BROWNSBURG, Ind. — official release — NHRA photo — Shawn Langdon may not be entering the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship as the top seed as he did a year ago, but the reigning NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Top Fuel world champion feels more prepared than ever heading into the most crucial part of the season.
While last season was mostly uncharted waters for Langdon, including heading into the Countdown as the points leader, the driver of the 10,000-horsepower Al-Anabi Racing dragster handled it impressively. Langdon won two races and advanced to three final rounds during the six-race playoffs, claiming his first career Top Fuel world championship.
The spotlight might be bigger as the defending champion, but with those successful experiences behind him, Langdon is confident in his chances to repeat as the Countdown opens this weekend at zMAX Dragway for the seventh annual NHRA Carolina Nationals.
“Last year was a lot of firsts for me,” said Langdon, who is currently third in points. “I didn’t know how to handle the pressure because I had never been in that position before. I just followed my Al-Anabi team’s lead. This year, I’ve been through it and I know how to prepare and block out the added tension. It’s still tough because you’re racing for a lot of reasons: yourself, your sponsors, your team. It’s a lot of pressure but I think I know how to prepare for it a little better.”
Morgan Lucas (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the NHRA Carolina Nationals, a race that will once again be televised nationally on ESPN2. It is also the first of six races in the Countdown to the Championship as the top 10 in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle compete to win a world championship.
Langdon’s quest for a second straight world championship in the ultra-competitive Top Fuel category will begin from the third position, 40 points behind leader Doug Kalitta and 10 points behind 2012 world champion Antron Brown.
As last year proved there are more enviable positions, but Langdon is confident his team is plenty capable of making up that gap over six races.
“There’s been enough drivers out there that have shown you can win in any position,” Langdon said. “We’re in a position where it’s something we can make up in the first race but it’s also critical that we maintain going rounds. If you have a bad race or two you can get in a hole you can’t make up. But we’re in control of our destiny and that’s what you want.”
Langdon’s banner 2013 season included seven wins and 10 final round appearances. He has been solid this season, posting a win in Bristol and advancing to five final rounds. The Al-Anabi Racing team has worked hard to make sure everything is ready for a strong run in the Countdown, but one of the major things Langdon has learned is only concentrating on his own team and performance.
“The biggest thing entering the Countdown is you can’t be concerned with anybody but yourself,” Langdon said. “Every round you have to be on your game. You really do have to go up there and make the best run possible every time up.”
The conditions at zMAX Dragway for the NHRA Carolina Nationals will likely present the opportunity for a number of fast runs, which is what Langdon wants. But he will also have to deal with a number of star competitors in the Top Fuel Countdown, including Kalitta, who has posted nine final rounds in 2014, Brown, Tony Schumacher, Spencer Massey, Richie Crampton, who won the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, Khalid alBalooshi, Brittany Force, Steve Torrence and J.R. Todd.
Langdon also knows that a strong start in Charlotte is key, especially since it kicks off a stretch of four consecutive race weekends to open the Countdown.
“Every run you have to be perfect because one race can cost you,” Langdon said. “These four races is the most crucial stretch of the year. We just have to continue to keep our focus and drive at a high level and we’ll be fine.”