Well, that certainly didn’t take long.
After spending the first nine years of his professional career behind the wheel of a dragster in the ranks of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, Shawn Langdon took a little detour the past two seasons behind the wheel of a Funny Car.
While the excursion netted him a couple of race wins and a pair of Countdown to the Championship berths, it never was quite home like his time behind the wheel of a dragster.
But in 2020, Langdon returned to his familiar seat and, so far, he hasn’t missed a beat.
Following a successful weekend of testing one week ago in Las Vegas, Langdon returned to competition in the premier class of the NHRA this weekend and wasted little time making his presence felt, launching to the provisional No. 1 spot Friday at the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
“I’ve enjoyed my two-year stint in Funny Car. They are a bear to drive and it has been a big learning curve for me. There are times I’ve struggled a lot with it and there are times I have felt very comfortable,” Langdon said. “I felt like I was getting the hang of it toward the end and we had some success. Now, making the switch back to dragster, it has been a big change. Fortunately, we’ve made some very strong runs in testing and the two runs here today. Connie (Kalitta) and Kurt (Elliott) have just done an awesome job giving me a good racecar and accelerating my reacclimation phase.”
Langdon raced to a 3.699-second pass at 322.42 mph in the Kalitta Motorsports DHL dragster in session two on Friday, surpassing Q1 top qualifier Brittany Force. Force sits second with a 3.706 at 329.10 mph in the Monster Energy machine.
Leah Pruett qualified third with a 3.715 at 324.75 mph, while Langdon’s teammate Doug Kalitta (3.729) is fourth and Shawn Reed (3.735) rounds out the top five after one day of qualifying.
If Langdon’s time holds, it will be his 19th No. 1 qualifier and first since Gainesville in 2015.
But while a top qualifier award would certainly help in his transition back to the class where he earned a championship back in 2013, this weekend is all about making consistent runs and trying to relearn a completely different animal.
“It is like I am taking everything I have learned the last two years and trying to reprogram my brain,” Langdon said. “When we went to Vegas for testing I started driving a dragster like a Funny Car. When I got behind the wheel, obviously the visuals were what I was used to. Your procedures are all the same, staging is the same, it is just a big difference when I hit the gas from 100 feet to 200 feet. The Top Fuel dragsters accelerate so much harder and it can mentally get you behind really quick and I feel that is where some of my oversteering was coming from.
“I was driving all over the place and I had to do some things to really slow my steering down. I am basically driving one handed right now to try and mentally slow myself down to where I’m not oversteering it. The numbers looked good in testing, but I have a lot to learn still to get myself back up to speed to compete with all of these guys.”
Langdon was also excited to be back in Pomona, a track that means a lot to the California native who grew up racing at the facility.
“There are tracks you go to where it seems like everything clicks and I could stage the thing in reverse and it would still work out. Then there are tracks you go to and it just feels like you fall out of bed awkwardly. Pomona, fortunately for me, has been one of the tracks where I feel like I have good success and not for any particular reason at all,” Langdon said. “It is where I got my start. It is where I raced juniors. And my family and friends are out here, so this is one of the tracks for me where I feel like I have a successful record at.
“I am just excited about today. It is a good start and a good motivator for the team. We have made a lot of changes and we are still making changes trying to get me a little more comfortable. We are taking it run-by-run and as the runs progress we feel more confident.”
While Friday was hopefully an indicator of things to come, there are still two more qualifying sessions on Saturday before the field is set for the first eliminations of the new year. So will Langdon’s time hold?
“It will be close,” Langdon said. “That was a pretty good run and we still have a little bit left. We had a cylinder out and we felt like, off of that run, we could have probably gone a 68. Tomorrow you will see some of the cars step up. I just hope it sticks.”