For almost four years, Shawn Langdon was the NHRA's hottest young driver with tons of promise yet no victory. After winning Sunday's rain-delayed O'Reilly Auto Parts Nationals from the No. 1 starting position, the Al-Anabi/Toyota Dragster driver shed the "win-waiting-to-happen" label in his 87th race.
With his leap from seventh place to third in the Top Fuel standings, he just might have a new reputation: "champion waiting to happen."
Langdon used a 3.785-second elapsed time at 326.71 mph on the zMAX Dragway 1,000-foot course in the final round to defeat Tony Schumacher's 3.808, 322.27 in the U.S. Army entry.
In giving the Al-Anabi team its first triumph of the season, Langdon denied Don Schumacher Racing a double nitro-class victory. The Top Fuelers ran after Ron Capps won over Mike Neff in the out-of-traditional-order Funny Car final.
This Alan Johnson-managed Al-Anabi Racing team has won the past two Top Fuel championships but had blanked until Sunday with its two newest drivers, Langdon and Khalid al Balooshi. Both had won titles in other classes and other series, but both have improved recently. And Langdon had swiped the past two top-qualifying positions and was making his second final-round appearance in the past four races.
"It feels awesome," Langdon said of earning of his first victory in a Top Fuel dragster.
"I'm really a firm believer that everything happens for a reason," he said. "I guess 87 races into it, I always kind of wondered, 'Man, what does it feel like? Why haven't I won? Am I doing something wrong?' I raced for the [Morgan] Lucas team for three years and we had a good car at times [that was] capable of winning. I came here to [team manager] Alan Johnson's and you know the team's based around winning. So you know you have an excellent car at all times.
"You get to the Countdown and it becomes crunch time and you start to think, 'Am I doing something wrong?' But I guess the way I look at it right now," Langdon said, "is I couldn't have scripted it any better. It's a surreal feeling.
"I'm really happy for the guys on the team. Their heads were never down, although we struggled a little bit early in the year. I just listened to Alan all year and he said we'd be there in the Countdown. I wasn't worried because those guys know how to win," he said.
Langdon called Johnson "a man with a plan" and said, "You never doubt Alan. That's one thing I learned in the past, racing against him and I've continued to learn being on the same team as him. He's always got a plan. He's always moving in the right direction, moving forward to progress this team to be better. He proved that today.
"We had a good car in qualifying, but we had a good car when it counted, in eliminations," Langdon said. "This is just what we were looking for. We came in 80 points down, and we knew we needed to make up some points in the first round. And now we're within a round of the lead."
The victory vaulted Langdon to just 19 points off new leader Schumacher's pace with five playoff races remaining. Langdon is only nine points behind No. 2-ranked Spencer Massey, while star-crossed "regular-season winner" Antron Brown lost his lead with a first-round loss caused by a broken input shaft.
Langdon said the quick success at the start of the Countdown is a "confidence-booster," adding, "To get the No. 1 qualifier and get the win, it's a great start for the team. The last couple of races, the car's turned around quite a bit. It has definitely helped me as a driver, to build my confidence up. Just an excellent job all around by the Al-Anabi team."
The Mira Loma, Calif., native said he never dwelled on any frustration, saying instead, "Being a competitor you want to win at all times. I just dug a little bit deeper. I just kept believing in the team, kept believing in what Alan and Brian [crew chief Husen] were telling me and just tried to do the best job I can as a driver."
Will he shave his beard now? He had said, "Sure. Why not?" Saturday evening after securing his third No. 1 starting spot of the year, but Sunday he wasn't as eager to get out the razor.
"I'm going to have to stick with the beard. I don't know," he said. "It might be a good-luck charm or something like that."
Capps piped up and said, "He said he's going to shave his legs."
Laughing, Langdon said, "Whatever. I'll shave whatever it takes to win, I guess."
Advised Capps, "I'd keep the beard."
He'll keep the mojo, too, he hopes, as the tour heads to the Texas Motorplex, south of Dallas at Ennis, Texas, this coming weekend.
Langdon advanced past Chris Karamesines, Bob Vandergriff, and Brandon Bernstein to reach his second final round this season and sixth overall. He also pushed his elimination record above .500, to 20-17. (He was runner-up to Steve Torrence in August at Seattle.)
Schumacher was going for back-to-back trips to the winners circle after capturing his ninth U.S. Nationals the Sunday before. His runner-up finish was his fifth in seven final-round appearances this year.
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