The number is three. That’s how many times Shawn Langdon has hoisted the U.S. Nationals “Wally” after winning the most prestigious race in all of drag racing. A team looking for the right combination, like the Kalitta Air Careers team, winning the season’s biggest race would definitely become one of the season’s biggest surprises, but that’s why they run the race. It’s the U.S. Nationals – anything can happen. The 2023 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series closes its regular season with this weekend’s Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals Sept. 1-4 at Lucas Oil Raceway Park in Indianapolis, Ind.
Langdon’s three wins all came with very different circumstances. He won the 2010 Super Gas title. Three years later, he took the Top Fuel title at the U.S. Nationals and went on to win the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series championship while driving for Alan Johnson Racing. His most-recent win came in 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic – a race in which nothing was normal.
“The prestige of winning the U.S. Nationals and being able to put your name alongside some of the biggest names in the sport is very rewarding,” Langdon said. “In 2013, it was pretty special because we had a career year and were able to double up after winning the Traxxas Shootout. In 2020, it was a little bit odd because we were racing in a pandemic. It was my first win driving (team owner Connie Kalitta) Connie’s dragster so it was pretty special to be able to share the winner’s circle with him even though, at that time, we didn’t get to do winner’s circle. It was ‘pull the car out of your pit and stand with it for a picture.’”
Fast forward to 2023 when, despite non-stop effort, the Kalitta Air Careers team has yet to reach its potential or meet its own expectations. With a runner-up finish and two recent semifinal showings, the team shows its capable of running with anyone and winning, but it has yet to do so on any consistent level.
“It’s difficult going to the races when you’ve been struggling, but you know, at some point, it’s going to turn around,” Langdon added. “We have very talented people on this team. We have very good, smart, intelligent crew chiefs, we have very good crew guys, we have a great group of guys and great partners like Kalitta Air, Revchem and Toyota. We have a team capable of winning, but for some reason, our car has struggled. We don’t know why, but we’re working through those things right now.
“It’s frustrating to know the capabilities we have with our team, but it’s not showing yet. We all understand we have to stay patient, block out the negative and focus on doing our jobs. That’s how we continue to approach this season, and that’s how we’re going to get where we need to be.”