When it came to Qatar, Shawn Langdon admitted he was no expert.
He knew it was somewhere in the Middle East. He also knew some rich sheiks with money to burn lived there. Beyond that, he had no idea about the country and the people who would pay him to drive a Top Fuel dragster.
But the 31-year-old from Mira Loma, Calif., has proved to be a quick study. He researched Qatar and learned that the country is serious about sports.
How serious? In 2010, FIFA awarded the 2022 World Cup soccer championship to the country of just more than 2 million people. It also has a first-class motor sports facility — the Qatar Racing Club — that opened in 2009. The QRC has a quarter-mile drag strip that is one of the world’s fastest.
Langdon also learned that the Al Thani family, which rules the country, loves to win. And spending $6 million on a drag racing team is a way to invest in winning, much like Sheikh Mohammed of the United Arab Emirates did in thoroughbred horse racing when he formed Godolphin Racing in the early 1990s.
This weekend, Qatar could find itself in the headlines when Langdon and the Al-Anabi Racing team try to clinch the Top Fuel season title at the NHRA Nationals at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He leads Doug Kalitta by 83 points and Spencer Massey by 86.
Pro qualifying begins at 1:15 p.m. today at The Strip and continues Saturday. Eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. Sunday.
“It’s not a comfortable lead,” Langdon said Thursday at the Stratosphere, where some of the top drivers appeared. “If you’re not careful, it can turn on you very quickly, so you have to keep pressing and keep moving forward.”
Langdon has enjoyed a breakout year. He turned pro in 2009 and claimed his first No. 1 qualifying position that year in Las Vegas. But in 92 races over four years, his lone victory came last year at Charlotte.
Now, with Al-Anabi team manager Alan Johnson calling the shots and an improved car, Langdon has begun winning. He has six victories this year, crediting Johnson and the team for his newfound success.
“You have to have the right people and the right parts to be successful,” Langdon said. “Alan Johnson has amazing attention to detail. Everything he does, there’s a reason, and we have a great team in place.”
The credit begins with Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad, who provided the financial backing that has made the success possible.
“I’ve met him a few times, and we’re close to the same age, and we have a lot of the same interests,” Langdon said. “We talk racing and sports mostly. But he wants to win, and so do I.”
And what’s it like to work for an owner who lives halfway around the world?
“It’s definitely different, but in a good way,” Langdon said. “He provides us with whatever we need for us to be successful.”
Langdon has yet to get to Qatar but looks forward to seeing it.
“I was trying to learn about it when I Googled it,” he said. “I didn’t realize how wealthy a country it is.”
Langdon faces two interesting scenarios. Should he clinch the title next weekend in Pomona, Calif., he’ll do so in front of family and friends. He has been going to races there since he was 5 years old and always wanted to drive a dragster.
But should he win this weekend in Las Vegas, there’s no longer any pressure, and he can enjoy next week and soak in all the accolades that come with being a champion.
“I’ve always been competitive,” Langdon said. “As a kid, I played everything — baseball, football, basketball, soccer, you name it. I always wanted to be the best at whatever I did.
“For me, winning never gets old. I just want to win the championship — whether it’s here in Vegas or in Pomona.”
Contact reporter Steve Carp at email@example.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.