TRAIL GUIDE
Our experts score the debate: How Clinton beat Trump, round-by-round
Sports Now

Shawn Langdon, Matt Hagan lead winners at NHRA drag races in Pomona

Shawn Langdon defeats Antron Brown to win top fuel race at NHRA Winternationals in Pomona

 

One has to wonder what went through the mind of Sheik Khalid Al Thani when he heard the news from Pomona.

Al Thani, a member of the ruling family of Qatar who loves drag racing, had spent the last six years sponsoring the NHRA top-fuel team led by 2013 champion Shawn Langdon and owned by famed crew chief Alan Johnson.

But under orders from the government of the Persian Gulf nation, Al Thani abruptly pulled his funding a month ago, forcing Johnson and Langdon to scramble for new sponsors.

They helped their cause enormously Sunday, when Langdon shook off the turmoil and won the top-fuel class in the Circle K Winternationals, the season opener of the National Hot Rod Assn.'s Mello Yello Series.

Langdon, a Mira Loma native, defeated former champion Antron Brown with a run of 3.799 seconds at 309.91 mph in the 1,000-foot final race.

In the sport's other premier class, funny cars, reigning champion Matt Hagan won his first Winternationals event by defeating Ron Capps, his teammate at Don Schumacher Racing. Hagan's winning pass was 4.011 seconds at 320.89 mph.

Under Al Thani, the team was called Al-Anabi Racing and it had two cars. Now it's a one-car team with Langdon under the Alan Johnson Racing banner.

Langdon, 32, said the Qatar pullout was "a gut punch" but that his victory illustrated the resilience of Johnson and his team.

"We had to refocus and regroup," Langdon said. "We had to make a statement. We want to contend for a championship."

But Johnson said Friday that the team was committed only to racing in Pomona, which drew about 90,000 spectators over its three days of racing, and at the next event in Phoenix as it searched for new sponsors.

The team received an unspecified amount of backing from celebrity chef Guy Fieri and his Knuckle Sandwich line of merchandise, and Fieri attended Sunday's finals at Auto Club Raceway.

But Langdon said the team was "still trying to find sponsorship for the [full] 2015 season." It costs roughly $5 million a year to field a leading top-fuel dragster.

In the meantime, the victory showed that "when [Johnson] gets his back up against the wall a little bit and feels he has something to prove, he just makes magic happen," Langdon said.

Besides winning the event, Langdon on Saturday made the quickest run in NHRA history – 3.700 seconds – in a qualifying session.

But the pass won't stand as a record. The NHRA requires the driver to post another run at a time within 1% of the original time during the event's weekend to have the original time certified a record. Langdon failed to do so.

Hagan, meanwhile, rebounded from a scary accident Friday, when the Virginian's funny car was engulfed in flames after its engine exploded.

Hagan, 32, said he had to "push [the accident] out of the way" to focus on the next two days, even though "it was a pretty big boomer in there. This thing was cooking like a marshmallow."

Several leading drivers were knocked out in the first round of eliminations Sunday.

Funny car driver Bob Bode upset 16-time champion John Force, 65, who also was the defending winner of the Winternationals. Bode then lost to Capps in the second round. Alexis DeJoria also made an early exit when she lost to Capps in the first round.

In top fuel, reigning champion Tony Schumacher — a record eight-time title winner and son of team owner Don Schumacher — lost in the first round to Brown.

In the pro stock division, two-time champion Jason Line defeated pro stock rookie Drew Skillman.

It was Line's second consecutive Winternationals victory and fourth overall. Skillman earlier had ousted reigning pro stock champion Erica Enders-Stevens in the semifinal round.

Twitter: @PeltzLATimes

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
81°