With the clock ticking for the start of the 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, reigning Top Fuel world champion Shawn Langdon is ready to open up his title defense this Friday at his home track, Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
The native of Mira Loma, Calif., and his Al-Anabi Racing team are anxious to get back to work during the Circle K NHRA Winternationals, Feb. 6-9, the first of 24 NHRA Mello Yello Series events in 2014. Courtney Force (Funny Car) and Vincent Nobile (Pro Stock) join Langdon as the defending winners of the season-opener, which will be televised on ESPNHD (eliminations, 8 p.m. ET Sunday) and ESPN2HD (qualifying, 11 p.m. ET Saturday).
“Obviously, there are a lot of great memories out at Pomona,” said Langdon, who claimed both the Circle K NHRA Winternationals and Auto Club NHRA Finals race titles last season. “Pomona is always a fun race. It’s the first race of the year and a track that I grew up at. So we’re definitely counting down the minutes to get there.”
Langdon, who rocketed his Al-Anabi Racing silver dragster to his first world championship last season with seven wins, three runner-up finishes, and seven No. 1 qualifying positions, is still riding in the clouds since accomplishing his childhood dream.
“Just to win that Mello Yello Top Fuel championship was a dream of mine since I was a kid,” said Landon, who started his racing career at the age of 12 in the NHRA Summit Jr. Drag Racing League. “I'll definitely wear that No. 1 proud on the side of our car.”
If that title was supposed to ease the pressure on the 2014 campaign, Langdon says having that number on the side of his car just adds to the pressures of staying in top form.
“We’re obviously proud of what this Al-Anabi Team accomplished last year, but we don’t want to sit on it for too long,” Langdon continued. “We need to keep progressing. All these other teams are playing pretty good catch up. They’re making good runs as well. So we can’t sit around and pat ourselves on the back too much or these guys are going to pass us up.”
Langdon knows he will have a target firmly on his back as the new season begins, but a champ is always poised and ready to pounce on his competition.
“We definitely want to get going being the defending world champion and also the event champion,” Langdon said. “So we’re hoping to just further that along for the 2014 season. Just all that more information and data that we have at all the tracks with all the new parts and pieces that we’ve been using. So we’re just very excited to get back out there and get racing at Pomona.”
With the Al-Anabi Racing team as one of the favorites to win the 2014 title, there will definitely be some stout competition from other teams, including Don Schumacher Racing’s stable of cars that feature drivers like 2012 world champ Antron Brown, seven-time world champion U.S. Army driver Tony Schumacher and 2012 event winner Spencer Massey. Throw in the power brought on by drivers such as Doug Kalitta, Steve Torrence, 2013 rookie of the year Brittany Force and rookie-of-the-year contender Richie Crampton, and you can bet there will be some thrilling action on track all season long.
In Funny Car, defending race winner Courtney Force will try to maintain her prowess at the tradition-rich event, while her father John will be looking to continue his momentum from last year and claim his 16th event win at Pomona. The 2012 world champ Jack Beckman, Ron Capps, four-time event winner Robert Hight, 2011 world champ Matt Hagan, returning driver Tommy Johnson and the new-look Patron XO Café Toyota with driver Alexis DeJoria all will be in the mix to win the Funny Car title at Pomona.
In Pro Stock, defending world champ Jeg Coughlin will try to pick up where he left off last season at the controls of his JEGS.com/Mopar Dodge Avenger. His 2012 world champion teammate, Allen Johnson, is looking to stay at the top of his game, while Summit Racing’s Jason Line will be aided by a new teammate, defending event winner Nobile. While four-time world champ Greg Anderson sits out the first part of the season to address a health issue, European Pro Stock champ Jimmy Alund will fill in for him in the second Summit Racing Camaro. New Elite Motorsports driver Erica Enders-Stevens joins a team that won the last race of the 2013 season and she is also looking to be a title contender this year. Other top challengers in the 200-mph category include Shane Gray, Dave Connolly, V Gaines and Chris McGaha.
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. While visiting the pits, interactive NHRA Nitro Alley and the NHRA Manufacturers Midway, fans will also want to check out NHRA’s popular Hot Rod Junction presented by the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum that offers a spectacular display of many nostalgic dragsters, race cars and hot rods on display.
Fans also will want to take advantage of the popular Championship Sunday Track Walk featuring reigning Pro Stock world champion Jeg Coughlin, 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.
After a fun day at the track on Friday, fans can jump on a free tram to the NHRA Museum and check out the bi-annual Night of Champions featuring the popular Auto Club Q&A with a panel of various NHRA’s racing celebs starting a 6 p.m. Admission is free and open to all. In addition, admission is free to stroll through the museum’s halls full of hot rodding and NHRA’s 60-plus years of memorabilia during race weekend, Feb 6-9.
Also, on Friday at the track, fans will have the rare opportunity to attend a special Nitro Pit Party and Press Conference to kick-off the 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season in the pro pits prior to the first qualifying session of the season. Many of the top stars in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series will be featured during the Press Conference, which starts at 11 a.m., including Shawn Langdon, Antron Brown, Jeg Coughlin, Leah Pritchett, and Tommy Johnson Jr.
The NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series also will be showcased during the event, featuring exciting side-by-side racing action at more than 250 mph.
Mello Yello Series qualifying begins on Friday, Feb. 7 with the first session beginning at 12:30 p.m. and a second session beginning at 3:30 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, Feb. 8 at 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Final eliminations begin at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 9.
NHRA is offering free general admission for children 12 and under with a paying adult. Tickets are available online at www.NHRATIX.com or by calling the NHRA Ticket Sales Center at (800) 884-NHRA (6472).