In the history of the Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship, NHRA’s playoffs, several teams have washed away the stains from a less-than-spectacular regular season by winning the NHRA world championship title.
In recent seasons, Matt Hagan, Cruz Pedregon, and Robert Hight have gotten hot in the playoffs from back-of-the-pack starting positions and gone on to celebrate a world championship title in November.
Shawn Langdon is looking to add his name to that list in 2012.
The driver of the Al-Anabi Racing dragster opened the postseason by winning the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries at zMAX Dragway, then took the No. 1 qualifying position at the second playoff race, at Texas Motorplex near Dallas. In the process, he has moved to fourth in the standings with only four races remaining in the Countdown to the Championship.
Langdon will try to keep his momentum going at the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals Sept. 28-30 at Gateway Motorsports Park near St. Louis when the NHRA circuit returns to the popular dragstrip for the first time since the 2010 season.
After struggling in the 17-race regular season, Langdon started the Countdown in seventh position and didn’t have much momentum on his side. All that has changed since the playoffs started as the Al-Anabi Racing driver looks to give team owner Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad Al Thani and team manager Alan Johnson a third consecutive world championship title this season, continuing the streak started by Larry Dixon (2010) and Del Worsham (2011).
“The Al-Anabi car is running better than it has all year, and as a driver, I have more confidence in my race car than I ever have; that’s a good feeling to have,” Langdon said.
In his last three Countdown appearances, Langdon finished ninth, fifth, and ninth, respectively, while driving a second car for Morgan Lucas Racing.
“This is the best I’ve ever felt in any of my previous Countdown appearances,” Langdon said. “With four races to go, I feel I have the best opportunity I’ve ever had to challenge for a championship, and we have a shot. I want to make sure that I am prepared for every run because I know the car will be, and as a driver, I have to be sure I do my part by being mentally and physically prepared for these last four races.”
Langdon has had some success at Gateway; he raced to a semifinal finish there in 2009.
“I’m looking forward to racing at St. Louis, and I am happy we are racing there in the fall instead of the summer because it will be cooler, and that’s good news for the race cars and the fans,” Langdon said. “We could have some very fast conditions if the weather cooperates, and that would be great for everyone.
“It’s also cool to race so close to downtown St. Louis because you can see the Arch from the track, and it’s kind of a neat atmosphere downtown where a lot of the teams will stay.”
Standing in Langdon’s way are five-time season winner Antron Brown and Spencer Massey, a four-time winner this season. Those two drivers are tied for the points lead, and just behind them is seven-time world champ Tony Schumacher. In close pursuit of Langdon are three-time regular-season winner Lucas, Brandon Bernstein, Doug Kalitta, and Steve Torrence, a three-time season winner in his Capco Contractors dragster.
In Funny Car, Ron Capps has extended his series lead to 96 over second-place Mike Neff. The veteran driver of the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger won his first Funny Car race at Gateway in 1997 and hopes to put the finishing touches on his first world championship title with a strong effort there this season. Others to watch in Funny Car include 15-time world champ John Force, rookie sensation Courtney Force, two-time world champ Pedregon, Auto Club Ford Mustang driver Hight, and local favorite Tim Wilkerson, who is moving up in the standings after barely qualifying for the Countdown.
In Pro Stock, top seed Allen Johnson raced to a playoff victory in Dallas and leads defending world champ Jason Line by 93 points in the standings. Johnson has posted two runner-up finishes in St. Louis. Vincent Nobile and three-time season winner Erica Enders are red-hot and moving up in the points standings, and past world champs Greg Anderson, Mike Edwards, and Jeg Coughlin Jr. can never be counted out.
The Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson team of top seed and points leader Eddie Krawiec and three-time world champ Andrew Hines are leading the way in Pro Stock Motorcycle, and Hector Arana Jr. and Dallas winner Michael Ray are moving up in the standings on their Buells. Karen Stoffer, Hector Arana Sr., and past champs LE Tonglet and Matt Smith are also ones to watch in the two-wheel category.
* SCHEDULE: NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series qualifying sessions are scheduled for 3 and 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 28, and 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 29. Final eliminations will begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 30.
* TICKETS: For tickets for the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals, call 618-215-8888 or log on to www.extremetix.com.
* ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise one hour of qualifying coverage at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday, Sept. 30, that will be preceded by a 90-minute show at 2:30 a.m. A three-hour final-eliminations show will air at 8 p.m. ET on Sunday, Sept. 30. A 90-minute re-air of final eliminations will be broadcast Oct. 9 at 2:30 a.m. ET.
* LUCAS OIL SERIES: The AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals will feature competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, where some of the future stars of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series are born. Lucas Oil Series qualifying begins at 8 a.m. on Sept. 28, and eliminations begin at 8 a.m. on Sept. 29 and continue through Sept. 30.
* NHRA PRO MOD SERIES presented by ProCare Rx: NHRA’s popular Pro Mod touring series will make its ninth start of the 10-race 2012 season at the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals. The series features some of the world’s fastest and most unique doorslammer cars, with an eclectic mix of vintage and late-model body styles, in quarter-mile competition. The first qualifying sessions will be Friday, Sept. 28, at 2:30 and 5 p.m. Qualifying will continue on Saturday, Sept. 29, with the final session at 1:30 p.m. and will be followed by the first round of eliminations at 4 p.m. Eliminations will continue Sunday, Sept. 30, at approximately 2:30 p.m.