NHRA: New team, same drive for Shawn Langdon

(AP photo)

Imagine if the New York Yankees abruptly went out of business just before the start of the World Series – and its players had to suddenly find homes with other teams.

That’s kind of the situation former NHRA Top Fuel champion Shawn Langdon found himself in two weeks ago when team owner Alan Johnson suspended operations just before the start of the NHRA’s version of its World Series, the six-race Countdown to the Championship.

But Langdon, who won the Top Fuel championship in 2013, quickly went from being a free agent to playing for NHRA’s version of the Yankees, namely the winningest team ever in Top Fuel racing, Don Schumacher Racing.

Even better, Langdon’s points earned this season came with him when he moved to DSR.

Langdon is 194 points behind Top Fuel points leader Antron Brown (who has won each of the first two Countdown races). Still, Langdon believes he can make some significant noise in the remaining four Countdown races, starting with this weekend’s Keystone Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pa.

“The goal is to compete for a championship and I won’t give up on that until the door is completely closed,” Langdon said in an NHRA media release. “At this point it’s starting to become a little bit of a long shot, but you look at how tight it is and I’m only a round and a half out of third place.

“We’ve got a great car and since we tested at Indy, we’ve made six good runs down the track. We have a car that can compete.”

Without question, this has been the most obtuse season of Langdon’s career. It began with Al-Anabi Racing pulling its sponsorship of the AJR-owned team just two weeks before the season began.

To Johnson’s and Langdon’s credit, even though the team competed on a shoestring budget from race to race, they still had a decent run during the 18-race regular season, including earning an emotional win in the season-opening Winternationals in February.

But Johnson could go only so far financially and suspended operations shortly after the U.S. Nationals earlier this month.

“It’s been a little tough this year but it’s all driven me to want to get better,” Langdon said. “It’s almost like you have to prove yourself all over again. But I try to find the positive in it and it’s been a big learning experience.”

When AJR suspended operations, Schumacher stepped forward and worked out an arrangement with Johnson that kept Langdon racing. He’s essentially filling the spot of former DSR driver Spencer Massey, who was released by the team just before the Indianapolis race. While Langdon is still technically racing for Johnson, Schumacher is footing the overall bill.

“It’s definitely been a unique situation this year but I feel comfortable and it’s just nice to get in the car,” Langdon said. “I feel good inside the car and (crew chiefs) Phil (Shuler), Todd (Okuhara) and the crew have done everything they can to accommodate me and any changes there’s been. They’ve all done a very, very good job and DSR is great, classy organization.”

Langdon lost in the first round of the Countdown opener at Charlotte two weeks ago and then reached the second round this past Sunday in Madison, Ill.

But a recent very successful test session at Indianapolis has optimism on the rise for the four remaining races.

And while he’s ranked last in the 10-driver Top Fuel Countdown field, Langdon isn’t giving up. He knows a couple of good races could put him right back into the mix for the championship, especially with this weekend’s race at Maple Grove, where he won two years ago en route to the championship.

“You definitely have to get a couple wins in the Countdown if you want to win a championship,” he said. “This (weekend’s) race is definitely important but they all are and you have to attack each race the same way. I just have to do my job and hopefully get a little luck.”

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