April 24, 2014

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NHRA Nationals: A little competition and a whole lot of speed are two of Shawn Langdon’s favorite things

CLEVELAND — If the NHRA’s Top Fuel Dragster season championship comes down to a final run in the last race, that will be just fine with Al-Anabi Racing’s Shawn Langdon.

Since the season opener in Pomona, Calif., Langdon and Tony Schumacher have been locked in a neck-and-neck battle for first place in the Top Fuel standings.

“We’ve really kind of had a friendly rivalry since the first race of the year,” Langdon said Wednesday during a luncheon to promote this week’s Summit Racing Equipment Nationals at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk. “I’m in a great position with a great team, getting paid, having fun and enjoying every week that I go out there. That’s what I enjoy. That’s what I look for. I want it to come down to Pomona in the final round, me against whoever, for the championship. That’s the type of stuff that I look for. I live for that moment. I enjoy it.”

Despite the inherent pressure that comes with driving a race car capable of reaching speeds over 330 miles per hour and covering a distance of 1,000 feet in less than four seconds, Langdon said he is energized more than he is nervous when he rolls to the starting line.

“As far as the nervous part, I don’t really get nervous,” said Langdon, who trails Schumacher by 37 points in the standings. “I think I’m able to embrace that energy and turn that into excitement because it’s all about entertaining the fans, and it’s all about giving the fans a good show.”

Langdon, who has three wins on the season, including back-to-back victories at Heartland Park in Topeka, Kan., on May 19, and Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J. , on June 2, said he’s able to stay calm thanks to his history at the Sportsmen level.

Although Langdon was a Super Comp national champion in 2007 and ’08 in the Lucas Oil Drag Racing series, and a Super Comp title winner at the JEGS Allstars in 2005 and ’06, as well as a National Junior Dragster champion in 1997 and ’99, there was a time when if he didn’t win a race, there was no money coming in.

“To me, growing up racing on the Sportsmen level, I was basically racing to get a paycheck,” Langdon said. “I didn’t have a job. I was just racing every week, traveling the country, and if I won a race, I got paid. If I didn’t win a race, I didn’t get paid. To me, that was nervous. That would get me really nervous. If it came down to me not winning, I wouldn’t be able to put food on the table the next week.

“It’s about the sport. We love the sport. It’s the competition. As a driver, that’s what I love. I love that competition. I’m a competitive person. It doesn’t matter if I’m on the track or off the track, I’m looking for that bet that kind of gets you in the gut of your stomach just to get your adrenaline going.”

Langdon has been racing in the Top Fuel category since 2009 and has had his share of success, winning four events and advancing to more than 20 semifinals. However, he’s never been in contention for the championship, finishing ninth in 2009 and 2011, fifth in 2010 and fourth last year.

“Last year, we had a car capable of doing it,” Langdon said. “We just had a little bit of an off year with the Al-Anabi team. This year, it was something that Alan (Johnson), the team manager, said in the offseason. He said, ‘We’re not giving anybody a head start.’

“We were fortunate enough to win the first race. We had a couple races where we fell back a little bit. I think we fell back into fourth, but since then, we’ve been able to keep first or second place.”

As or this weekend’s racing at Summit Motorsports Park, Langdon is looking forward to showing what he can do in front of thousands of passionate race fans.

“The first thing I always think about with Norwalk is $1 ice cream because it’s always hot, and ice cream sounds so good,” Langdon said with a laugh. “I love Norwalk. Norwalk’s a great race on the circuit. The Bader family, they do an excellent job of promoting all their races.

“They always get a great crowd out there. It’s always packed. When we’re sitting in our lounge and our air conditioning, they’re out there sitting in the grandstands in 100 degrees. They love the racing, so it gets you excited to see fans like that. They’ll do whatever it takes to get there and they’ll sit all day long to watch you go down the track. It’s a fun event. We always enjoy going there.”

Contact Matt Florjancic at 329-7135 or ctsports@chroniclet.com.