NHRA: Shawn Langdon getting more comfortable, successful after switch to Funny Car

Photo courtesy Kalitta Motorsports

Shawn Langdon knew what he was up against when he switched from a near-decade stint as a NHRA Top Fuel driver to Funny Car this season for Kalitta Motorsports.

A former Top Fuel champ (2013, as well as prior titles in Junior Dragster and Super Comp sportsman racing), Langdon was in a sense starting his career over from scratch.

\He not only had to undergo a learning curve to drive a Funny Car, which he had never driven before, he also had to get used to a new team and a new way of doing things than the way he’d been used to doing them with past teams, including Al-Anabi Racing and Alan Johnson Racing.

“When I am standing outside of the car or looking at stats, you get a weird feeling because I never would have envisioned my name besides these guys (like John Force, Ron Capps, Cruz Pedregon and Robert Hight),” Langdon said. “It is humbling and cool.

“These are people I grew up idolizing, so to see my name there makes me realize how fortunate I am.

“However, when I am in the race car, I do not put them on the pedestal. I look at them as a competitor. I am trying to beat them and get a win. As much as I respect them and what they have accomplished, I want to beat them. ”

The transition from Top Fuel to Funny Car for Langdon remains a work in progress as he competes in this weekend’s Toyota Sonoma Nationals in Sonoma, California.

Sonoma is the second race of the annual three-race Western Swing that began last week in Denver, and concludes next weekend in Seattle.

This race has added significance to Langdon, as he grew up in California (Mira Loma), and anticipates a number of family and friends to attend this weekend’s race in the Napa Valley.

“Sonoma is a big track for me,” Langdon told MotorSportsTalk. “Toyota has been a big part of my career, and they are going to have a lot of people there which makes it even more important. We get a ton of support from Toyota and TRD (Toyota Research and Development).

“But it is important to me too because I grew up in California. I am very familiar with the track, and even won there at the sportsman level.”

Admittedly, the first 14 races of the 24-race NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series have been a struggle at times for Langdon as he has made the transition from Top Fuel to Funny Car.

Yet at the same time, things are looking up: he has reached the semifinals four times within those first 14 races, most recently in the NHRA New England Nationals July 6-8 in Epping, New Hampshire.

“I think (the transition from TF to FC) has gone fairly well,” Langdon said. “It has been a pretty big learning curve for me especially the first 20-30 runs.

“I was mentally behind the car, so it was me making the adjustments to my driving to make the changes I need in the seat. I have been pleased with the growth and the feedback I have been able to provide to my Global Electronic Technology/WIX Filters Toyota team.

“But you cannot get comfortable, because the Funny Car can throw you curve balls like it did in the final qualifying session in Denver. I was not aggressive enough and got close to the wall. Racing Funny Car will humble you. It will let you have a few good runs, but it will bring you back with a run like that.”

Also speaking of being humbled, the 35-year-old Langdon is used to winning: he has 14 Top Fuel and seven Sportsman victories in his career.

But he comes into Sonoma ninth in the Funny Car standings, more than 500 points behind series leader Courtney Force.

That leaves Langdon in a very uncomfortable position, as – including this weekend – there are still four more races remaining to cement his position in the upcoming six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

A win would lock him in; but even if he were to nail more semifinal finishes, it may not be enough to qualify for the playoffs.

“I think right now, we are in a pretty tough position,” Langdon said. “We have three normal points races left, and then Indianapolis (the U.S. Nationals, the biggest race of the season), which is points and a half.

“We are in a position that we cannot have back-to-back bad races with this team. There are really four guys who can catch us, with three within three rounds.”

Those four drivers are Bob Tasca III, who is 51 points behind Langdon, Tim Wilkerson (53 points back), Cruz Pedregon (57 points behind) and Jonnie Lindberg (117 points back).

Still, exuding the confidence that he has always displayed throughout his racing career, Langdon is emphatic about what he has to do and knows what it will take. After this weekend’s race, three races remain to make the playoffs: Seattle, Brainerd (Minnesota) and Indianapolis.

“I like the position we are in; we control our destiny,” Langdon said. “I think if we get a win in the next four, we will be in for sure. We just have to continue to go rounds.

“When you look at the points the races provide and the history, you have to look at Indianapolis. I have been lucky enough to win Indy before, and would love to get a U.S. Nationals win for Global Electronic Technology and everyone at WIX and Toyota, and all our other partners. They have supported this change and I would love to deliver them a trophy.”

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Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

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Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.