‘Fast Jack’ Gets Off To Faster Start In 2016

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, February 14 2016
Jack Beckman failed to qualify for the Internationals a year ago. This year, it's P1. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

Jack Beckman failed to qualify for the Winternationals a year ago. This year, it’s P1. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

Jack Beckman began the 2015 NHRA schedule as a spectator after failing to qualify his Funny Car for the season-opening Circle K Winternationals. Flipping the calendar ahead one year, “Fast Jack” will chase victory Sunday in the 56th edition of the prestigious event from P1 at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif.

Beckman rallied to post seven wins, seven poles and set the national elapsed time record four times en route to challenging Del Worsham for the 2015 Funny Car world championship. On Saturday, Beckman clocked a 3.888-second 1,000-foot pass at 326.16 mph to take his first Winternationals pole and 16th of his career. Driver of the Infinite Hero Dodge Charger R/T, Beckman will open eliminations against No. 16 qualifier John Hale.

“It (his DNQ) didn’t affect us at all last year with the Countdown (playoff) format and we wound up finishing first in the regular season anyway. It just really hurt our pride,” said Beckman, the 2012 world champion and resident of Norco, Calif.  “As a hometown guy it’s tough to come out to the first race of the year because there’s a little extra pressure to do well and some stress if you don’t. But we’re over that now.

“It’s clear that (crew chiefs) Jimmy Prock, John Medlen and Chris Cunningham are getting a handle on this car. When you see them getting that close you know great things are in store for this team.”

Steve Torrence (Top Fuel) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) also will lead their categories into Sunday’s 11 a.m. eliminations in the first of 24 events on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule. The first of 17 live NHRA final eliminations broadcasts on Fox Sports 1 will air Sunday at 5 p.m. (EST).

Beckman finished second to Worsham last season when the latter’s DHL Toyota Camry team, fielded by Kalitta Motorsports, got hot during the playoffs and won four-of-six Countdown to the Championship events. However, Worsham acknowledged that the competition and performance in Funny Car clearly was elevated by the in-season strides first made by Beckman in his “Prock Rocket.”

“It’s an exciting time to be a fan of the sport and it’s an exciting time to be a participant,” Beckman said. “We came so close and didn’t get the ultimate prize. I don’t think we need to do anything differently. Del was just spectacular in the Countdown and it worked against us. Any other season we would win the championship by 10 rounds. I’m 49 and at that age you look at things a little differently. Maybe I’m a little more motivated to bring my A-game every time out here.”

Beckman’s year started out strong during last weekend’s NHRA Nitro Spring Training at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz., near Phoenix. Beckman’s Dodge led all Funny Cars with three runs in the 3.8-second range. However, a rare wheelstand bent the team’s No. 1 chassis from last season, prompting use of a new unit built by the Don Schumacher Racing fabrication shop led by manager Joe Fitzpatrick.

Ron Capps, Beckman’s DSR teammate and another Southern California resident, sits in the No. 2 spot after his NAPA Auto Parts Dodge led by crew chief Rahn Tobler and assistant Eric Lane nearly cracked into the 3.8-second range at 3.902/324.51. Capps piloted DSR’s most consistent Funny Car, with all four qualifying runs in the 3-second range _3.995, 3.971, 3.971 and 3.902.

Provisional Friday leader Robert Hight of John Force Racing qualified third with a 3.913-second pass at 322.04 mph in his Auto Club Chevy Camaro SS. Hight, the 2009 world champion, has an intriguing matchup against No. 14 qualifier Tommy Johnson Jr., whose Make-A-Wish Dodge from DSR was strong in preseason testing but struggled at Pomona, posting a best lap of 4.256-seconds at 225.22 mph.

Meanwhile, veteran independent racer Gary Densham escaped injury when the parachutes on his Charger failed to deploy at the end of his third run, launching the car into the gravel traps at the end of the strip at high speed. Densham, 69, exited with the help of NHRA’s Safety Safari. But the car sustained extensive damage to its frame and body when it became entangled in the track’s safety netting.

“I don’t know why the parachutes didn’t open,” said Densham, who ran 4.050-seconds at 307.79 mph to qualify 11th on the ladder, opposite Courtney Force and her Traxxas Camaro. Courtney’s numbers of 3.945-seconds at 325.87 mph placed her sixth.

Standing near the wreckage of his car moments after the crash, Densham indicated he likely was out of options for Sunday.

“It’s been a great career, it’s been wonderful,” the popular Californian said. “It’s good to have all these guys with the Safety Safari; it takes all the fear out of running these cars. This might be the end of it for us, unfortunately. That’s the way it goes. If it had to happen, it’s great that it happened here at Pomona. It’s nobody’s fault, it’s just what happened. It’s a shame it had to happen. We only got one car, no way to get another one.”

Ironically, Densham formerly drove for 16-time world champion John Force at JFR. If Densham can’t make the call for the opening round, Courtney Force will have a bye run.

“Overall, I can’t complain with how this weekend has gone so far,” Courtney said. “(Crew chiefs) Dan Hood and Ronnie Thompson are doing an awesome job to start the year. We missed it on that last run, but still managed a No. 6 starting spot for race day. That puts us in the top half and gives us lane choice against Gary Densham. Densham is a great competitor and is a veteran in our sport. I have a lot of respect for him as a driver and hope he can make the call to race us.”

Courtney Force and Densham are 1-1 vs. each other. They raced in the first round at Kent, Wash., in 2014 with Densham taking the win. Their second meeting was last year during the Winternationals in Round 1, with Force turning on the win light.

In Top Fuel, Texan Torrence powered to his sixth career pole and first at Pomona, clocking a 1,000-foot pass in 3.703-seconds at 328.06 mph in his Capco Contractors dragster. He will open eliminations against nitro journeyman Steve Faria.

“We weren’t holding anything back,” Torrence said. “The conditions were the best we’ve seen this weekend so we said why not go for it. We’ve got a really good hot rod right now and I just want to do my job and hopefully we can walk away from here with one of those little gold men.”

With noted nitro tuning expert Alan Johnson on board as a consultant, Torrence had one of the quickest and fastest cars during last week’s preseason test near Phoenix.

“I’m hoping this translates into a good performance (Sunday) and we can keep this momentum going,” Torrence said. “I feel like we’ve got something to prove. We need to maintain consistency, keep the car running well and stay on top of it.

“Bringing Alan into the mix has brought us credibility. It makes the morale and confidence of the team a lot better. I’m just a hillbilly country kid that’s out here living a dream and enjoying getting to do what I love to do. We’re driving a race car for a living. You have to just take everything with a grain of salt and enjoy it. Not everybody gets to live their dream as a job.”

Doug Kalitta qualified second in his Mac Tools dragster at 3.713/324.51 while Friday leader and eight-time world champion Tony Schumacher is third with a 3.722-second pass at 323.66 mph in his U.S. Army dragster. Reigning world champion Antron Brown will start seventh in his Matco Tools dragster after a 3.754-second pass at 322.73 mph and face 2013 champ Shawn Langdon, who qualified 10th at 3.764/320.97 in his Red Fuel dragster.

Anderson earned his 81st career Pro Stock pole with a quarter-mile performance of 6.585-seconds at 209.62 mph in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevy Camaro SS. Anderson bagged his sixth No. 1 at the Winternationals and will begin pursuit of his sixth event win  here when he faces Matt Hartford in the opening round.

For the first time in the history of the “Factory Hot Rod” class, Pro Stock cars are competing with electronically-controlled throttle body fuel injection systems replacing traditional four-barrel carburetors, an NHRA-controlled 10,500 RPM rev limiter, a front-mounted air inlet and shortened wheelie bars. In addition, the iconic hood scoop has been outlawed as part of a package designed to increase spectator appeal, make the class more relevant both visually to production Camaro and Dodge Darts as well as from a technology standpoint and reduce/control costs for race teams.

“When you come to the Winternationals you’re scared to death about the competition,” said Anderson, a four-time world champion. “This year with all the changes we were incredibly scared not knowing where everybody was. It’s been a learning curve for everyone and a steep one. To be where we’re at right now versus the first time we put an engine on the dyno, we’ve come a long way. Feel fantastic.

“I knew when we changed the rules I might’ve shed a tear or two. Right now I’m able to forget about it and move on and embrace the challenge and learn to like EFI. I hate to say it, but I’m learning to like it.”

Jason Line, Anderson’s Summit/KB Racing teammate and a two-time world champion, set the top speed in qualifying and second-quickest ET of 6.592-seconds at 210.34 mph. Bo Butner in the Jim Butner Auto Camaro SS gave Ken Black Racing the trifecta with the third-quickest ET of 6.594/210.14. Line will take on V. Gaines in Round 1 while Butner will face Deric Kramer.

“To qualify 1-2-3 in our three KB Racing cars, that’s quite an accomplishment,” Anderson said. “The car is probably more friendly to drive than it used to be. They’re safer to drive and a little easier to tune. I think when you fast-forward three months you’ll see competition that is tighter than ever in the Pro Stock ranks.”

Two-time/reigning world champ Erica Enders qualified ninth in her new Mopar/Elite Motorsports Dodge Dart at 6.651-seconds at 207.88 mph. Erica will face teammate and five-time world champ Jeg Coughlin Jr. in the first round. Coughlin qualified his Dart eighth at 6.645-seconds and 208.55 mph.

Sunday’s first-round pairings for eliminations in the 56th annual Circle K NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, the first of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Pairings based on results in qualifying, which ended Saturday. DNQs listed below pairings.

Top Fuel _ 1. Steve Torrence, 3.703-seconds, 328.06 mph vs. 16. Steve Faria, 5.135, 123.88; 2. Doug Kalitta, 3.713, 324.51 vs. 15. Scott Palmer, 4.089, 251.44; 3. Tony Schumacher, 3.722, 325.22 vs. 14. Terry McMillen, 3.844, 313.00; 4. Richie Crampton, 3.727, 323.66 vs. 13. Troy Buff, 3.843, 315.64; 5. Clay Millican, 3.727, 324.36 vs. 12. Leah Pritchett, 3.804, 314.46; 6. Brittany Force, 3.744, 320.66 vs. 11. J.R. Todd, 3.792, 320.28; 7. Antron Brown, 3.754, 322.73 vs. 10. Shawn Langdon, 3.764, 320.97; 8. Dave Connolly, 3.757, 326.40 vs. 9. Morgan Lucas, 3.759, 324.20.

Funny Car _1. Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 3.888, 326.16 vs. 16. John Hale, Charger, 4.329, 263.51; 2. Ron Capps, Charger, 3.902, 324.51 vs. 15. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Solara, 4.285, 278.69; 3. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.913, 322.19 vs. 14. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.256, 225.22; 4. Alexis DeJoria, Toyota Camry, 3.942, 324.59 vs. 13. James Campbell, Charger, 4.163, 302.41; 5. Del Worsham, Camry, 3.943, 323.04 vs. 12. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.124, 281.07; 6. Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.945, 326.87 vs. 11. Gary Densham, Charger, 4.050, 307.79; 7. Chad Head, Camry, 3.950, 319.29 vs. 10. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.993, 323.35; 8. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.962, 320.28 vs. 9. John Force, Camaro, 3.964, 322.34.

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Bob Bode, 4.356, 283.37; 18. Terry Haddock, 4.571, 194.97.

Pro Stock _ 1. Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.585, 209.62 vs. 16. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.746, 206.61; 2. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.592, 210.34 vs. 15. V. Gaines, Dodge Dart, 6.715, 207.37; 3. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.594, 210.14 vs. 14. Deric Kramer, Dart, 6.686, 207.75; 4. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.616, 209.20 vs. 13. Joey Grose, Camaro, 6.674, 207.94; 5. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.623, 208.49 vs. 12. Aaron Strong, Camaro, 6.665, 208.26; 6. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.632, 209.52 vs. 11. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.660, 208.81; 7. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.634, 208.07 vs. 10. Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.653, 208.33; 8. Jeg Coughlin Jr., Dart, 6.645, 208.55 vs. 9. Erica Enders, Dart, 6.651, 208.62.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, February 14 2016
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