Demanding perfection and struggling to wrap his head around everything that was going on inside a Funny Car was something that initially did not mix well for Shawn Langdon. The former Top Fuel world champ announced he was moving to Funny Car for the 2018 season and was getting licensed in the process.
A natural driver who has long prided himself on the ability to drive anything – something that traces back to Langdon’s successful sportsman roots – the Funny Car was an entirely different animal. It was creating both doubt and motivation at the same time for the talented Langdon.
“After the first couple times in the Funny Car, you’re not sure you can drive it,” Langdon says. “It wears on your confidence. But you have to keep telling yourself to give it time. I was getting a little bit frustrated, but I was kind of using that as a motivating factor. I’m going to get it, I just needed more laps.”
Fast forward a few months and while there remains nothing easy about harnessing the power of a Funny Car, Langdon has made impressive strides, running a 3.901 at preseason testing in Phoenix. Langdon’s confidence and comfort level – if that’s even an appropriate term for a 10,000-horsepower monster – have grown immensely heading into the 2018 season, even if he fully admits there is plenty still to learn. But compared to how things were initially, Langdon is in a far better headspace.
“I made 13 runs over four days (in Phoenix) so I have a better understanding, the certain feels of the car,” Langdon believes. “I’m learning the characteristics a little bit more. Mentally, I feel a lot better than I did before. In Vegas (for licensing), I was holding on for dear life. It was just a bat out of hell and my mind wasn’t comprehending what was going on.”
Langdon believes he has a car capable of winning races already, and the 14-time event winner in Top Fuel isn’t about to concede anything, no matter the lack of experience and a Funny Car class as deep as it has been in years. It’s a lot to overcome and a lot of constant learning on the fly, but Langdon isn’t afraid to talk about winning races and earning a spot in the Countdown to the Championship. Some of that is Langdon’s faith in his own driving abilities and some of it is simply an insatiable desire to simply compete in the sport.
“To me, I just want to race. You can put me in a golf cart, a shopping cart, I don’t care,” Langdon asserts.
But some of it is also being a part of a Kalitta Motorsports group where everything just feels right. He joined the team four races into the 2017 season, finishing in the Top 10 in Top Fuel before being approached about driving a Funny Car in 2018 with Alexis DeJoria retiring. Langdon didn’t decide immediately, but the opportunity to diversity his portfolio and continue racing with Global Electronic Technology as the primary sponsor was too good to pass up.
“It’s good to expand your resume as a driver,” Langdon says. “I was very content running a dragster, but I felt like (Funny Car) would be a good fit and a good opportunity to drive a different car. I just want to race, and I’m really excited for the challenge.”
Langdon saw the transition firsthand as close friend J.R. Todd made the switch from Top Fuel to Funny Car in 2017, giving him added confidence he could do the same. Langdon also recognized the wealth of talent he’ll be working with when it comes to the likes of crew chiefs Tommy DeLago and Nicky Boninfante, and car chief Matt Bynum, which has made the process much more manageable.
“It’s a team with a really good foundation,” Langdon confirms. “This year we’re working closely with J.R.’s team getting these cars set up as identical as we can. It’s a great team and a fun group of guys, and that really plays into it.”
Langdon remains a diligent student, going over runs long after he’s left the track. Being his own harshest critic, there are still plenty of areas where he wants to improve. It will only come with time, but Langdon is doing everything he can to speed up the process.
“I demand perfection all the time and I want to be as good as I possibly can,” Langdon reveals. “I struggled with how the car drives, how it steers and a lot of runs I was overdriving them. It took a little bit of time to really adapt to how the car steers. I’m still learning how to drive it.”
But that journey and that challenge is what drives Langdon in the first place. He’ll continue to be dynamite on the starting line, and he’ll continue to remain as competitive as ever. Where that leaves him by the end of the season remains to be seen, but expectations haven’t changed even if the class has.
“It’s going to take time to where we need to be,” he says, “but I’m confident after 18 races we will have a car that’s a championship contender.”