Winternationals with seven.

“It’s exciting to be in the 3.0s and get that top spot,” said Force, the 2013 Winternationals champion. “It’s always nice to be No. 1 going into Sunday, but I would probably rather have the fourth run. You want to get more data going into race day more than anything. All that matters is turning on the win lights on Sunday. I’m definitely focused on trying to get those win lights.”

Tommy Johnson Jr., who led Funny Car qualifying after Friday’s two sessions, will enter race day as the No. 2 qualifier via his run of 4.018-seconds at 314.36 mph in the Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T fielded by Don Schumacher Racing. John Force, the defending event champion and 16-time world champ, drove his Peak Camaro SS into the third starting spot at 4.021-seconds and 320.28 mph.

DSR’s Jack Beckman, the 2012 Funny Car world champion, failed to qualify his Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger R/T in the first three sessions and will spend Sunday as a reluctant spectator.

Enders-Stevens, the historic 2014 Pro Stock world champion, overcame a disappointing Friday by taking the lead during Saturday’s third session. Enders-Stevens’ 6.516-second quarter-mile sprint at 213.10 mph at the controls of her Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro moved her into P1 for the 13th time in her career.

On Friday, Enders-Stevens did not complete a full pass in either of her first two qualifying attempts as she struggled for traction with Goodyear Racing’s new slick tire compound.

“That’s a little nerve-wracking if you drive a Pro Stock car,” Enders-Stevens said. “You’re uncertain of track conditions, so you have to be a little conservative to make sure you get down. But my guys stepped-up, as they always do, and we made a great run.”

The first woman to win the NHRA Pro Stock world championship, Enders-Stevens will face Matt Hartford in Round 1 of eliminations. “This hasn’t been the best start for us, even though we finished (as low qualifier),” Enders-Stevens said. “I was very surprised nobody went around us.”

Enders-Stevens said co-crew chiefs Rick and Rickie Jones began catching up to the NHRA’s mandated new tire and Sunoco fuel regulations during testing earlier this week. “It was very interesting but we figured it out,” Enders-Stevens said. “We made two full hits in Phoenix, and then we were able to come here. Going into Sunday with only one run under your belt isn’t ideal, but I know if anybody can do it, we can. I’ve got the best guys in the world, and I’m excited to see what tomorrow brings.”

Three-time Circle K NHRA Winternationals winner Jason Line, a two-time world champion, drove his Summit Racing Equipment Camaro to the No. 2 starting spot at 6.523-seconds and 212.93 mph. Rodger Brogdon will start third in his RoofTec Camaro at 6.524-seconds and 212.33 mph.

ESPN2 will televise three hours of same-day eliminations coverage Sunday at 7:30 p.m. (EST). ESPN3’s live eliminations coverage begins Sunday at 2 p.m. (EST).

Saturday’s qualifying results and first-round pairings after three rounds of time trials for the 55th annual Circle K NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif., first of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series:

Top Fuel _ 1. Shawn Langdon, 3.700 seconds, 328.30 mph vs. 16. Steven Chrisman, 4.136, 273.16; 2. Richie Crampton, 3.730, 328.46 vs. 15. J.R. Todd, 3.914, 258.02; 3. Doug Kalitta, 3.733, 327.59 vs. 14. Terry McMillen, 3.897, 297.02; 4. Spencer Massey, 3.745, 332.18 vs. 13. Clay Millican, 3.833, 270.16; 5. Steve Torrence, 3.751, 327.27 vs. 12. Troy Buff, 3.815, 310.77; 6. Tony Schumacher, 3.757, 323.35 vs. 11. Antron Brown, 3.803, 313.73; 7. Larry Dixon, 3.776, 321.35 vs. 10. Dave Connolly, 3.803, 323.81; 8. Brittany Force, 3.779, 323.97 vs. 9. Leah Pritchett, 3.789, 323.04.

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Steve Faria, 4.191, 218.65.

Funny Car _ 1. Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.995, 322.65 vs. 16. Gary Densham, Chevy Impala, 6.957, 306.12; 2. Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 4.018, 314.46 vs. 15. Jeff Arend, Charger, 4.372, 263.56; 3. John Force, Camaro, 4.021, 320.28 vs. 14. Bob Bode, Toyota Camry, 4.300, 239.87; 4. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.027, 308.00 vs. 13. John Hale, Charger, 4.193, 295.34; 5. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.030, 304.39 vs. 12. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.090, 310.70; 6. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.037, 317.94 vs. 11. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.085, 305.84; 7. Robert Hight, Camaro, 4.045, 319.60 vs. 10. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 4.066, 311.77; 8. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.045, 314.09 vs. 9. Chad Head, Camry, 4.060, 312.50.

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Terry Haddock, 12.025, 293.03; 18. Jack Beckman, broke.

Pro Stock _ 1. Erica Enders-Stevens, Chevy Camaro, 6.516, 213.10 vs. 16. Matt Hartford, Pontiac GXP, 6.611, 208.59; 2. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.523, 212.93 vs. 15. Joey Grose, Camaro, 6.603, 209.20; 3. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.524, 212.33 vs. 14. Deric Kramer, Dodge Avenger, 6.595, 210.37; 4. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.527, 212.09 vs. 13. V. Gaines, Dodge Dart, 6.571, 211.03; 5. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.531, 212.23 vs. 12. Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.545, 211.89; 6. Larry Morgan, Camaro, 6.535, 212.90 vs. 11. Jimmy Alund, GXP, 6.543, 211.56; 7. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.535, 212.19 vs. 10. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.543, 211.93; 8. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.538, 212.03 vs. 9. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.540, 212.43.

Did Not Qualify _17. Jeff Isbell, broke.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, February 8 2015
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