Top qualifier Shawn Langdon got past first-time starter Joey Haas and veteran Cory McClenathan, survived an entertainingly ugly pedalfest with Justin Ashley, and defeated nemesis Leah Pruett in the final Sunday to claim his second U.S. Nationals Top Fuel triumph and first since the St. Louis event in the fall of 2016.
With a strong .015-second reaction time (ideal is 0.00), Langdon covered the 1,000-foot Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis course in 3.705 seconds at 326.32 mph – plenty to hold off Pruett’s 5.141, 145.75.
She didn’t earn her ninth Top Fuel victory or complete the opportunity to join Funny Car winner Jack Beckman in giving Don Schumacher Racing a double-up victory (in either a dragster or in her Factory Stock Showdown Dodge Challenger Drag Pak). However, she eliminated Steve Torrence in the semifinal to overtake him for second place in the standings.
Second-round finisher Doug Kalitta retained his Top Fuel points lead as the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series leaves its Indianapolis cocoon after four post-coronavirus-break races and heads to the postponed Gatornationals at Gainesville, Fla., Sept. 27.
That’s encouraging news for the Kalitta Motorsports team. It has won at Gainesville Raceway in the past two visits, with Richie Crampton bringing the honors.
Langdon, who spent the past two seasons competing in a Funny Car for Kalitta Motorsports, said, joined other two-time Indianapolis champions Jack Beckman (Funny Car) and Erica Enders (Pro Stock), as well as first-time winner Scotty Pollacheck (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
The DHL – Toyota Dragster driver is known for his skill at the Christmas Tree. But he had to rely on his experience in the semifinals against Ashley to overcome the rookie’s nearly perfect reaction time (.001 of a second). Both lost traction immediately and often and were on and off the throttle, but Langdon prevailed with his dubiously noble elapsed time of 6.920 seconds.
“Semis was a little goofy – had to change my underwear and come back for the final,” Langdon joked after registering his 17th overall victory.
In that wild semifinal race, Langdon said, “I noticed when we went to pre-stage that they were wiping something up. I thought it might just be an overflow of the fuel tank. I saw something and they kept mopping it up, but I didn’t see any of my guys panicking. Apparently they were behind me, but I couldn’t see anything. I wasn’t really prepared for it, because the car’s been good all weekend. So it caught me off guard. I hit the gas, and it struggled. I couldn’t get it to hook back up, and I got sideways.
“A couple of times I thought I was about to wreck,” he said, “but those are the races why we do this. In hindsight, they said it was leaking some blower lube, and they almost made the decision to shut us off on the starting line. Obviously, you don’t want to run in your own oil, but this is Indy and I’m here to win races, so whatever it takes. They made the decision to let me run, and we’re in the winners circle.”
He also shared some insight about the run itself: “When I hit the gas initially, I saw his car shoot out on me and I was letting my car calm down a little bit, because it was still smoking the tires. I was reaching over to grab the brake handle to help slow wheel speed down, and then I saw him getting in trouble. At that point was when I started to get back on the gas. It was going for a second and I think it dropped a cylinder and it went back up in smoke. At that time, I was waiting for it to calm down again and I could hear him having trouble as he was still trying to get it to recover. At that point, I’m doing anything I can. I’m trying to be easy on the gas, because when you smoke the tires, you have to try to treat the gas pedal like it has an egg underneath it, so I was trying to do it, but it was just having none of it. I was just trying to do what I could to get it to the finish line. Luckily, I was able to manage it someway, somehow. It was an exciting one, for sure.”
The final round went much more smoothly.
“When I hit the gas, I said, ‘We’ve got it if it doesn’t smoke the tires.’ I saw I had a little reaction-time advantage [.015 of a second to Pruett’s .091], so that was good. Just trying to give everything I’ve got, man,” Langdon said.
Pruett countered with a 5.141-second, 145.75-mph run in the Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye Dragster.
Langdon’s trophy at the Denso U.S. Nationals will sit alongside the one he won here in his Top Fuel championship season of 2013, when he drove for Alan Johnson Racing.
He said this victory ranks “definitely toward the top. When Connie hired me in 2017 to drive his car, we made a couple of late-round finishes and had a couple of runner-up finishes. So when I went to Funny Car (in 2018), my only regret was I wasn’t able to get a win with Connie Kalitta as my crew chief. Going to Funny Car, I didn’t know if I’d ever get the opportunity to. So when the opportunity presented itself to get back into a dragster, that was one of the reasons. I always looked up to Connie as a kid. I watched him for years and I still look up to him. He’s an awesome team owner, and he’s an awesome crew chief.
“We had a great conversation after Q1 [this weekend] when I almost messed up the run that put us on the pole when I almost double-stepped it,” Langdon said. “We talked about a lot of things, and I took some great advice from him. Then in the semis, when I pedaled it, there were some things I thought I could have done better and some things that he told me that he’s experienced in the past that he felt could make me better. Those are some things why I love driving for him. I’m very, very happy to get a win with him – and winning in Indy makes it all that much sweeter.”
Immediately after Sunday’s victory, Langdon said, “A lot of hard work has gone into this team after making some changes the past couple of years, with me going to Funny Car and then going back to the dragster. Working with Connie [tuner and team owner Kalitta] and the DHL Toyota team, those guys are awesome. We’ve had an awesome car all weekend long. We tested last week, trying to fix some things.”
He said he was appreciative of “everything that Connie has given to this sport and everything that everyone at DHL, Kalitta Air, Toyota, Wix, NGK and Mobil 1 does. Thank you to my team.”
He said his team “has really hunkered down” to iron out any transitional glitches and make the car as perfect as possible.
“With how much uncertainty there has been this year — where we are racing, if we’re racing, everything is last minute, but this team has really hunkered down. We have a great group of guys here at Kalitta,” he said.
“To win Indy is awesome. It’s kind of one of those things where you say, no matter what, if you win the U.S. Nationals, you’ve had a good year. I think right now we are free-rolling for the rest of the year. We gained some valuable points that we needed to make up from the last couple of races. We went out early with some issues in dropping cylinders and we got it fixed, and it showed in today’s results. Connie did a great job in tuning the car, along with Kurt [Elliot] and the whole DHL crew,” Langdon said.
A Kalitta Motorsports Toyota driver has won in one of the two nitro-powered classes in each of the past four U.S. Nationals (Doug Kalitta, 2019 in Top Fuel and JR Todd, 2017 and 2018 in Funny Car).
Moreover, the organization has had a winner at the past seven “major” NHRA events: the Winternationals, Gatornationals, U.S. Nationals, and Finals.
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