Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – CHANDLER, AZ – Shawn Langdon has never been one to back down from a challenge and the former Top Fuel world champion remains thrilled at trying to tackle perhaps the biggest one in his racing career early in the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.
Langdon made the transition from Top Fuel to Funny Car this offseason, repeating a process Kalitta Motorsports teammate J.R. Todd did the previous year. After a first-round loss in his Funny Car debut in Pomona to open the year, Langdon is confident he’ll make big improvements in his 10,000-horsepower Global Electronics Technology Toyota Camry, starting at this weekend’s 34th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park.
“I knew what my mistakes were,” said Langdon, who has 14 career Top Fuel victories. “There was just so much going on in my first race out. I wasn’t patient enough with it. I’m happy with the overall team effort and I’m happy with my reaction time. We’re learning. We’re going to have a good year. This team is going to be dangerous this season. I feel it and I’m excited for it.”
Leah Pritchett (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of a race that be televised nationally on Fox Sports 1 (FS1), including finals coverage starting at 6:30 p.m. EST on Sunday, Feb. 25. The race is the second of 24 during the 2018 NHRA season, and Langdon is still looking for a quick start despite the class change.
That displays his confidence in his Kalitta Motorsports team, led by crew chiefs Tommy DeLago and Nicky Boninfante. He’s talked frequently with Todd about the transition, making considerable progress during the test session earlier this month at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park. Langdon, who won the 2013 Top Fuel world title, also wants to make sure his strengths, like reaction times, continue to be factors on raceday while the learning process continues.
“For me at this point, I am trying to take it step by step,” Langdon said. “There’s only so much I can control, so I’m really trying to concentrate on my driving. Right out of the gate, I may not be the best at pedaling it, so one thing I’m trying to work on is my reaction time and give my team a good opportunity off the starting line. All the other driving things are going to come in time. I feel like we’ve got a great opportunity to go out and try to win races right out of the gates.”
Even in a different class, Langdon took momentum into the off-season, advancing to the final rounds in two of the final three races. It was a strong way to finish off his first season with Kalitta Motorsports, a team he meshed well with immediately, despite missing the first four races of 2017. That has given him added confidence in making the move to Funny Car, even facing off with the likes of Pomona winner and defending event champion Hagan, reigning world champion Robert Hight, 2016 world champ Ron Capps, Courtney Force and 2016 event winner Tim Wilkerson.
“I’m fortunate to be with a great group and we’ve got a very good group of talented drivers on one team,” said Langdon, referencing a group that includes Todd, as well as Top Fuel drivers Doug Kalitta, who won in Pomona, and Richie Crampton. “It’s a fun group of guys and I’m really excited about this year. The overall atmosphere is great. Everyone likes to go win and have fun doing it. Last year we all had good cars, it just didn’t come together. With everything in place in January this year for all four teams, I think that it puts us steps ahead of where we were last year.”
Pritchett will try to make it three straight Top Fuel wins at Phoenix this season, hoping to hold off a talented field that includes Pomona winner Doug Kalitta, three-time world champ Antron Brown, and five-time event winner Tony Schumacher.
Anderson won for the second time at the track in Pro Stock a year ago, also finishing second in points to KB Racing teammate Bo Butner, who had five wins in 2017 and started 2018 with a victory. Other class stars include Tanner Gray, last year’s top rookie, Jason Line and Jeg Coughlin.
The event also will feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, where future stars of the sport hone their skills and the 2018 Mickey Thompson Tires Top Fuel Harley Drag Racing Series.
Following nitro qualifying during the weekend five jet cars thrill the fans during the NHRA Arizona Nationals. Taking to the track will be jet cars operated by Segal Motorsports with Shelly Segal running the ‘FireStarter’, AA Motorsports with Scott Arriaga running ‘Wicked Sinsation’ jet Dragster, and Tim Smith running the ‘American Freedom Fighter’ jet dragster. The Lucas Oil will showcase their two ‘Muy Caliente’ during the race. Known for their exciting pre-run flame shows and after burner pops, jet cars are thrust driven vehicles propelled by jet engines.
As always, fans have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 1:30 and 4 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 23 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Feb. 24, also at 1:30 and 4 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 25.