EPPING, N.H. — official series release — NHRA photo —
Five straight first-round losses wasn’t how former Top Fuel world champion Shawn Langdon wanted to start his 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, especially after a victory closed out his 2015 campaign.
The momentum from that season-ending win in Pomona, Calif., quickly dissipated with the early-season struggles, but Langdon believes his 10,000-horsepower Red Fuel dragster is closing in on a winning combination.
That enthusiasm comes at an opportune time, as this weekend’s fourth annual NHRA New England Nationals at New England Dragway, June 3-5, kicks off a stretch of four straight race weekends.
Langdon, in his first full season driving for Don Schumacher Racing, has climbed back into the top 10 in Top Fuel points with four round wins over the past three races and feels as good as he has all year. With a busy stretch upcoming, it’s also the time of year that often brings out the best in Langdon, who won the Top Fuel championship in 2013.
“I enjoy the middle part of the year, that busy part of the season,” said Langdon, who is currently ninth in points. “I live for racing and definitely enjoy it. It’s what I look forward to all year. There’s a fine line when you’re racing. You don’t want to do too much and waste a bunch of energy, but as long as you still love it and enjoy it, you want to do it as much as you can. I wake up and look forward to the next race. It’s been my dream since I was a kid and I’m loving every minute of it.”
Langdon believes his team has fully erased the massive early-season slump, but to get to that point, he admitted there has been plenty of work going on behind the scenes to keep things from spiraling further.
“You’ve waited all winter long to race and when the start of your season doesn’t go to plan like it did for us, you have to regroup and start all over again,” said Langdon, who has 11 career victories. “That’s what we had to do. We had high expectations after the win in Pomona (at the 2015 season-finale) and a good test in Phoenix. We had a couple issues with the car, not getting it to repeat. We weren’t qualifying well and we didn’t have the car to be able to push it. We had to start back from square one.”
But Langdon and the team, led by crew chiefs Phil Shuler and Todd Okuhara, are coming back to form. Langdon has qualified sixth at two of the past three races, taking the No. 7 spot in Atlanta where he posted a semifinal finish, his best race thus far in 2016.
It’s a good sign, considering the time to make major changes will be minimal on the upcoming four-race stretch.
“There’s certain parts of the year where you really need to have your stuff together and this is one of those times,” Langdon said. “The middle part of the year is when you’re accumulating points. You can jump up or fall down really quick. We’re inside the top 10 and we just have to keep that spot. There’s a lot going on and you just have to keep working at it.”
Langdon admits he doesn’t have a car that can dominate at this point, but considering the start he had, things have come a long way.
Getting back in the win column won’t be easy, however, against a loaded field that includes points leader Doug Kalitta, who has won three straight races and will be looking for a fourth in Epping.
Other top contenders include Langdon’s DSR teammates, reigning and two-time world champion Antron Brown and eight-time world champ Tony Schumacher, who has two straight wins in Epping, as well as the likes of two-time 2016 winner Brittany Force, two-time season finalist Steve Torrence, Clay Millican, J.R. Todd, and Gatornationals runner-up Terry McMillen.
But Langdon feels as comfortable as he has since joining the DSR team before the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship a year ago, something he believes will translate to wins soon enough.
“It took me a couple races to get acclimated to everything and get comfortable,” Langdon said. “I could see the potential with the team and I didn’t rally panic after the first few races. I knew it would come around and I wasn’t ever worried about it. Everyone goes through slumps in racing. The key is not letting it affect you mentally.”
That wasn’t a problem for Langdon and now he carries that enthusiasm to New England Dragway, a facility and an event he has always enjoyed.
“It’s a great track and I really think you’re going to see great times,” Langdon said. “The coolest thing about Epping, for me, is the enthusiasm you see from the fans and the appreciation they have. You could tell this race is something they’ve wanted. There are big drag racing fans in the Northeast and I love every minute of it. As a driver, it gets you excited and pumped up and it’s a really enjoyable race.”
CREDIT: NHRA Communications