POMONA, Calif. – Southern Californian Shawn Langdon has dreamed about this moment from the time he first grabbed the controls of a 5-horsepower junior dragster as a youngster. A lifelong racer, the 31-year-old Mira Loma native is in position to earn his first NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Top Fuel world championship title this weekend at the Auto Club NHRA Finals (Nov. 7-10).
Langdon, who has won championships in the NHRA Summit Racing Jr. Drag Racing League and the NHRA Lucas Oil Series during his rise up the NHRA ranks, will add the first professional title to his resume with a successful weekend at tradition-rich Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. He leads defending champ Antron Brown by 102 points as teams prepare for the final race of the season and the last of six playoff races in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.
If he’s successful, Langdon would become the fifth different driver to win a series title driving for team manager Alan Johnson. It would be the third championship for the current Al-Anabi Racing team, owned by His Excellency Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad Al Thani from the country of Qatar. Larry Dixon and Del Worsham claimed Top Fuel titles for Al-Anabi Racing in 2010 and 2011 respectively.
All stats, records and accomplishments aside, Langdon cherishes the opportunity to secure the title at the venerable facility just east of downtown Los Angeles that the Indianapolis resident still considers his home track.
“Well, it would mean everything to me to be able to end the year at Pomona with a championship just for the fact that's where I grew up, racing junior dragsters, growing up, being a big fan of the sport, watching my idols race there,” said Langdon, who won the season-opening NHRA Winternationals at Pomona in February. “Pomona to me is a special place. When I look at the season, Pomona to me is Indy, it's the biggest race of the year, that's because where I grew up racing, junior dragsters there, racing in the Lucas Oil Series, having a lot of friends and family out there.”
Langdon also excelled at the traditional stick and ball sports throughout high school, however, his first love has always been NHRA drag racing. Now, as he sits on the verge of realizing a lifetime goal, he is proud of the effort his team put forth this season.
He leads the 8,000-horsepower class in nearly every statistical category, winning six times in nine final round appearances, and capturing seven No. 1 qualifying positions. He led the series standings after half of the races during the season. After running the table in impressive fashion at the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis to close the regular season, Langdon entered the Countdown playoffs as the top seed and was strong throughout, winning at Reading, Pa. and posting a runner-up finish in Dallas. In Las Vegas two weeks ago he took advantage of early round exits by several of his top challengers and advanced to the semifinals and extended his series lead to more than five rounds of racing.
“When you grow up as a kid, wanting to be a professional drag racer, you envision putting yourself in championship scenarios in the biggest pressure moments,” Langdon said. “What really makes or breaks a driver is being able to perform under the biggest pressure moments. I think we're in it right now.”
There are many scenarios to which Langdon could clinch the championship title, given qualifying bonus points and qualifying positions, however, if he wins the first round of eliminations on Sunday, he will lock out all of his pursuers and take the title. He says he has enjoyed the battle this season, in a class that many historians are saying is perhaps the most competitive in NHRA history.
“I think it's that drama leading up to the final race of the season, still having multiple drivers having a shot at that championship, that's what drives fans to show up, that's what creates all the drama,” Langdon said. “You have to have that in the sport. I really enjoy the Countdown to leave it up to the last six races of the year. No mistakes. You have to be at your ultimate best. I think it's just great for the sport and the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.”
NHRA icon John Force has already earned his NHRA-record 16th world championship title in Funny Car, as he took the crown at the season's penultimate race in Las Vegas on Oct. 27. A talented pack of drivers will be battling for second place at the Auto Club Finals, including 2011 world champ Matt Hagan, defending champ Jack Beckman, '09 champ Robert Hight and last season's top rookie and Winternationals winner Courtney Force.
In Pro Stock, a group of talented drivers will decide the season’s top honor, including series points leader Jeg Coughlin, Jason Line,'09 champ Mike Edwards, Shane Gray and defending world champ Allen Johnson. Coughlin holds a 71-point lead over Line heading into the season-finale.
Matt Smith, who secured the Pro Stock Motorcycle world championship with his fourth win of the season in Las Vegas, will try to add another victory before the close of the year. Michael Ray is currently second in points and if he can finish the season in that position will be a career high for the Texas rider. Hector Arana, Hector Arana Sr. and Eddie Krawiec will also be among the top contenders at the season-ending event.
Fans can catch the first glimpse of the 2013 Mello Yello championship title chasers at the official event press conference on Thursday Nov. 7, which is free for all Thursday ticket holders and will be held in the nitro pits starting at 11 a.m.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and enjoy some cherished face time with their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
While strolling through the pits, fans will want to check out the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum’s “Hot Rod Junction” car corral featuring dozens of nostalgic dragsters, race cars and hot rods on display. The Hot Rod Junction also will showcase several NHRA-exclusive Cacklefests throughout the weekend, where vintage front-engine dragsters will be fired up simultaneously.
Fans also will want to take advantage of the popular Championship Sunday Track Walk, which is free to all Sunday ticket holders. This popular event gives fans the opportunity to walk down the legendary drag strip alongside some of the NHRA’s biggest stars. Auto Club Ford Mustang Funny Car driver Robert Hight will lead the track walk at the Auto Club NHRA Finals.
The NHRA Motorsports Museum, which is located on the Auto Club Raceway of Pomona grounds, is also offering fans the opportunity to visit the museum for free and learn about the history of the sport. The fan-favorite Night of Champions with NHRA Mello Yello drivers will be held on Friday, Nov. 8 at 6 p.m. Admission is free during the Auto Club NHRA Finals weekend.
The NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series also will thrill the crowds during the weekend with intense competition on the track.
The NHRA Finals qualifying sessions are scheduled for 1:45 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 7 and Friday, Nov. 8. Qualifying continues at 11:45 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 9. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 10.