LANGDON GETS HIS FUNNY CAR LICENSE
Shawn Langdon admits when he comes to the line, especially in a crucial run, his mind is an impenetrable fortress.
Monday afternoon just wasn't one of those moments.
Langdon, still in Las Vegas, was at The Strip, beginning the licensing process in advance of his move to the Funny Car ranks in 2018. When the body came down for the first time, with a 10,000-horsepower belching a symphony of caged horsepower out of angled headers, it was uncharted waters for a dragster-only professional racer.
"I had a million things going through my mind," Langdon admitted. "I didn’t know what to expect. But you know, was really trying to do the best job that I can, take advantage of the opportunity and really knowing that going into Pomona next year, I’m only going to have a limited amount of runs just basically getting my license on Monday and then also the test session at Phoenix. So really trying to absorb as much information as I can, and talk to as many people as I can."
The thought of driving a wild Funny Car which often has a mind of its own is no big deal for Langdon who has had his share of wild rides in a dragster. The reality of not knowing the car like the back of his hand was largely his biggest fear on Monday.
"I know the team’s going to be ready to go, but I just want to try to get myself as prepared as I possibly can," Langdon said. "When they put the body down, I just wanted to really concentrate on taking it one step at a time, really focusing on the first run for my crossover license, getting the moderate run."
Just ask Langdon, nothing will ever fully prepare a first-timer for the challenge of driving a Funny Car.
"I always have driven a Dragster, but I’ve got to admit, it was pretty dang badass when they dropped the body down, the motor sitting right there in front of you, and you try and look over the injector to see where your focus points are on the race track," Langdon recalled. "These things are just plain badass. It was really cool."
Langdon learned a long time ago to be careful what you ask for because it might come true. Before the Alexis DeJoria crew fired the Toyota engine for their driver in training, he made it a point to ask tuners Nicky Boninfante and Tommy DeLago to pull no punches in the initial run.
"I told Nicky, ‘Don’t lay up for me," Langdon confided. "Don’t go out there and lay up on any runs. I want to see what this thing’s got. Show me what it has so I know what to expect."
They didn't, and based on their reputations, they never planned to. Based on the incremental clockings, the first run at full pull would have likely netted a mid-3.80.
The challenge ahead of Langdon was not lost on him.
"There was a lot to take in for me through the four runs I made," Langdon explained. "I felt really good with everything. I felt good with, like being comfortable in the car, of kind of getting a lot of the distraction out of the way. My toughest part was the drivability of them, the steering of them. They just drive so much different than a Dragster."
Langdon erred on the conservative side initially. He didn't make that mistake again. In fact, he went the opposite direction.
"One run with the car I just really understeered it, and the car kind of took control of me," Langdon said. "And then the next run, I just overdrove it, and then I ended up shutting it off because I was all over the place."
Langdon went to the finish line on his fourth run, a pass which lost power at the 800-foot mark when a pan pressure switch activated, shutting the engine down.
Langdon coasted to a 4.00 elapsed time at 280 miles per hour.
"I felt really good after the fourth run," Langdon said. "That was the first run where I felt like I was in control of the car, on top of the wheel, steering it and it was responding properly to the steering input I was giving it."
Failure was not an option on Monday if only to prevent an intense amount of razzing from Boninfante, DeLago and the colorful crew.
Langdon came into the gig understanding hazing was part of the job description.
"They were keeping me honest, that’s for sure," Langdon said with a chuckle. "And that’s good because I like that as a driver. I never really believe in negative attention as far as like talking down to somebody or anything like that, but I believe that there’s a point of where you can say things, and you can use it as motivation. And I think that’s why we’re going to get along so good is because you know Nicky and Tommy, they both like to razz you a little bit, they like to joke around quite a bit, and I do too. And that’s exactly how my personality is."
But when business is on the line, Langdon believes he couldn't have ask for a better group to guide his foray into uncharted waters.
"These guys are excellent crew chiefs and are very informative," Langdon said. Just a lot of the things that I was unfamiliar with, they knew exactly what I was talking about. Working with J.R. [Todd] and Chad [Head], has helped immensely. And having some questions for Alexis too. That was the thing I told Alexis, I said, because she was asking, "Are you nervous?"
"I said, ‘Honestly, the only thing I’m nervous about for today is I don’t want to screw up your car for Pomona. I don’t want to hit the wall and have them have to fix your car for Pomona."
"She’s got a good race car right now. So that was the only thing I was really nervous about was trying to get that thing back to her in one piece.
Langdon has watched from a distance the challenge many of the sport's seasoned drivers have had corralling in wild Funny Cars due largely in part to the laid-back headers. When Langdon officially enters the Funny Car ranks, he will do so with the laid-back headers being less of a factor.
"Just watching a lot of the drivers, some more in particular than others, struggle with the laid back headers this year, some veterans that have been driving for 20 or 30 years, so for me coming in with four runs, I could see the potential for a lot of problems, and I’d definitely be behind the curve on that," Langdon said. "I think with them going to the different header angle; I think that’s definitely a huge advantage for me, because I think my biggest problem is going to be learning how to steer these cars and everything."
And for Langdon, steering in the right direction means everything.