Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – NORWALK, OH – Never one to shy away from a challenge, first-year Funny Car driver Shawn Langdon has a big one in front of him heading to this weekend’s 12th annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park.
Langdon, a former Top Fuel world champion, has jumped into the loaded Funny Car class for the first time and finds himself in the midst of a talent-filled duel. Six drivers from eighth to 13th in the points standings are separated by just 94 points, with Langdon currently sitting 11th in his 10,000-horsepower Global Electronic Technology Toyota Camry. With only 10 drivers qualifying for the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship, it’s a pressure-packed time for Langdon. But that also seems to bring out the best in the talented driver.
“There’s six cars fighting for three spots and there’s some pretty big names in that group,” said Langdon, who has 14 career wins. “These are all cars that can potentially run really well and you’re getting to that part of the season where you have to get your stuff together. You can’t afford to have 2-3 bad races because you could easily fall out of the race. For our team, it’s important to get a good handle on the hotter tracks because we’re going to see those until the Countdown. It’s important to keep going rounds and continuously trying to get the car better.”
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Jack Beckman (Funny Car), Bo Butner (Pro Stock), and LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including final eliminations coverage starting at 6:30 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, June 24. It is the 12th of 24 races in a 2018 season where Langdon had made continuous improvements in his new class.
He has posted three semifinal appearances but it hasn’t satisfied the talented driver or a team that recently added Kurt Elliott to serve as assistant crew chief alongside crew chief Nicky Boninfante. It continues to be a learning process for Langdon, but he doesn’t mind the added pressure. He thrived in those moments during his Top Fuel championship season in 2013, and Langdon will rely on that ability to rise to the occasion in Norwalk and beyond.
“It’s a very competitive class, but I take that as a challenge,” Langdon said. “That’s one of the reasons why I went to Funny Car. I enjoy a challenge and it makes me thrive more. I like having that pressure on my shoulders where I’m expected to perform. Some of these pressure situations, I don’t really feel like it’s anything new. I’ve learned throughout the years how to block out situations where they could potentially be a distraction.”
What Langdon hopes is next is his first career Funny Car win at a track where he won in Top Fuel in 2016. To do so, he’ll have to get past the likes of points leader Courtney Force, who has four wins in 2018, defending world champion Robert Hight, Bristol winner Ron Capps and Kalitta Motorsports teammate J.R. Todd, a two-time winner this year. But Langdon has been motivated by a team that has worked through difficult times and bringing in new personnel, and he’s confident that work ethic will pay off at some point this season.
“It’s a great group of guys and they’ve just continued to work hard,” Langdon said. “Through all the changes that have gone on in the last seven months for them, they’ve just worked their butts off. As a driver, that just builds your confidence knowing you have a great team behind you. They just continue to work and that has really impressed me. That’s what produces wins and championships, and I’m just very glad to be a part of the team.”
Steve Torrence has four wins and the Top Fuel points lead, and will look for a second straight Norwalk victory against Bristol winner Tony Schumacher, Brittany Force and Clay Millican.
Points leader Greg Anderson will try to become the ninth different Pro Stock winner in 2018, joining a list that includes defending world champ Bo Butner, two-time winners Jeg Coughlin Jr., Tanner Gray and Vincent Nobile, as well as Erica Enders, Deric Kramer, Matt Hartford and Chris McGaha.
LE Tonglet is after his first win of the Pro Stock Motorcycle season as he tries to track down the likes of points leader Andrew Hines, defending world champ Eddie Krawiec and Matt Smith.
The E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service makes its seventh of 12 stops in 2018. The event also features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series. After Nitro qualifying, fans can watch the spectacular Hanna Motorsports “First Strike” Jet Funny Car driven by Rich Hanna and “Queen of Diamonds” Jet dragster driven by Sarah Edwards. Jet cars are thrust driven propelled by jet engines with pre-run flame shows.
Those in attendance will have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with some of the biggest names in drag racing during the NHRA Legends Tour. This includes meet-and-greets, autograph sessions, and a variety of other activities. Legends scheduled to attend the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals include Shirley Muldowney and Mark Pawak.
As always, fans can interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 5:15 and 8:15 p.m. on Friday, June 22 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, June 23, at 12:00 and 3:00 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, June 24.