Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – CONCORD, NC – Picking up his second victory of the 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, Shawn Langdon was already riding high on Sunday. Things could be about to get even better for the former Top Fuel world champ and current Funny Car standout as he heads to the location of his first victory in the Funny Car class.
Langdon broke through in Charlotte earlier this year, winning the four-wide race in his 11,000-horsepower Global Electronic Technology Toyota Camry to grab his first victory in the new class. Langdon earned his first Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship Funny Car win on Sunday in St. Louis, which only adds to the confidence Langdon is feeling as he returns to state-of-the-art zMAX Dragway for a second time in 2019 for the NTK NHRA Carolina Nationals, Oct. 11-13. Coming off the victory, Langdon’s mindset is simple heading to the halfway point of the playoffs.
“My thoughts are let’s try to win (in Charlotte) and get into the top five,” Langdon said. “It’s just following (team owner) Connie Kalitta’s vision. He’s just got so much passion and it just flows through the organization. I love racing for the guy. He’s a great motivator and leader, and we just follow his vision. It’s just really one joint effort. We’ve got four great cars and teams, and it’s a great feeling to be a part of it.”
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1 (FS1), including live final eliminations coverage starting at 2:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Oct. 13. It is the third of six races in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, and the 21st of 24 races during the 2019 NHRA season, and Langdon may have turned things around at the perfect time.
Competing in just his second year in Funny Car, Langdon and his team, led by co-crew chiefs Del Worsham and Nick Boninfante, got off to slow playoff start, opening the playoffs in ninth and falling in the opening round in Reading. That put the onus on performing well in St. Louis if the team wanted to salvage a strong year, and Langdon came through in impressive fashion. He had a memorable come-from-behind win in the second round, slipped past Bob Tasca III to move into the final and then beat Kalitta Motorsports teammate and defending world champ J.R. Todd in the final round, keeping visions alive of a big finish.
“It was a great morale booster for the whole team,” said Langdon, who moved to seventh in points. “We felt like we’ve had a car that’s been capable of winning for a while now, we just seemed to be running into the buzz saw and the low ETs of every round. We felt like we just needed that one round to turn it around. I felt like we had a big day (Sunday). The car was flawless for me to drive.”
Langdon still needs more wins if he wants to compete for a title, which makes returning to Charlotte a good thing. He impressed in the spring and will look to do so this fall, but it won’t be easy in a loaded class. Points leader Robert Hight leads Langdon by 80 points, while he will also have to get past the likes of 16-time world champ John Force, Jack Beckman, Tasca and defending event winner Capps. But Langdon was thrilled with how the team responded under duress in St. Louis, and he’s hopeful it’s a sign of what’s to come to finish the 2019 season.
“Any time you can get a win in the Funny Car class it builds momentum, especially early (in the Countdown),” said Langdon, who has 16 career wins. “From the situation we were in, starting the Countdown in ninth place, there’s not a lot of room for error. Then just having a bad race in Reading and dropping to tenth, we had to make some big changes for St. Louis. If we didn’t make the finals (on Sunday), we weren’t going to have a shot (at a title).”
Torrence has ruled zMAX Dragway of late, as the defending Top Fuel world champ won both races at the facility a year ago and grabbed a victory at the spring race this year. He’ll look for another Charlotte sweep against the likes of points leader Doug Kalitta, Brittany Force and Leah Pritchett.
The fall race will mark Pro Stock’s first appearance at the facility in 2019, and defending event winner Line is the current points leader. But Erica Enders is closing fast after winning in St. Louis, while other challengers include Bo Butner, Matt Hartford and Indy winner Alex Laughlin.
Matt Smith rode his fall Charlotte win to win another world title in Pro Stock Motorcycle, and he’ll try to repeat the feat this year. But he’ll have an uphill climb to catch points leader Andrew Hines, St. Louis winner Karen Stoffer and Eddie Krawiec.
The NTK NHRA Carolina Nationals will also feature thrilling competition in the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service, which will have its 11th of 12 races in 2019. Rick Hord is the defending event winner, while defending world champ Mike Janis won at Charlotte in the spring. Stevie “Fast” Jackson is the current points leader as he seeks his first world title. The event also includes the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, where the future stars of the sport earn their racing stripes.
After nitro qualifying on Friday, stick around to watch Nitromike, the entertaining P.T. Cruiser Wheelstander. The weekend will also include the Drag Week top performers in the Street Car Small Block Power Adder category, as those standouts will race in a special exhibition in Charlotte.
NHRA fans can take part in the Mello Yello Walking Tour to see the cars and teams hard at work in the pits. Fans can also attend Pro Stock School and Nitro School to learn how the cars operate and reach their thrilling speeds. zMAX Dragway will also host a Mello Yello autograph session and allow fans to meet their favorite drivers as well as the Sealmaster Track Walk hosted by NHRA announcer Joe Castello. Another can’t-miss experience is the winner’s circle celebration on Sunday after racing concludes. NHRA fans are invited to congratulate the winners of the event as they celebrate their victories.
As always, fans can 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 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 3:30 and 6:00 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 11, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Oct. 12, at 1:15 and 3:45 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 12 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 13.