Changing teams midseason made for a very stressful 2015 for former NHRA Top Fuel champion Shawn Langdon. However, at Don Schumacher Racing, he's got every chance to reclaim that TF crown.
The 33-year-old Californian started last year working with Alan Johnson Racing, the Top Fuel team that lost its Al-Anabi backing just weeks before the start of the 24-race campaign.
They won the opening round, the Winternationals at Pomona, and with assistance from Toyota, they soldiered through the 18-race regular season. However, they had to cease operations once the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs began.
That left the 2013 Top Fuel champion in the lurch, but serendipity stepped in when Don Schumacher Racing (DSR), located just across the street from his former team in Brownsburg, Indiana, had an opening in the Red Fuel powered by Schumacher/Sandvik Cormorant dragster. Already qualified for the Countdown, thanks to his Winternationals win, Langdon joined DSR and neatly bookended the year by winning the season finale, also at his home track, Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
Continuity the key
That result meant Langdon and the team led by Todd Okuhara and Phil Shuler placed sixth in the standings. With Johnson unable to find appropriate funding to continue running his team in 2016, Langdon has remained in the DSR camp and acknowledges, “It feels good to be with the same team I ended last year.
“We were able to make a statement in the finals here at Pomona in what was a unique situation for all parties involved.”
“[Now] I’m very excited to be a part of DSR and to be teammates with [2015 champion] Antron Brown and [eight-time champion] Tony Schumacher. I feel these three Top Fuel cars should be at the top this year and we’re definitely going to fight for that and try to make it a 1-2-3 punch.”
He continued: “We made a few changes over the winter, some stuff in the chassis area, some blower stuff, some stuff in the clutch department. And I’m very pleased with how the [Phoenix] test session went. We were able to make some good runs in cool temperatures and we also made good runs in hotter temperatures. We feel like we have a pretty good handle on things and hopefully we can get it going this weekend.”
Chasing more power
As is customarily the case, the DSR team made some adjustments to gain power over the winter, so the test was verification for crew chiefs, Okuhara and Shuler, as much as for Langdon.
“It was a good test for them to see if the changes we made in the off-season were good; we’re very pleased with how all that stuff turned out and I think they’ll make the car better this year,” he said.
When Langdon moved across the street, it was quite a change as Alan Johnson runs open cockpit dragsters and Don Schumacher Racing uses a closed cockpit for its Top Fuel machines. “I’m very comfortable with how it is now.
"The biggest adjustment was to their run procedures, their warmup procedures, but it’s really nothing different when you’re in the car. But when something feels out of place, then there’s a problem.
“The guys were able to change some things to make me more comfortable in the car through the Countdown last year. I think our team improved immensely each week that we went to the track. With what we were given, I think we did a pretty darn good job. I’m definitely excited this year to see what we can accomplish.”
Paying tribute to Johnson
Langdon also found time to pay tribute to his former team owner, Alan Johnson, with whom he won the NHRA Top Fuel title in only their second year together.
“Alan’s a great guy and I have all the respect in the world for him,” said Langdon. “He was a great mentor, great teacher for me. He taught me a lot of things and it’s unfortunate we couldn’t go on. We just couldn’t find the funding to do it.
“Alan’s got a big heart… for years I dreamed of racing with Alan Johnson and I was able to do that. We were able to win the championship and the Traxxas Nitro Shootout in Indy; we were able to do some amazing things together and those memories I will keep with me forever.
“I wish him nothing but the best and we’ll have some great battles on the racetrack again,” adds Langdon, in reference to Johnson’s Top Fuel protégés, Brittany Force and Steve Torrence.
Langdon made it down the track cleanly in both Friday qualifying sessions. He was fourth after the first round of time trials but even though he improved from the first to second runs, ended up eighth on the day.
There are two more opportunities for the Red Fuel/Sandvik dragster to gain spots on Saturday, but the more important challenge comes on Sunday, when eliminations begin at 11am PST. Langdon can only hope to start the 2016 season with Don Schumacher Racing exactly the same way he ended it last November: in the winners circle.