SONOMA — They were high school classmates who talked of roaring side by side on drag racing's biggest stage. It was a ridiculous ambition, but it came true Sunday at Sonoma Raceway as Shawn Langdon (Jurupa Valley High, Class of '01) lined up against Morgan Lucas (Jurupa Valley High, Class of '01) in the Top Fuel final at the NHRA Sonoma Nationals.
"This is something that Shawn and I always talked about doing," Lucas said. "We teamed up on runs and talked about it while we were driving up and down the highways and across the country."
It was Langdon who prevailed Sunday, crossing the finish line in 3.920 seconds while Lucas smoked his tires and limped across in 4.628. The long-time friends had faced once before in a final, as teammates in the first event of the 2011 season, the Winternationals in Pomona — just a couple freeway interchanges from where these two grew up outside of Riverside. Lucas won that time.
"I got a little payback," said Langdon, who increased his lead in the Top Fuel standings to 102 points over Spencer Massey and 104 over Tony Schumacher.
Also Sunday, Ron Capps won for the third time in four years here in the Funny Car division, and a couple of youngsters captured the other two classes — 21-year-old Vincent Nobile in Pro Stock and 24-year-old Hector Arana Jr. in Pro Stock Motorcyle.
It was Langdon's fourth victory of the season, and it couldn't have come at a more auspicious time. The driver's benefactor, His Excellency Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad Al Thani — the Qatari prince who owns the Al-Anabi race team — was attending his first race of the NHRA season.
"Anytime the boss comes into the room, you kind of tighten up a little bit," Langdon admitted. "You make sure you're dressed to impress a little. But ... it actually really relaxed me after I got to talking with him. He shares the same dream as us, shares the same passion as us. We're all out here for the same reason."
With Sheikh Khalid pouring money into the racing program, noted crew chief Alan Johnson serving as team manager, and Langdon developing into a first-rate driver, it has been quite a year for Al-Anabi in Top Fuel.
Langdon's most recent victory only cemented its position, though he didn't have such an easy time of it in the mild race conditions in southern Sonoma County. He beat Bob Vandergriff by .043 second in the first round, and clipped Doug Kalitta by just .020 in the second before coasting in a semifinal race when Antron Brown launched his blower and shot flames out of the back of his car.
Langdon thought he was a goner in the final when his car all but died about halfway down the track after taking off like a rocket. "Right before half-track, it just shut off," Langdon said. "The first thing that goes through your mind is: (shoot). There's nothing you can do. I mean, it's just completely dead, broke the blower belt. You're just coasting across. And that point, I'm trying to listen for him, to figure out where he's at, and I don't hear him."
Because Lucas was having even more trouble with his dragster.
"You have to have a certain amount of slippage to get these cars down the track," Lucas said. "We were too far on the conservative side, and when that happens you can create a thing called tire shake. That's where the tire doesn't know if it's too fast or slow, and it turns into tire smoke. We just bit ourselves in the butt."