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Beckman Has Shot To Really Clean Up This Week

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, August 6 2015
Funny Car driver "Fast Jack" Beckman is in position to sweep the Western Swing this weekend. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

Funny Car driver “Fast Jack” Beckman is in position to sweep the Western Swing this weekend. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Most sports have stories within stories. You know; little sidebar events or moments that have little to do with season championships but mean plenty to those who compete in those events.

nhra logoThis weekend in the Great Northwest, the NHRA has an super interesting sidebar attraction going as it will wrap up its annual Western Swing – a run of three straight events held at traditional old strips located in Colorado, Northern California and Washington.

And, very cool, the series has a driver who can become the first to sweep the Swing for the first time since 2009.

The driver is Jack Beckman of Don Schumacher Racing. Beckman will arrive in Kent, Wash. this weekend for the Northwest Nationals having won  Funny Car events at the Mile High Nationals in Morrison, Colo. and the Sonoma Nationals in Sonoma, Calif. the last two weeks.

A victory in Sunday’s eliminations at Pacific Raceways would make him just the
eighth driver in history to sweep the Western Swing, and the only Funny Car driver other than the great John Force (1994) to do it.

It must be pretty exciting for the 49-year-old California native. Must be, but if it is, he’s reticent to say how exciting.

“Once you start thinking about those sort of things, it is completely counterproductive,” he said of the sweep. “You don’t do your job better, you do your job worse.”

But during a teleconference with the media this week, Beckman did talk about

Jack Beckman is one hot driver as he heads to the Pacific Nationals. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

Jack Beckman is one hot Funny Car driver as he heads to the Pacific Nationals. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

why the Swing means so much to drivers and teams. The pride comes not so much from “how many wins in a row” as from “where the wins are recorded”.

“Last year we had two four-in-a-rows,” ‘Fast Jack’ said. “Not only is three in a row not unprecedented anymore, we do it quite often, but we’ve done more than that. You think that might have taken some of the luster off the Western Swing. What’s always made the Western Swing special is just what you said, the differences in geography and the mileages between the races.

“You go to Denver where you’re 6,000 feet up in the air, you go to Sonoma where you’re down at sea level, then you go to Seattle where you have all these oxygen-bearing trees around the racetrack. They’re three fairly unique conditions.

“Because they’re back-to-back-to-back, you have to pack all the parts you need before you leave Indianapolis. And because it’s such a different requirement for Denver in terms of compression ratio, pistons, things like that, you’re packing different styles of parts. Then you race, you make eight runs. If you have a good weekend, you make eight runs. We did that in Denver and then again in Sonoma. Then Monday they have to do the basic service they can get caught up on, tear everything down, load it back up, head to the next race, which is either 1,100 miles or 700 miles, unload it, finish all the servicing, load it back up, then come back the next day unload it and start qualifying again. I wish you guys could see them set up and tear down at the races. It’s a bigger spectacle than the race sometimes.”

Beckman has to be considered the hottest driver in the NHRA right now. He has won three of the last four events. He is second in Funny Car points and is making a charge at leader and DSR teammate Matt Hagan – who is 77 points up on him.

Beckman and his team had a nearly perfect weekend in Sonoma last weekend as they and their Dodge Charger collected 147 of a possible 150 points.

Showing more caution, he hedges when asked if he should be considered the favorite in Washington.

“I’m a fan so I’m going to give the fan perspective, not the driver perspective,” Beckman said. “I think anybody would be a fool not to consider our car the favorite at Seattle. Our performance has been stellar the last two races. But these nitro Funny Cars have a 10-foot wheelbase and 10,000 horsepower. They are so hard to predict.”

Beckman has been racing full time in Funny Car since 2007. He started the 2015 season with 15 wins at national events.

He was the 2012 Funny Car champion after winning 38 of 57 rounds of eliminations that year.

Then came 2013 and ’14. In those to season, Beckman went winless. Not fun times, he said. For him or his people.

“I never thought during the winless streak in 2013 and 2014 that I necessarily deserved to win,” Beckman said. “I never felt like I was in a situation where I needed to feel sorry for myself. But sometimes I felt sorry for myself. It was very frustrating. To be successful and then to go that long without winning, sometimes you wonder if it’s going to happen again.”

But a stupefying announcement made a couple weeks before the end of the 2014 season put the boot to the wondering.

In late October it was revealed that Jimmy Prock, a long-time crew chief with John Force Racing, was leaving/being fired by that iconic organization: Prock had told owner John Force he was leaving at the end of the season and Force responded with; no, you’re leaving now.

Shortly afterward it was announced that Prock was being hired by DSR, where he was assigned to the Beckman group.

Things started slowly after Prock – and another former long-time JFR tuner, John Medlen – came on board. In the final two races of 2014, there were zero round wins. In the season-opening Winternationals this season, same deal as Beckman failed to even qualify.

“But I wasn’t frustrated then,” Beckman said. “I’m not changing history. If you interviewed me Sunday at Pomona, you would know what I’m telling you is factual. I kept my chin up, this is a small hiccup, we’re going to be fine. I didn’t know that we were going to be this fine.”

The team is now doing what former crew chiefs Rob Flynn, Chris Cunningham and Todd Okuharu were unable to do the last couple years.

“Jimmy Prock is a different individual,” Beckman said. “He looks at things slightly different. He is a mad scientist that is just absolutely in a different universe in terms of the things that he’s not afraid to try on these cars.

“It’s the boldness of his moves. When you go out there at Sonoma, seven out of eight times you’re low ET, I don’t know if you average it out, we were probably low ET by 5 or 6/100ths on average throughout the course of that weekend. That’s just utter domination. That is somebody in the crew chief position performing at their prime.”

Beckman was asked if he considered 2015 to be his finest season ever. He would not answer until he explained just how unlikely his ascension to the top tier of drag racing has been. He talked about having to pay dues year after year after year in lower levels of the sport because he could not afford to pay for rides in the upper level.

He said that for him, reaching the fuel classes was more of a dream than a plan.

But now, here he is. Hotter than hot and hot on the path toward a second championship.

His best year ever? Yes, he finally said. So far.

“But,” the cancer survor said, “I want to keep levelheaded and try to make it one of the finest years any Funny Car driver has ever had.”

Being able to break out the broom in Washington would be significant step in that direction.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, August 6 2015
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