Photos: Courtesy of NHRA
Sunday was a great day to honor drag racing and dads as Shawn Langdon, Tommy Johnson, Jr. and Jason Line all took titles at Bristol Dragway during the running of the 2016 Thunder Valley NHRA Nationals.
Langdon finally got his chance to around his dismal Top Fuel season, as did Funny Car’s Tommy Johnson, Jr. looking for redemption while Jason Line headed to another final round and wins in Pro Stock.
Langdon has repeatedly said that their time was coming over the past few weeks in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, and finally he was proved right. Langdon and the team led by crew chiefs Todd Okuhara and Phil Shuler knocked out Terry McMillen in the first round, Brittany Force in the quarterfinals, points leader Doug Kalitta in the semifinals and Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tony Schumacher in the final round.
Langdon’s .035-second reaction time gave the DSR team the starting line advantage and the 3.838-second pass at 322 mph got the final win light of the day.
“I’ve been saying that it was just a matter of time,” Langdon said. “We have the car capable of winning races; it was just a matter of getting a little bit of race day luck. I really felt like we should’ve won the last two races.
“My confidence was that high. I knew it was just a matter of time before we would be in the winner’s circle. Man, it just feels good. It feels good in so many ways to get that win today. We beat some really great teams today.”
The victory sealed the Red Fuel team’s lock into the $100,000 Traxxas Nitro Shootout all-star race during the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis over Labor Day Weekend. In addition, Sunday’s win for the Langdon team, the 11th Mello Yello event of the season, comes after they started this year with five straight first-round losses.
“Just kind of how this team has progressed throughout the season, starting off the year losing five first rounds in a row, not being in the top-10, it was just a lot of pressure that was kind of rolling in,” Langdon said. “It just came down to the car wasn’t responding, we weren’t qualifying well and we were getting tough draws for the first round. As we starting progressing, we started qualifying better and we’ve been going rounds here and there and picking away at it.
“The last couple of races being fifth quick, fourth quick and then we got into where we were top-three and getting bonus points in qualifying. It’s just been a slow progression but it’s been a good one. It’s a great team effort from everybody, top to bottom at DSR. We finally got it done today.”
The win propelled Langdon from ninth to sixth in the Top Fuel points standings.
Tommy Johnson Jr. found a great way to celebrate his dad’s birthday and Father’s Day all in the same day.
“I love this race, and Father’s Day seems to be really good to me,” the younger Johnson said, who’s dad Tommy Johnson, Sr. turned 71 on Friday at the track.
It also was perfect timing for Johnson and the Make-A-Wish team to make an upward move in the points standings. The 11th Funny Car title of his career and first of this season moves him from ninth to seventh in the NHRA Mello Yello Funny Car standings.
“We had a great season last year and finished third in the points, but it started slow and then we made a really good charge late,” said Johnson, who won the Thunder Valley Nationals in 2014.
“This year, we had that same slow start, then we were runner-up in Epping (N.H., two weeks ago) and that just seems to set the tone for the rest of the year. My guys did a great job. We’re not an aggressive team; we race the racetrack, and (crew chief) John Collins makes some really great calls on what to do. He’s feeling it out as the season begins, and we get all that data and then really start to make a charge.
The win also qualifies Johnson for the $100,000 Traxxas Nitro Shootout all-star race held during the U.S. Nationals near Indianapolis.
“This takes a lot of the pressure off, to lock yourself in like that,” Johnson said. “It’s in the back of your mind, and we had a shot in Epping and just barely lost to my teammate Capps, who is already in.
“Then to race against (Matt) Hagan, another teammate who’s already in the Shootout, I thought, ‘Man, we have to get this done.’ We missed our first big shot, but they made a mistake giving us a second chance. We had to go get it. I kept telling myself it would be OK if we didn’t make the Shootout because the championship is the big picture – but you really want it. It’s a big race. You want that Shootout trophy on the mantle.”
Johnson’s Dodge made four great runs down the racetrack Sunday running a pair of three-second passes in his opening two rounds, first beating Cruz Pedregon and Robert Hight, respectively. Then he beat Alexis DeJoria sending him to the final round against DSR teammate, Matt Hagan. Johnson was quicker off the starting line with an outstanding 0.035 seconds reaction time that enabled his 4.038 to overcome Hagan’s quicker 4.030 pass.
“Today, the car drove flawlessly,” Johnson said. “(Collins) made all the right adjustments to get the car down the track in these hot conditions. He used the data (from an earlier run) to make the car go down the track all day. This is just a great way to celebrate Father’s Day and my dad’s birthday. I’ll never forget it.”
Jason Line powered his Summit Racing Pro Stock Chevy Camaro to his sixth victory of the season and 43rd of his career by outlasting KB Racing teammate Greg Anderson in the final round. Line sprinted to 6.668 seconds at a speed of 207.59 mph to better Anderson’s 6.694 run at 207.62 mph in his Camaro. Line, who won this event in 2006, was the No. 1 qualifier. This was his 10th final round appearance of the year and the victory extends his points lead.
“It’s been amazing,” said Line, who has raced to every final round this season except one. “I am so thrilled to be up here, you just can’t imagine. I am living my dream. The fact that I am getting to do this and have been so successful this year is awesome.”
Line won on a single in the first round when Dave River’s car had a mechanical problem and he couldn’t make the call, had a bye in the second round and zipped past 2014 top rookie Drew Skillman in semi-finals to meet Anderson in the final.
Anderson, a five-time 2016 winner who sits second in the points standings, outlasted John Gaydosh Jr., Shane Gray and five-time world champ Jeg Coughlin in the earlier rounds.
The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series continues with the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals, June 23-26, in Norwalk, Ohio.