NHRA Funny Car racer Shawn Langdon’s last victory came 36 races ago in a Top Fuel dragster, Sept. 25, 2016, at St. Louis.
Make that one week ago, in Durham, N.C.
His Super Gas/Super Comp-racing racer father Chad Langdon has a healthy new liver after a cancer diagnosis and more than a year of roller-coaster transplant teases and disappointments and a cross-country move with wife Sherry for uncertain daily life in a travel trailer. He underwent successful surgery last Friday at Duke University Medical Center.
It was a victory for the whole Langdon clan and the drag-racing family who has been cheering him on from all corners of the country. For Shawn Langdon, it was a rather groggy triumph after his hours on the Interstate highways that made him feel lately more like a long-haul trucker than a NHRA champion and current Funny Car competitor.
Following the Gatornationals, Langdon was on his way from a buddy’s shop in Alabama to a bracket race at U.S. 43 Dragway at Ethridge, Tenn. He was about five miles from the racetrack when he received the call that his father finally was scheduled to be the primary recipient of a replacement liver. Langdon immediately turned the truck and trailer around, drove back to the shop to drop off the racing equipment, then headed on the 11-hour trip to North Carolina. He arrived at 5:30 Friday morning, thinking he would be late to support his stepmother – and Sally Martini, who temporarily gave up her NHRA national-event parking-boss job to be Chad Langdon’s required secondary home-caregiver. Chad Langdon had had to undergo a last-minute biopsy before surgery, so that bought Shawn Langdon some time.
He stayed in Durham until this Tuesday, then drove another 12 hours home to Danville, Ind., and flew to Las Vegas Thursday for this weekend’s Denso Spark Plus Four Wide Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Shawn Langdon has something that was better than a Wally statue. (He has 14 of those, along with four national-championship hardware from the Jr. Dragster, Super Comp, and Top Fuel classes.) Today, he has his dad back and on the road to recovery.
But he wants that race trophy this weekend more than he has ever wanted one before.
“It was hard for me to leave [Tuesday] morning, knowing I’ve got to go to Vegas this weekend. The timeline worked out OK. I stayed as long as I could to make sure everything was good. He got moved out of ICU and into a regular room. He’s got the best care available out there right now,” Langdon said. “And he’s got his wife, Sherry. He’s got Sally Martini. She’s there. A lot of people know her, but for those who don’t know her, she’s the does a lot of the parking at NHRA national events. So if you notice that for the next couple of months that the parking’s all crazy at the national events, it’s only because Sally’s not there – she’s taking care of my dad for the next couple months. Just give it a couple of months – she’ll be back out there. I know he’s in the best hands right now.
“There was a time I needed to stay and I wanted to stay,” he said. But his father told him, “No, man, you go out to Vegas. Win Vegas for me and bring the trophy back to me.”
Shawn Langdon said, “I’m ready to win one for so many reasons, but I have a whole new motivational factor for showing up to Vegas: if I can win that trophy and bring it back to my dad.”
The entire experience has prompted him to become an organ donor and encourage others to do the same.
“We were very happy and relieved,” Langdon said after knowing his dad was in the medical winners circle. “Then to go into the ICU room and see him hooked up to all these machines and he’s got tubes coming out of every part of his body – he was heavily sedated and not really aware of anything. That moment kind of hit me how just how crazy all this stuff is, how fragile life really is. At any moment you just never know what can happen. It hit me really hard. You kind of looked at your dad as an invincible person, the person who has shown you the way of life, and to see him in a situation like that, it just hit me so hard that I’m so grateful I am that he was really struggling with his liver.
“I mean, his body was healthy, but his liver was failing. And somebody out there was an organ donor and saved my dad’s life. It just really hit me at that moment that I needed to become an organ donor,” Langdon said. “It was always something that I felt was an awesome thing to do, but I think it really hits you when it’s your family.
“For my dad, it saved his life. He’s a very healthy individual. He just had a bad liver. Man, this whole situation, it’s a tough situation. I just kind of feel that’s my next thing. I’m going to become an organ donor and hopefully nothing ever happens. But if something does,” he said, “I hope that I would be able to do for somebody else what somebody else was able to do for my dad. And that was to save his life.
“It’s hard to talk about it. This kind of stuff is really difficult to talk about. I think the main thing out of this story is I’m going to become an organ donor and if there’s one or two people who can read this story and know that if you become an organ donor, you can save somebody’s life. If we can push that along and inspire somebody to do that . . . I know the impact it had on my family. That was the first thing my dad said after he woke up: ‘I have a second chance at life.’ All that stuff kind of hits you. You don’t really think about some of the finer things in life. It takes you five minutes to save somebody else’s life. If they can get another 20 or 30 years out of life, that’s what it’s all about,” Langdon said.
A special bond that unfolded during this ordeal was the one between Shawn Langdon and his primary benefactor, Steve Bryson, owner with wife Samantha, of Global Electronic Technology. When Chad Langdon first learned he had cancer, Bryson was a calming influence on the family.
“He has had liver complications on his end. was very, very instrumental in the beginning stages, as far as helping my dad out and recommending certain doctors and pointing them in the right direction and kind of giving them that initial [boost],” Langdon said. “You have that initial ‘sock-‘em’ when everything is going on: ‘Well, what do we do now?’ We’re not in the huge financial situation where it’s like, ‘OK. Boom. Let’s go to right to the doctor.’ We’ve been very fortunate for the most part where we really haven’t had a lot of health issues where we didn’t know where to go and who to talk to. But Steve Bryson was very, very, very helpful with a lot of stuff like that. He talked to my dad quite a bit about little things.”
In Gainesville three weeks ago, Bryson and Langdon shared a quiet and comforting moment, talking about another recent letdown when his father was poised to receive a liver but ended up being the secondary recipient. Bryson told him, “Don’t give up. They’re going to get this going.”
Langdon said, “It kind of hit me at the heart a little bit when he said, ‘I’m very fortunate to have met you and be a part of the team with Kalitta [Motorsports] and sponsor the race car. I feel like God’s got a plan for everything, and I feel like the plan wasn’t to come here to sponsor the race car and to do all that. The overall plan was to help your dad be healthy and to help your dad get a transplant. I’m glad to be able to be a part of that and help you guys out.’ It was like, ‘Wow, man, thank you very much. I just want to thank you for helping us out and helping my dad out. I’m saying thank-you, but I don’t know if it’s an adequate way to show you my appreciation and gratitude towards you.”
Bryson said, “As long as your dad’s healthy, that’s all that matters.”
As a professional racer and a champion, Langdon has been mindful, in his words, “to inspire other people to go out there and say, ‘Hey, you can do it. I didn’t have anything special, growing up. I just wanted to become a race-car driver and worked very hard at it and was able to have that opportunity,’ just kind of show the younger generation that, ‘Hey – anything’s possible when you put your mind to it.’ I know a lot of people have come to my dad and given him lots of support and inspired my family and me, sharing their own stories about their own transplant successes and cancer successes. I really feel like in the past year, the roles have been reversed. So many fans have inspired my family and me, giving us hope and the inspiration we’ve needed to get us through these processes.”
Justin and Chris Lamb and their family, as well as Shane Thompson and his family and Rodger and Karen Comstock got together and made T-shirts for in support of Chad Langdon, “just to kind of raise awareness. The demand for them was overwhelming,” Shawn Langdon said. “The outpouring of support with that just meant so much to my dad . . . all the people within the racing community, just how much they really do care. We’re out there competing against one another. At the end of the day, we are a family. I know that helped push my dad through a lot of the hard times.”
That family -reunion feeling carried them through. But they’re aware that families like to know all the details of one’s personal life, too.
“We stayed a little private about it. He didn’t want the sympathy side of things,” Langdon said of his dad.” As more people started kind of finding out, people were coming up with words of encouragement or sharing their own stories. After awhile, it gave him a little motivation. People were kind of getting a little worried because my dad and Sherry weren’t showing up at the racetrack anymore, and a lot of people were like, ‘Hey, are you guys OK?’ or ‘Is something going on?’ She was like, ‘I think we need to put a word out so people don’t think we’re getting a divorce or anything like that.’ You know how drag racing is.”
The occasional squabble breaks out in drag racing, but Chad Langdon’s reaction after regaining consciousness from his surgery epitomized the mentality of this sport’s participants.
“He came to,” his son said, “and opened his eyes and he looked at Sherry and me and asked, ‘Are you guys OK?’”
Langdon said, “The whole group at Duke University, I can’t thank them enough. Their doctor team, the whole research center, the nurses . . . our whole experience at Duke has been absolutely phenomenal. It’s an excellent group of people, all the way from top to bottom.
“The wave of emotions this past week has been crazy,” Langdon said. “So far everything’s got a good ending, at least for the most part.”
Right now he’s daydreaming about how much crazier they would be if he were to break his racing drought this Sunday and bringing his dad Chad and early Fathers Day present.
— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) January 4, 2019