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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IndyCar Power Rankings: Alex Palou still first as Newgarden, Ferrucci make Indy 500 jumps

NBC IndyCar power rankings
Kristin Enzor/For IndyStar/USA TODAY Sports Images Network

The biggest race of the NTT IndyCar Series season (and in the world) is over, and NBC Sports’ power rankings look very similar to the finishing results in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

Pole-sitter Alex Palou entered the Indy 500 at the top and remains there after his impressive rebound to a fourth after a midway crash in the pits. Top two Indianapolis 500 finishers Josef Newgarden and Marcus Ericsson also improved multiple spots in the power rankings just as they gained ground during the course of the 500-mile race on the 2.5-mile oval. Though Alexander Rossi dropped a position, he still shined at the Brickyard with a fifth place finish.

Santino Ferrucci, the other driver in the top five at Indy, made his first appearance in the 2023 power rankings this year and now will be tasked with keeping his A.J. Foyt Racing team toward the front as the IndyCar circuit makes its debut on a new layout..

Heading into the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix on the streets of downtown, here’s NBC Sports’ assessment of the current top 10 drivers through six of 17 races this year (with previous ranking in parenthesis):

  1. Alex Palou (1): Three consecutive top 10 finishes at the Indy 500, and yet the 2021 IndyCar champion still seems slightly snake-bitten at the Brickyard. A few different circumstances and a dash of experience, and Palou could have three Indy 500 wins. But he at least has the points lead.
  2. Marcus Ericsson (4): Some want to say the Indy 500 runner-up’s unhappiness with IndyCar race control was sour grapes, but the Swede had a legitimate gripe about the consistency of red flag protocols. Still a magnificent May for Ericsson, especially while the questions swirl about his future.
  3. Josef Newgarden (7): Strategist Tim Cindric and team did a fantastic job catapulting Newgarden from 17th into contention, and the two-time series champion did the rest. Particularly on a late three-wide pass for the lead, it can’t be overstated how brilliant the Team Penske driver was in his finest hour.
  4. Alexander Rossi (3): He winds up being the best Arrow McLaren finisher in a mostly disappointing Indy 500 for a team that seemed poised to become dominant. With a third in the GMR GP and a fifth in the Indy 500, this easily was Rossi’s best May since his second place in 2019.
  5. Pato O’Ward (2): Unlike last year, the Arrow McLaren star sent it this time against Ericsson and came out on the wrong side (and with lingering bitterness toward his Chip Ganassi Racing rival). The lead mostly was the wrong place to be at Indy, but O’Ward managed to be in first for a race-high 39 laps.
  6. Scott Dixon (5): He overcame brutal handling issues from a wicked set of tires during his first stint, and then the team struggled with a clutch problem while posting a typical Dixon-esque finish on “a very tough day.” The six-time champion hopes things are cleaner the rest of the season after the first three months.
  7. Santino Ferrucci (NR): Pound for pound, he and A.J. Foyt Racing had the best two weeks at Indianapolis. Ferrucci said Wednesday he still believes he had “by far the best car at the end” and if not for the timing of the final yellow and red, he would have won the Indy 500. Now the goal is maintaining into Detroit.
  8. Colton Herta (NR): He was the best in a mostly forgettable month for Andretti Autosport and now is facing a pivotal weekend. Andretti has reigned on street courses so far this season, and few have been better on new circuits than Herta. A major chance for his first victory since last year’s big-money extension.
  9. Scott McLaughlin (6): Ran in the top 10 at Indy after a strong opening stint but then lost positions while getting caught out on several restarts. A penalty for unintentionally rear-ending Simon Pagenaud in O’Ward’s crash then sent him to the rear, but McLaughlin still rallied for 14th. Detroit will be a fresh start.
  10. Rinus VeeKay (10): Crashing into Palou in the pits was less than ideal. But a front row start and 10th-place finish in the Indy 500 still were 2023 highlights for VeeKay in what’s been the toughest season of his career. The Ed Carpenter Racing cars have been slow on road and street courses, so Detroit is another test.

Falling out: Will Power (8), Felix Rosenqvist (9), Romain Grosjean (10)


PRESEASON: Josef Newgarden is a favorite to win third championship

RACE 1: Pato O’Ward to first; Newgarden drops out after St. Pete

RACE 2: O’Ward stays firmly on top of standings after Texas

RACE 3: Marcus Ericsson leads powerhouses at the top

RACE 4: Grosjean, Palou flex in bids for first victory

RACE 5: Alex Palou carrying all the momentum into Indy 500