Riding a hot hand in Las Vegas can lead to riches for those who are lucky enough to find the winning groove. Shawn Langdon and his Al-Anabi Racing silver dragster have been one of the hottest teams this year in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. They have raced to six wins, three runner-up finishes, and claimed the top qualifying position at six events. When he returns to The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the NHRA Toyota Nationals Oct. 24-27, Langdon will aim for continued success and build upon his 83-point series lead.
“We have been fortunate to go some rounds at a lot of races this year and get into the semifinals,” Langdon said. “Getting into 10 final rounds in 22 races is just consistently going rounds and getting into the late rounds. We’ve had some bad races, but we’ve been able to bounce back quickly after them, so it hasn’t hurt us that much.”
Bob Vandergriff Jr. (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), and defending world champions Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) raced to victories last season at the popular event that will once again be televised on ESPN2HD.
When Langdon entered the Countdown to the Championship at Charlotte, he was riding a wave of success. He had just won his first Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals title, raced to a $100,000 payday in the Traxxas Nitro Shootout all-star event for Top Fuel, and was the No. 1 seed in the playoffs. However, in the cutthroat world of NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing, he was narrowly defeated on a holeshot by Vandergriff at the opening race of the Countdown. The loss stung but hasn’t deterred him from the goal of continuing his quest for a Top Fuel championship.
“To lose the first race of the Countdown was devastating,” Langdon said. “But having talked to my crew, the crew chiefs, and Alan [Johnson], they really lifted my spirits up quite a bit, so I could get my confidence back. When you are a part of the team, the one thing you don’t want to be is the weak link.
“Having all of those guys come to me and tell me, ‘Hey, we have your back, and we believe in you. You’re a part of the team, and we win and lose as a team. We’ve been put in this position before during other years, and we’ve come back to win the championship, so you have nothing to worry about. We have your back.’ That was really all I needed to hear to get my confidence back.”
After Charlotte, the team has raced to the finals in two of the three following events and won in Reading. His six victories leads the Top Fuel category, and winning rounds in the Countdown is paramount to taking home the season title.
“We go to every race knowing we want to win and that we are capable of winning,” Langdon continued. “We have been fortunate to have a good year this season, but in the Countdown, it’s crunch time; you have to perform, and you can’t go out in the first round. You have to continue to go rounds and get into those key situations, like in Reading when we ran Doug Kalitta in the semi's and Antron Brown in the finals. With only six races in the Countdown, there’s no room for error.”
Brian Husen is the crew chief for Langdon and has been integral in the success the team has enjoyed. Also guiding the team is team manager Alan Johnson, who has 14 NHRA national championships, including 10 Top Fuel titles on his impressive résumé.
“Alan Johnson is Alan Johnson,” he continued. “When the Countdown starts, you can just see his attitude change. You can see the hunger in his eyes — he wants to win, and that’s exactly what you want. Every time we go up there to make a run, and I’m sitting in the water box, you can see his determination, and it gives you that much more confidence because you know he’s out there to get every single bit of E.T. he can out of the car.”
For Langdon to secure his first Top Fuel world championship, he will have to contend with fierce competitors Kalitta and Spencer Massey, who trail by 83 and 85 points, respectively. Should Langdon increase his series lead to 151 points over second place at this event, he will clinch the championship title. Several others are still in title contention but will need a strong showing in Las Vegas to boost their title hopes, including fourth place points-sitter Morgan Lucas, defending world champ Brown, and four-time NHRA Toyota Nationals event winner Tony Schumacher.
Fans arriving early for the penultimate race weekend will be treated to the traditional NHRA Fremont Street Experience Fan Fest, annually one of the best-attended pre-race festivities on the circuit. The Fan Fest will be held Thursday, Oct. 24 at 5 p.m. on Fremont Street and will feature the sport’s top drivers participating in one of the biggest autograph sessions of the year and will also showcase a spectacular NHRA-themed light show over Freemont Street. Ticket giveaways and music will also be part of this exciting kick-off event for the weekend.
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 and sensory-filled 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. Also, in support of October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the Tequila Patron Funny Car/Alexis DeJoria team has partnered with Nevada Health Centers to offer free mammograms all weekend long in the Midway for female race fans over 40.
The NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series and the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series will also thrill the crowds during the weekend with intense competition on the track.
Families can take part in a special ticket offer for children 12 and under, who will be admitted free in general admission areas with a paid adult.
The NHRA Toyota Nationals qualifying sessions are scheduled for 1:15 and 3:45 p.m. Friday, Oct. 25. Qualifying continues at 12:15 and 2:45 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 27.
Tickets are available for the NHRA Toyota Nationals online at www.lvms.com or by calling 800-644-4444.