GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Audio and story by Race Chaser Online Open Wheel Correspondent Joel Sebastianelli — Photo courtesy Shawn Langdon —
It’s good to be king.
At least, it should be.
NHRA Top Fuel driver Shawn Langdon is at the top of the heap, and has been for a while now. Langdon won his first world championship in 2013, and this year, he already has one victory in the season-opening Winternationals at Pomona and the overall class points lead.
Langdon qualified first for the 46th annual Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals on Saturday, but if he doesn’t finish strong on Sunday, his season with Alan Johnson Racing might be finished for good.
One month before the beginning of the season, Langdon lost almost everything. His former team — Al-Anabi Racing — lost their sponsorship from the Qatar Racing Club. Without a sponsor, the team ceased operations entirely and the outlook for Langdon’s season appeared bleak at best.
However, Langdon was left with two invaluable things: time and tuner Alan Johnson.
Piecing together a plan that is expanding on a week-by-week basis, the pairing managed to make it to Pomona — running the quickest 1,000 foot pass in history at 3.700 seconds and winning—as well as claiming back to back top qualifying spots at Phoenix and Gainesville.
Helped along with marketing power from Guy Fieri’s “Knuckle Sandwich” knives, the team is trying to stay focused on another winnable event this weekend, but the long term picture is murky.
“We really need sponsorship to continue on after this race,” Langdon said after Saturday’s final qualifying run. “We don’t want to shut the team down because we have such a great team from top to bottom. A championship caliber team, really, when you think about it. We just have to find sponsorship, that’s the number one priority right now.”
At a time when money matters more than ever before in all forms of motorsports, securing enough sponsorship to make the trip to Charlotte for the 4-Wide Nationals in two weeks certainly won’t be easy. Despite the daunting challenge to make the next race and the 19 to follow, Langdon hasn’t let the situation alter his outlook in the car.
“I don’t think it’s added pressure. Whether you’re out here racing for the season or you’re out here racing to try and get sponsorship, you’re main goal is to qualify number one and win the race,” Langdon said.
“Obviously, there’s added emotions because you don’t want to think about this as being the last race of the year, especially since we’re leading the points right now. We want to continue one. But, it takes a little bit more work during the week to continue, find sponsorship, make a couple phone calls, and do what we can do. We can only do so much.”
The only thing Langdon and company can control right now is their result on Sunday afternoon. In the first round of eliminations, Langdon battles 16-seeded Morgan Lucas, earning the top spot courtesy of a blistering 3.765 second elapsed time at 325.45 mph.
“The car has been great this year. We have a great race day car and we’ve been qualifying well too.”
“We’re very excited about [Sunday]. Gainesville is a big race. It’s the first race on the East Coast. Attendance is always great, and it’s one of the big history events on the tour, so it would be nice to get my first victory here and for the team.”
Other notable Top Fuel qualifiers include Spencer Massey in second, just 0.028 seconds behind Langdon with a high speed of 329.02. Doug Kalitta is the third seed (3.796-323.58), and is seeking a fourth Wally this weekend to join Don Garlits, Joe Amato, and Tony Schumacher as the winningest Top Fuel drivers in Gatornationals history.
Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. Eastern time.
Listen in to an extended cut of our Joel Sebastianelli’s interview with Shawn Langdon on the grounds at Auto-Plus Raceway in Gainesville below: