Langdon gives his Wally a Mello Yello shower in celebration. (NHRA photos)
The new Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Top Fuel world champion meets the media after wrapping up the title last weekend in Pomona with his category-best seventh win.
Q: Shawn, now that you’ve had a couple of days to kind of sit and reflect on it, has it sunk in what you were able to accomplish this year winning the championship?
Q: Winning an NHRA Top Fuel championship has a lot of aftermath. What do you feel now, and what do you expect in the coming weeks and months that you’ll feel after attaining this level?
SL: Well, I think there’s obviously a lot of things that come with winning a championship. I hope I’m ready for it. I watched what Antron Brown did last year and you kind of see his rise to stardom, and now he’s just a superstar of the sport. I still, I still just kind of look at myself as that little kid that’s racing junior dragsters, and I don’t really, I guess, think of myself as a superstar of the sport. I’m just very thankful to be out there, and I just enjoy what I do.
But there are responsibilities that come with it, so I think it’s going to be very important to keep pushing the NHRA, Mello Yello Series and keep the sport alive and the next generation is coming up, and I’m a part of that next generation, I’m just going to try to do the best job that I can and try to be an ambassador of the sport and try to push our sport and show all the fans across the country and across the world just how great the sport is.
Q: You kind of touched upon it, but how long do you and the team get to celebrate this? You’re obviously a fan of other sports and they talk about the next one is always the hardest. What is kind of the plan the next couple months here for you and the team?
SL: I think just go back to the shop and regroup a little bit. Right now we’re just enjoying the California weather. We’re enjoying spending a little bit of time up here in Santa Maria with the Johnson family and giving back to the community up here, also celebrate everything with the Johnson family, with the Blaine Johnson Memorial Golf Tournament. We’re just going to enjoy it up here for a little while. We’ll be up here for a couple days, and then we’ll get back to the shop to start coming up with a game plan for next year.
I don’t think we’re going to test in December like we have done the last couple seasons, but we’re just looking forward to going down to West Palm Beach in January and making a couple hits down there and getting everybody back in the swing of things. We’ll give everybody the much needed time off. It was a long season. There were a lot of weeks that we went back to back weeks. So it’s pretty tough on some of the crew guys. They don’t get to see their family and wife and kids. So we’ll be able to go back to the shop and work hard, but also give these guys an opportunity to have a little bit of family time as well.
Q: How do you approach next year in terms of the pressure that’s involved to try to repeat? Obviously, you proved yourself to be a great driver even before you won the championship, but is there more pressure now that you’ve won this one with this team? I know you don’t want to stop at one championship, but is there more pressure for 2014 for you from that aspect?
SL: Yeah, I really like that a lot of pressure is off. I really think that this year this team was able to make a couple statements out there. I think for me as a driver getting that first championship out of the way, the way that I look at it is I’m so fortunate to be doing what I’m doing. I’m so thankful. I was able to get the championship in the junior Dragster category. I was able to get it in the Super Comp category, and now in the Top Fuel category. So it’s just the way that I look at it is for right now every goal that I’ve set, I’ve been able to achieve it with the help of some great people and anything for the rest of my life is just an added bonus. I’ve really fulfilled my life-long dream, and I’m able to live it right now.
So, obviously, we’re looking forward to next year, and we’re definitely looking at defending the Mello Yello World Championship. But I don’t think it’s going to be any added pressure or anything that we didn’t see this year, anything that we didn’t feel this year. There was definitely a lot of pressure for me being the first time where I’ve been able to be in the countdown and really be in these high pressure situations. I think it’s going to help because now I know how to handle it. Now I know what to expect. That was the biggest thing that I was a little worried about is the fear of the unknown. I didn’t really know how I was going to perform under the pressure. I know how the teams are going to perform. They’ve proven that in the past. But for me as a driver, I think now I just know what to expect. So I think now we can go out, have fun, and extend this championship for the years to come.
Q: You mentioned several times during your interviews over the weekend that the team Alan (Johnson, team manager) and the Sheikh (Khalid Bi Hamad Al Thani, team owner) took a chance on you when they hired you because you hadn’t won the race. I think a lot of people wondered the same thing, why you got hired for that job. I’m wondering, did you ever ask yourself back then why am I getting this job?
SL: I did a lot. I’ve asked myself that for years, even growing up in the sports and ranks when just people gave me so many opportunities to drive their cars then when I got opportunity in my first year to drive a Top Fuel car. And, yeah, when I got the phone call from Alan Johnson and Sheikh Khalid to drive their car. I look at the sport and I look at how many talented drivers there are out there, and there are just some people that, man, you can put a mic in front of them and they could entertain people for hours. You put them in the racecar, and they drive it like they own it. They can wheel these things.
Then for me, I’m a young and up and coming driver and it’s all new to me, the media, the pressure and everything. So I get up in front of the microphone, and I don’t always know what to say. My jaw, it’s on the floor. I’m in awe of the opportunity that I have just to be out here. For whatever they saw in me, I’m just very thankful to get that opportunity and to have a great team like this believe in me as a driver and believe in me as a person to represent their team for Sheikh Khalid to represent his country. It’s just a great opportunity. Whatever it is I’m glad I did it for them to notice it. Like I said, it’s just a great opportunity.
Q: You talk about up and coming drivers. Obviously, Brittany (Force) is the Rookie of the Year. How would you assess her season? Because everybody bases them on wins and losses, but how would you assess her as a competitor?
SL: I think she did a great job. The first year is very tough because there are a lot of eyes on you, especially for her with her name, with her dad being a legend of the sport, obviously, she’s going to have twice as many eyes on her. But I feel that she’s handled it very well. She’s handled the media very well. Her interviews have gotten better throughout the year, and she started off the year doing great interviews. But the way they do the media over there at John Force Racing, they do an excellent job. They bring a lot of attention to the sport.
She’s still learning as a driver inside of the racecar, but she’s doing a great job. You saw the car performing well at the end of the year. They’re making great runs. There were times where they had a top five car, and it’s just the first time ever having a dragster over there. That is definitely a Funny Car team. For them to come out the way they did, I really feel that they’re going to be a top-10 car next year, and they’re going to be in the Countdown.
Q: Talk about the weekend a little bit. Winning the championship, then going on to win the race. Sunday, you’re going rounds; how did you stay focused?
SL: Once you get into that race mode on Sunday, I feel it gets easier. The beginning of the week is always tough at your home tracks, just getting everything in order, getting your scheduling for the week. Thankfully (team PR director) Rob Goodman takes care of a lot of that for me. But it’s getting everything in order for the week, getting the tickets, getting the hospitality right, and just making sure your schedule is right to where you can meet all your sponsor’s obligation that’s they have for you for the weekend. But as the weekend rolls on you and get into that race mode and you get that focus going, it definitely gets a lot easier. It was just a great feeling.
Last weekend was one of the highlights of my life. That was probably one of the best weekends of my life. To do what we did, to have to go out there and perform and we were able to clinch the championship and we were able to win the race and do it with all of our friends and family out there, you just could not ask for anything more.