LANGDON EMBRACING HIS NEWFOUND ROOKIE STATUS
Shawn Langdon's reputation of his starting-line prowess has been well-earned over the years. When opponents saw Langdon was in the other lane, they knew they had to be great on the Christmas Tree – because Langdon definitely was going to be.
Langdon is moving to the Funny Car class after nine years in a Top Fuel dragster. But the driver of the Global Electronic Technology Toyota Camry Funny Car has no intention of letting his starting-line rep slip as he moves to a new class.
"That's going to be a big thing," Langdon said. "The data and information I've collected in a dragster to get me where I'm at was accumulated over the last eight years. I'm sorta back to square one in a Funny Car. I have some ideas, and (co-crew chiefs) Tommy (DeLago) and Nicky (Boninfante) have some ideas of certain things, and we're making some adjustments with that. With how competitive the class is, I've watched how those guys are. There are some good drivers cutting some good lights.
"I’m not looking to go in there and be a middle-of-the-pack kind of guy. I'm looking to go and put some pressure on other people and getting some good reaction times.
"With that being said, I understand I'm still fresh to it, I'm still new and I still have a learning process of what I feel comfortable with and what I can do inside the car. I may not be great right out of the gate, but I'm going to constantly work on it to where by the end of the year, I'm looking to be right where I normally am, right at the top of the leaderboard on the reaction-time averages."
And that could translate into some victories, though Langdon knows there will be a transition period. After all, he's only made four runs in a Funny Car to date, all to get his license last season. But Kalitta Motorsports is one of the top teams in NHRA, so if the pieces of the puzzle fit together quickly, it could be a beautiful picture.
"You kinda have two different goals that you go into the season with: You have your wishing goals and then you have your realistic goals," Langdon said. "I’m looking to come in and win as many races as possible and shoot for the championship. But I also kind of think that if we can go out there and be competitive, I don't see any reason that this team can't go out there and win a couple races and be a top-five car throughout the year.
"I definitely think the key to our success this year is going to be me, as far as my learning curve. So if I can minimize my learning curve, I know that with Nicky and Tommy as proven crew chiefs, they know how to make the car run fast. For me, for our team, it's going to be me minimizing my learning curve.
"If I can come right out of the gate and feel comfortable in the car and feel like I can hit the Tree well and drive the car well, and they can be aggressive with the car, I don't see anything out of the question that we can't go out within the first couple races and possibly win a race."
Preparation for the 2018 season has been underway at Kalitta for some time now, with Langdon getting fitted in his Funny Car and having a new seat poured. But that's really all Langdon can do to get ready. This isn't like football, where he could watch film to prepare for the next race.
"I've made four runs to get my license in the Funny Car, so I don't really have much to go off of at this point," Langdon said. "I'm going into testing about as bare as it comes. I still have a lot of questions to myself that I gave to answer, but I can only really answer them once I get out there testing.
"We'll be out there for four days, so we'll be able to make a significant amount of runs before I go to Pomona. That'll be the tell-tale of it: Getting accustomed to the car, getting comfortable in the car. I'm sure we'll make some proper changes just to increase my comfort, as far as how to drive it and cut a good reaction time."
The real answers will come at Pomona, Phoenix and beyond as the competition begins for the 2018 title. But Langdon hasn't noticed too many differences between the two vehicles, at least none that should hamper his efforts.
"Having driven a canopy car and how much I tape off my hemlet, it really didn't cut down any vision," Langdon said. "The thing that I noticed was how you drive the car. In a dragster, you're looking right down the body in front of the car for your line of sight for where you're pointing it. In a Funny Car, you've got to look over the injector, so you have to look out quite a bit further."
Langdon said he sits up more straight in the Funny Car, instead of "down and laid back a little bit" in the Top Fuel car.
"The steering input is a little bit different," Langdon said. "In the dragster, the steering is a little bit freer than what the Funny Car is. The Funny Car, you have to kinda get into it to turn it."
Burnouts and the staging procedure are not that different, and Langdon already feels comfortable with those.
So Langdon's first light in a Funny Car may not be the best – though maybe it will be. But whatever that first reaction time in Pomona will be, rest assured Langdon will learn from it and be better the next tie.
And that may not be good news for the Funny Car class.