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Langdon gets first win of year

June 15th, 2014 8:32 pm by Jeff Birchfield

Langdon gets first win of year

BRISTOL — What’s wrong with Shawn Langdon? The answer is nothing’s wrong.

The defending NHRA Top Fuel champion raced to his first win of the season Sunday by beating points leader Doug Kalitta in the final round of the Ford Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway. It came after last year’s championship when he led the class with seven victories and 10 final-round appearances.

Langdon ran 3.902 seconds at 316.08 mph to beat Kalitta, who finished at 4.128 (260.97).

“You can’t take them lightly at any track,” Langdon said. “They have the hottest car on the circuit right now. Doug is a great driver, one of the best pedalers in our class. I was a little worried about that in the final. You’re going up against the Kalitta team and it’s tough, but that’s why it’s great to be a part of a great team like Al-Anabi with (crew chief) Alan Johnson. We had a pretty good race car too.” 

In the other professional classes, Tommy Johnson Jr. drove his Dodge Charger to his first Funny Car victory since 2007  and points leader Erica Enders-Stevens, scored her third win of the season in Pro Stock.

It was Langdon’s ninth career win and his 19th final-round appearance. He was eliminated by eventual race winner Steve Torrence in the Bristol quarterfinals the previous season, but it never changed his attitude about Thunder Valley.

“Bristol is absolutely my favorite track on the tour,” Langdon said. “I’ve done a lot of bracket racing here. I always loved coming here, but I never could get it done. To get it done today, on Father’s Day, it’s a special feeling.”

Kalitta, a three-time Thunder Valley Nationals winner, increased his points lead with his 74th career final-round appearance. He now holds a 120-point advantage over second-place Antron Brown.

While it was a battle of heavyweights in the Top Fuel class, the Funny Car final was totally unexpected with Wilkerson making the final round for the first time in over a year and Johnson reaching his first final since winning on Father’s Day at Englishtown, New Jersey, seven years ago.

Johnson’s final pass was 4.156 seconds (302.14 mph) to top Wilkerson’s Ford Mustang at 4.473 (227.34). This is Johnson’s first year returning to full-time competition after sitting out three years and then running a limited schedule each of the last two seasons.

“It’s not only my first win in a long time, but it’s my crew chief John Collins’ first win ever” said the 46-year-old driver about his 10th career victory. “We’re from the same hometown, we grew up together and the first car he ever worked on was my Top Fuel dragster in 1999. To see him work his way up through the ranks and to get his first win, it’s pretty cool.”

On a hot day when cars had a tough time getting down the track, Johnson said the key was to not get too aggressive on the set-up.

“When the track gets hot and slick like this, you have to be very careful making changes between rounds,” he said. “Little changes become big when it gets hot. Our cars, the engine tune-up, has to go hand-in-hand with what you’re doing with the clutch. You really have to play those together and you have to finesse it.”

Enders-Stevens reached the Bristol final for a second straight year and the third time in her career. The first female driver ever to win a Pro Stock race in 2012, she beat Jonathan Gray in an all-Chevrolet Pro Stock final.

Her Camaro sped down the track at 6.698 seconds (207.15) for her fifth career victory, while Gray lost traction and coasted to a 13.480 (64.40). It was a ninth career win for Enders-Stevens, a 30-year-old Texas driver.

“Bristol is always tricky for us,” she said. “We went point A to B when it mattered. In 2011, my first year back in a competitive Pro Stock car, I had Mike (Edwards) covered by five-hundredths on the (starting) tree. When I went to shift from second to third (gear), it just blew the tires off the car.

“It was Mike’s day. But, it was like today was our day. To get it done today, it meant the world to me.”

It spoiled a potential 33rd birthday celebration for Gray, a former dirt track racer who defeated his older brother Shane, the Pro Stock No. 1 qualfier, in the quarterfinals.

In fact, all three of the event’s No. 1 qualifiers were eliminated by the end of the quarterfinals.

Brittany Force was the first to fall in Top Fuel, losing to the 82-year-old Chris Karamesines in the day’s first upset. Del Worsham, the No. 1 driver, then lost to Matt Hagan in the quarterfinal round. 

With the favorites out of the way, it paved the way for some unexpected matchups and three first-time Bristol winners.

The NHRA circuit now moves to Epping, New Hampshire, for the next race, the New England Nationals.

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