Top Fuel points leader Shawn Langdon is enjoying a breakthrough year in his fifth full season in the category. Langdon, who leads the points for the second time in 2013 following his third win of the year in Englishtown, took part in a recent NHRA teleconference.
Q: What has it been like this season for you, really starting to see a lot of the hard work and dedication of your team really paying off?
Langdon: It's been pretty good, just to see all the hard work starting to pay off. You know, last year was my first year with the Al-Anabi team, and I felt like we had a good season, to my standards. I finished fourth in the points, and that was the highest that I have finished as a driver. But to their standards, obviously, the team was built around winning and built around winning championships. So they were obviously looking to come into the 2013 season to improve on that fourth-place finish. You know, we felt like we came out pretty strong in Pomona, starting off with a win, and we went to a couple-race stretch where we had a couple little issues that we were dealing with the tune-up, but these last couple races, we really feel that we got a good handle back on the car, and the cars were responding very well to the changes that have been made in the last year and a half.
Q: You talked at Englishtown about what people were calling the "little" points, the bonus points that are coming from qualifying, and how you're grabbing the sheets and looking at them. You know, how important are those going to become around the U.S. Nationals time and counting those points going into the Countdown?
Langdon: Well, they are huge. Just because looking at the last couple years, just how the championship came down to the last race; last year, it came down to the final round between Tony Schumacher and Brandon Bernstein with the opportunity of Tony to win the race and win the championship. Or if he lost, Antron Brown got it. And then the year before, I believe it came down to the semifinals between Del Worsham and Spencer Massey. Like I said, it's just every "little" point counts, especially just not knowing how it's going to unfold, and with the oildown points that you have, you get oildown points if you get penalized or anything or what have you; it's those "little" points, they can really make the difference of a round-win because if you're trailing by 21 points and then you're able to pick up two or three "small" qualifying points with the bonus, you can really reel it in to make it within a round. So obviously, every point is going to count at the end of the year.
Q: Are you a strong believer in momentum, and how does that affect your team? How are those wins affecting your team right now? Can you describe that?
Langdon: Obviously, momentum is huge in the sport of drag racing. Drag racing is a very streaky sport. Just like any other sport. When you can get on a roll and you can start winning races, just build that confidence, and when you have that confidence in yourself and in your team, nothing can beat that. Going into the next race, coming off the two wins, we have a lot of confidence. We felt strongly from Day One about the direction of the team and what we have been doing and trying to accomplish. But just seeing those results, you know, it definitely pays off for me as a driver every time I roll up to the starting line. But for all these guys, all the crew guys that put in the hard work and the hard hours, especially in these summer months when it's long days and it's draining, 100 degrees outside and they are working, and they just want to give that little bit extra effort to make sure the car is done just perfectly, just knowing because nobody wants to be the weak link on the team, and everyone wants to give 110 percent to the team to accomplish something.
Q: And having three wins out of nine, did you have expectations coming into this season that you would be sitting here at this particular point?
Langdon: Well, you know, it's obviously something that when I got asked to drive, when Sheikh Khalid asked me to drive his car, it was definitely something that you can sit back, and you kind of can envision what the possibilities are of what the team can accomplish. But it's tough. It's very tough. This day and age, there's not really two or three cars that are fighting for the championship. You really do have, every time you go to a race, you've got 16 cars that are qualified for the race that are well-qualified to win it. It's just every car can run good. Basically, every car can go up and run a 3.8-second run, and even the lower-qualified cars, you're seeing some of the top five or six people in the points, they are even qualifying in the bottom half of the field. You know, it's tough. We definitely have been working hard at it, so winning three of the nine races is definitely something that we've been working towards. Obviously, we go to every race with the intention of winning, so we would love to win 24 races a year, but there are a lot of other people that have something to say about that as well. So we just do the best job we can. We are very fortunate to have gotten three wins so far this year, and hopefully we can get a couple more along the way.
Q: Your crew chief, Brian Husen, recently said he was so amazed by your driving skills and the way you're really able to dissect a run down to a tenth or a thousandth of a second and really give him strong information. How key has that been to your success, that relationship with Brian?
Langdon: Well, you know, I think it's gone both ways because me as a driver, obviously coming from bracket racing, we race for thousandths of a second week in and week out. So that's something that I have always looked at is every thousandth, every incremental, every split time; and that's something that coming on to this team, that really impressed me by the knowledge that they had of all that stuff, with [team manager] Alan Johnson, with Brian Husen, they understand all that. They get that. And they understand that in order to achieve certain split times, you have to have the early split times to achieve the later split times, and it's just getting pretty in-depth on it. But they get all that, and I think that has definitely helped build a little bit of a relationship that we both understand where each other is coming from. You know, one thing that I tried to do as a driver is try to stage shallow every single time, I try to flicker the bottom bulb to get into the shallow every time to give the team the best opportunity to keep that key every round, to keep that lane choice, to try to qualify a little better. I think we can both understand where each other is coming from in trying to achieve all these little split times and just basically dissecting the track at certain increments and not just looking at it as a whole; but when you're racing for thousandths, you have to look at every increment of the track.
Q: You talked about Lucas Oil [Series], where you won a championship; are you bringing some of that experience with you? You said you had never been in a position leading the points this late in the season; are you bringing some of that experience with you into this battle that we are going to see this summer?
Langdon: Well, you know, I would hope so. Obviously, racing in Top Fuel is quite a bit different than racing Super Comp. I've been in points battles racing before in Super Comp categories. So I kind of understand what it takes in order to keep progressing as a driver and keep progressing as a team. These guys have been in this position before with other drivers, so it's really neat to be able to see how these guys basically attack everything; how to handle the points, how to handle the cars, going to each race. It's something that, you know, I think I'm just more kind of following their lead a little bit. These guys have been in the position of winning championships as a team before. I'm fairly new at this point in the Top Fuel category. Basically, my feel is I'm just trying to do the best job that I can. Just not mess anything up as a driver. I'm just trying to give them the best opportunity that they can to have a winning car, and hopefully, yes, things will play out right in the end.
Q: With Father's Day weekend ahead at Bristol, can you talk about racing with your dad back in California and your racing relationship with your dad?
Langdon: Well, growing up, obviously my dad, he was very involved in NHRA Drag Racing, racing in the Sportsman categories and doing quite a bit of bracket racing as well. So that was really where I got my start, where I learned all the basics, from my dad. And starting out in the Jr. Dragster category, it was just a great experience. It's kind of like a father/son relationship going out back and playing catch with one another and building that special bond like when the kid is growing up playing Little League and the dad kind of gives him advice of how to hit the ball and how to field the ball. It's kind of the same thing with my dad and me. We would go out in the back shop, we would work on the Jr. Dragster together, and we kind of built that special bond where we could work together, and, you know, sometimes it goes good, sometimes it goes bad. But you learn how each other works, and you learn, just basically, he taught me all the basics in drag racing, how to be a good winner, how to be a good loser. Just building that sportsmanship that you need to have as a driver, and obviously, he just taught me a lot of things that I've been able to carry over through the years of just how to focus and how to mentally prepare yourself to drive a race car on race day.
Q: Did I hear that your grades had to be in line for you to go to the track?
Langdon: Well, that was actually something growing up. Getting back to a little bit younger, kind of a thing that my parents always did; if I had good grades, my dad and I, we would go out to Pomona Raceway, and I wanted to go out there because I wanted to get all the autographs from Kenny Bernstein and John Force and Don Prudhomme. It was always a little treat for me because I always enjoyed it. I was a big fan as a kid growing up, and I would want to get everybody’s handout cards and autographs and hang them up on my wall and keep them up until the next time I would go. My mom hated it because I was always pinning them on the wall, and she would have to patch all the paint and drywall work because I would be putting them up and tearing them back down. But I always enjoyed it, and that was definitely something that kind of went along when I started driving in the Jr. Dragster category was as long as my grades were up, we were going racing. There were a couple times that my parents had to kind of reel me back a little bit and grades started slacking off, and we couldn't go to a couple races. In the end, it got me through high school, and I passed with flying colors, and I'm still racing, so everything worked out good.