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NHRA Power Rankings: It pays to have great drivers

Diminish greatness behind the wheel [or handlebars] in Mello Yello NHRA Drag Racing at your own peril
01 Oct 2019
Jacob Sundstrom, NHRA National Dragster Associate Editor
Power Rankings
Power Rankings

Enzo Ferrari once said racing is 50 percent car and 50 percent driver. He built cars for famously long races, so the ratio may be adjusted for Mello Yello NHRA Drag Racing – right until horsepower isn’t enough to win the drag race. Suddenly, it’s amazing how important it is to have the right racer on your team. 

Erica Enders, Shawn Langdon and Karen Stoffer have not had the best vehicles in their respective categories over the balance of this season (Enders has the best argument after claiming pole in St. Louis). They can each claim to be the best racer in their respective divisions, though, offering a boost to their team when called upon. 

The AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals didn’t necessarily prove that point for all three racers [drag racing isn’t in the narrative business], but it certainly did for Langdon. The former world champion showed why Kalitta Motorsports and Global Electronic Technology wanted him behind the wheel in both the first and second rounds for different reasons. He averages a .069-second reaction time (the second-best in the category to Cruz Pedregon) in a class where the numbers are admittedly murky. 

WATCH: Shawn Langdon scores wild second-round victory

You don’t need a number to know how good, and how consistent he is at leaving on time (though it helps). Langdon has 40 lights this year with a tremendous average and no red lights. J.R. Todd, unsurprisingly, has a similar mark (.072-second reaction time, 42 lights). The throttle control Langdon showed in the second round is a separate talent that he has had to develop since moving to the Funny Car category in 2018. 

Langdon drives an up-and-down Toyota Camry, evidenced in part by its performance in St. Louis. It struggles with consistency (67.8 percent Success Rate) and is seventh among Countdown cars in elapsed time average. Kalitta Motorsports relies on its driver to turn on win lights and he has helped deliver a 50-percent round win percentage in 2019. That’s impressive and something to build on through the rest of 2019. 

That’s a familiar story for Enders and Stoffer, two elite racers who have done the heavy lifting with their respective teams over the past two seasons. I’ve told Enders story enough now that everyone is tired of hearing it, but it’s worth noting she’s driving the seventh-quickest Pro Stock car in the Countdown and is currently second in points. It’s a team sport and her Melling Performance Elite Motorsports crew picked her up in the final, but she’s the best driver in Pro Stock and she will continue to win races for them. 

Erica Enders' Chevy Camaro performing at championship level

Stoffer can do the same thing for White Alligator Racing, which is something she just has not had the opportunity to do for the past few years. Her bike is finally quick enough to challenge the rest of the field and she is riding at a high enough level to make her a championship threat. Stoffer leads the category in average reaction time (.023), which is about a hundredth quicker than her career mark. It’s worth noting her career average would lead everyone except for Joey Gladstone, who is well known for chopping down the Tree. 

Karen Stoffer scores first win since 2015 in St. Louis

The difference, ultimately, is equipment. Jerry Savoie is riding the quickest motorcycle over the past six races (6.859) and Stoffer’s bike is the fifth-quickest. The Suzukis have come to life at the right time, much to the chagrin of everyone not on one of the high-revving machines. All Stoffer can do is take advantage of a tremendous opportunity; so far, so good for three of the premier racers in the series. 

Full NHRA Power Rankings below / Past NHRA Power Rankings